When the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, the decision was greeted with boos and even tears from some of their passionate fan base. However, he quickly won the fans over with stellar performances in his rookie and sophomore years in the league, drawing comparisons to the legendary Dirk Nowitzki.
With Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson leaving New York this offseason it seemed the team was ready to commit to a rebuild with Porzingis as the focal point of their offense. The only question was whether he was ready; through six games, Porzingis has emphatically proven the answer is 'yes'.
A stellar season looms
Porzingis has improved every year he has been in the league. This season, as the Knicks' undeniable go-to scorer, that trend has continued at a faster rate than ever.
His field goal percentage has increased from 45% to 46% and he is shooting the ball seven more times a game, doing so while drawing more defensive attention from the opposition. Porzingis has also doubled his free throw attempts per game, proving that he is accepting his role as the team’s leader enthusiastically and is willing and able to attack the basket. All this has led to the Latvian increasing his scoring average from 18 points to a remarkable 27.6 points per game. Porzingis has also improved his body considerably this offseason, boosting his rebounding average by one per game as a result.
Porzingis seems to have learned a lot from Anthony about working well in isolation. He is utilizing the jab step, pump fakes and his length advantages much more efficiently this season, whilst maintaining his ability to score off of the catch and shoot. His variety on offense has been extremely impressive in the early stages of this season.
Further, Porzingis' hot start has seen him become the first Knicks player in history to score over 30 points in five of the team’s first six games of the season, including a career-best 38 points in Monday's win over the Nuggets. There is no doubt that Porzingis is an early frontrunner for most improved player of the season, and he may even challenge for the scoring title. Most importantly, he has proved that he is ready to handle the pressure of leading a big market team.
What does this mean for New York?
Porzingis is willing to take responsibility, and is thriving under the added pressure. The Knicks underwent a tumultuous offseason with lots of roster turnover, but have started the season respectably, losing two blowouts to Boston and Oklahoma - two teams expected to have long playoff runs this season - as well as a close game against Detroit. They have also beaten a rejuvenated Brooklyn team and LeBron James’ Cleveland squad, before downing the Nuggets to make it three straight wins on Monday night.
Porzingis has been instrumental in the Knicks' recent hot streak, and will easily secure an All-Star selection this season if his current form continues. He could become a huge draw for perimeter players in free agency, even if James Dolan’s toxic influence is still infecting the franchise. Most guards would love to play with an athletic big man who can defend and space the floor, operating well in both the pick and roll and pick and pop offenses.
This could mean that New York become an entertaining team again that can attract bigger names in free agency. If the Knicks can surround Porzingis with players that demand respect, it will ensure that their offense doesn’t become too one-dimensional.