It would be easy to mock New York Knicks fans for how they booed Kristaps Porzingis in last summer’s draft, but let’s be fair: no one, not even the biggest Porzingis supporters, could have reasonably predicted the rookie having such an immediately successful season.
Porzignis – or Three Six Latvia or Latviathan, his nickname is still a work in progress – continued his stellar rookie season with a virtuoso performance against the Houston Rockets, nearly recording a triple-double with 24 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks. The Rockets may be listless and lost at sea currently, but that doesn’t at all diminish Porzingis’ achievement.
Rookies often struggle with the speed of the NBA, and it can take a few months or even seasons before they fully acclimate. Porzingis shows no such strife. Watch him get the ball at the 1:10 mark. He takes his time backing down Terrence Jones (which is no easy feat), and when James Harden threatens to double, he doesn’t panic, he merely waits for the threat to pass. Some rookies, especially forwards, would immediately pass out of that situation. Porzingis doesn’t, and ends up hitting a nice running hook.
He’s already been a monster on the boards (and putbacks) this year, but his defense is also flying a bit under the radar. The impact he has on the Knicks’ defense is undeniable, and not just because of his 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes. The Knicks are simply just better on defense with Porzingis on the court, as their defensive rating dips by almost seven points when Porzingis hits the bench, according to NBA.com. His defensive impact is a surprise to most, even his teammates. As Carmelo Anthony told Marc Berman of the New York Post, he didn’t think Porzingis would be such an immediate shot-blocking threat right away.
“Man, he’s 7-3,’’ Anthony said. “There was only concern because people didn’t know and nobody ever saw him before. People were all so upset the Knicks drafted him. When you’re 7-3, you just put your hands up and block a shot. For him to have seven blocks, it didn’t surprise me. [But] nobody expected  and 14, seven blocks. Nobody expected that, but I’ll take it.’’
Fan frustrations on draft night were understandable, as unproven European players are always a risk in the draft. After yet another amazing performance, however, those frustrations have been replaced by hope. Porzingis is the real deal, and then some. The Knicks knew it when they drafted him, and now the Houston Rockets know, too.