When the New York Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Knicks' fans booed. The Knicks were coming off a disastrous 17-65 season in which they set a new franchise record for losses in the season and missed the playoffs for the 2nd straight year.
Porzingis was then an unknown 19 year old from Latvia. Players still available were Duke shooting guard Justise Winslow, Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, and point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Three players that most basketball fans knew. For dismayed Knicks fans looking for a compliment to Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis seemed more of a question than an answer.
Porzingis has quieted the boos. He's third among rookies in scoring at 14.6 PPG, behind only Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns. Both Okafor and Towns have been early favorites for the Rookie of the Year, but Porzingis has emerged as a possible dark horse candidate. Now, Knicks fans must admit they were wrong. Porzingis was a good pick and will be in the running for the Rookie of the Year award.
Porzingis is second among rookies in blocks (1.91 BPG) and rebounds (8.9 RPG) and sixth among rookies in 3-point field goal percentage (36%). Most impressive is that he leads all rookies in double-doubles with ten.
Porzingis has scored 20 points or more in five games so far, including a 28 point effort in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks where he faced off against Dirk Nowitzki. The 7'3 forward from Latvia has already drawn comparisons to 7' forward and German export Nowitzki. By comparison, Nowitzki averaged 8.2 PPG and 3.4 RPG his rookie season (1998-99).
The comparison to Nowitzki makes sense. Both European natives are lengthy players with the height and size to play in the low post. Both, because of their shooting range, create match-up problems with traditional low post players. Comparing a rookie to a future Hall of Famer is a tall order but if Porzingis continues to improve, he could be on his way to a similar career as Nowitzki's.
As his rookie season continues, Porzingis will continue to develop. The Knicks, at 10-12, will rely on him more for offense as they push for a playoff spot. He already leads the team in field goal percentage (46%) and averages the third most minutes per game. As Anthony and Porzingis continue to mesh, the Knicks will become a better team. Porzingis has already proved that the Knicks' front office made the correct draft choice and that he's one of the best rookies this season.
Photos courtesy of nba.com, nydailynews.com