Remember when New York Knicks fans lambasted their team’s selection of Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 NBA draft? Less than three weeks later, the Latvian teenager has begun proving his many naysayers wrong and making believers out of his ballyhooed competition.
Porzingis had nine points, three rebounds, and three assists on 3-of-5 shooting in 21 minutes of play during his team’s 84-81 overtime victory against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. The 19-year-old exhibited the defensive instincts and overall comfort also clear in his Summer League debut, a performance that had some league executives championing him as the top talent in this year’s crop of first-year players.
The most noteworthy aspect of his play versus the Sixers, though, was how Porzingis fared when matched up with fellow rookie star Jahlil Okafor. The Knicks’ prospect began the game by splashing a 22-footer over the outstretched arms of his Sixers counterpart, setting the stage for a series of 1-on-1 battles that had Cox Pavilion buzzing. And while Okafor indeed bested Porzingis in the post on several occasions with his rare combination of size and footwork, it’s the latter’s three blocks of the former Duke star that has so many turncoat Knicks fans across the country ready to anoint him a future star.
What a majority of Porzingis detractors too easily dismissed during the pre-draft process was his amalgam of length and fluidity.
At 7-feet-3 with a 7-foot 6 wingspan and quick feet, he was eventually bound to prove problematic for the opposition, as not only a pick-and-roll defender and weak-side shot-blocker, but also as an individual post defender. The question was, and remains, how long Porzingis’ adjustment to the NBA game – mostly from standpoints of strength and understanding – would ultimately take. And if takeaways from the video above are any indication, that acclimation might prove quicker than anyone anticipated.
After the game, Okafor didn’t seem surprised by his opponent’s ability.
Numbers never tell the whole story in basketball, especially when it comes to the performance of young players. Summer League isn’t the stage for a rookie like Porzingis to take a lion’s share of shots or even play big minutes; the Knicks are slowly and surely easing him into NBA life.