Travel back to June 25, 2015; the night of the 2015 NBA Draft. After Karl-Anthony Towns expectedly went to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 1 overall, the Los Angeles Lakers stunned the basketball community by abandoning tradition and selecting guard D’Angelo Russell over center Jahlil Okafor.
What followed was one of the most shocking moments in New York Knicks history.
The Philadelphia 76ers, already in possession of two high-profile big men, drafted Okafor at No. 3 overall. Thus, the Knicks’ dreams of stealing one of the Top 3 prospects at No. 4 overall withered away.
With uncertainty mounting, Phil Jackson and Steve Mills opted to do the unfathomable, selecting Latvian big man and workout warrior Kristaps Porzingis.
As one can see in the video provided above, what followed was something that no rookie wants to hear: boos.
Fortunately, Porzingis isn’t your typical rookie. Day by day, it becomes more-and-more clear that he’s an anomaly—and that’s not just because he’s a 7’3″ sharpshooter.
According to Al Iannazzone of Newsday, Porzingis has quickly learned to appreciate the rabid and unforgiving passion displayed by Knicks fans.
"“[They say], ‘KP, you’d better be healthy and bring us a championship,’ ” Porzingis said. “Stuff like that. I love the fans. They’re very passionate about basketball. It’s very nice that they recognize me and say good things to me on the street.”"
"“I’m not nervous,” Porzingis said. “I’m excited. This is a dream come true.”"
Every time Porzingis is interviewed, he finds a way to turn his critics into supporters.
Physically, it’s almost unheard of for a player of his size to be as accurate a shooter as he is. The only true comparison in that sense—and that sense alone—is one of the greatest European players of all-time: Arvydas Sabonis.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Sabonis is the only player in NBA history to make at least 30 3-point field goals while standing at 7’2″ or taller.
Porzingis, 7’3″, will be utilized in a variety of ways with the Knicks in 2015-16. The value of his jump shot will not be limited by his versatility, however, as he’ll complement his post game by flashing his 3-point range and operating from the elbow.
The Triangle Offense will do what it can to keep Porzingis close to the basket, but Jackson and Derek Fisher are aware of how valuable Porzingis’ versatility is.
As for his approach, Porzingis continues to display an appreciation for the opportunity he’s received. He cherishes the chance to play in New York and is visibly proud to wear a Knicks jersey.
Per Iannazzone, Porzingis can see how his passion has caused a shift in perception amongst New York’s faithful.
"“Yeah, probably now the fans know me a little better,” Porzingis said after Tuesday’s practice. “Now I’ve just got to prove that I can play on the court, not just the talking. So tomorrow’s the first day, the first step. I’ve got to play as hard as I can and try to win and do good for the team.”"
All Porzingis wants to do is help the team win. It’s hard not to respect that.
Associate coach Kurt Rambis recently compared Porzingis’ upside to a mix of Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. Whether or not that proves to be true, Rambis had another comment stashed into his eye-popping quote that cannot be ignored.
The four-time NBA champion told reporters that Porzingis is likely three-to-five years away from maximizing his potential.
If Knicks fans can change their ways and display patience, Porzingis has the tools and work ethic to reward their faith. There will need to be signs of steady improvement, but that doesn’t need to be said; the 20-year-old is well-aware of what he needs to do.
Per Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Porzingis has received advice from ex-Knicks players on how to handle the unparalleled tenacity of the team’s fanbase.
"“A lot of ex-Knicks players have talked to me and given me advice … it’s just go out there and play as hard as I can,” Porzingis said. “That’s basically what everybody is telling me, that the fans love guys who play hard. That’s the main goal for me. Play hard, intensity, show that I want to be here.”"
Very few people are still questioning whether or not Porzingis wants to be here.
Without beating a dead horse, it’s becoming abundantly clear that Porzingis is as passionate about the Knicks as the fans are. A prime example is him putting on 11 pounds after hearing concerns that he’s too thin to be the low-post force New York needs in the Triangle Offense.
Porzingis may or may not become the Knicks’ new franchise player, but his combination of skill, size and passion warrants hype.
Perhaps it’s time to believe in it.
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