The New York Knicks are entering one of the most important seasons in franchise history. There’s no time to waste in building around 31-year-old Carmelo Anthony, and the supporting cast is being constructed before our very eyes.
With a growing impatience for the arrival of a second star, the pressure is mounting daily for rookie Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis was selected at No. 4 overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. The hope is that Phil Jackson has found the New York reincarnation of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol—winners of two championships in tandem—with Anthony and Porzingis.
Whether or not that comes to fruition, New York and Porzingis are maintaining a patient mentality: one step at a time.
"“They’re just telling me not to rush it,’’ Porzingis said. “It’s a long season — not to try to do everything in the first game and have the best game of my life and be tired the rest of the season. To remember that I’m going to need all that energy and be mentally focused for a long season.’’No, Porzingis said, preseason and summer league have not prepared him fully for what lies ahead.“I don’t think so. I’ve never played 82 games in such a short period,’’ said Porzingis, who played last season in the Spanish League. “It will be something new.’’"
Porzingis continues to prove that he understands how important pacing himself through his rookie season will be.
Porzingis is a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, but that doesn’t appear to be a goal of his. Rather than putting up the numbers that he’s capable of achieving, the Latvian big man is thinking long-term.
In 2015-16, Porzingis would rather experiment with his game and figure out what does and doesn’t work moving forward.
"“I’m not really trying to set any numbers,’’ Porzingis said. “I’m just trying to help the team every way possible. It’s my rookie year. I’m just trying to find my game. The most important thing is to win games. Later on everything else will fall in place.’’"
Not only is that a mature approach to the game, but it’s something that will benefit both he and the team.
The key to that mentality will be understanding that consistency is most often developed by experiencing both the highs and lows of an NBA career. Porzingis will have games during which he struggles mightily, just as he’ll shine in others.
Per Berman, the Knicks’ advice for the rookie was as follows: don’t worry about making SportsCenter.
"But according to sources, the coaching staff has tried to instill in Porzingis to worry less about making a “SportsCenter” highlight play and more about consistently doing the little things that win games."
He certainly could be a human highlight reel, but that’s not what’s important this early in Porzingis’ career.
Porzingis is a 7’3″ power forward whose agility and versatility permits him to thrive in virtually every phase of the game. He’s a genuine sharpshooter with intriguing instincts as a shot-blocker, a rare ability to put the ball on the floor and improving comfort in the post.
Should he put that all together, Porzingis would be one of the most dynamic players on the planet.
In order to turn individual skills into an arsenal of moves, however, Porzingis needs time. It won’t happen overnight, no matter how hungry Knicks fans are for an immediate championship.
Head coach Derek Fisher believes that Porzingis has the mentality to make that happen.
"“Kris is coming along just fine,’’ Fisher said. “He takes his job seriously. The big things for him is to still enjoy being in this very fortunate position to be in the greatest city in the world, to be on the Knicks, still go out there and have fun playing basketball and not carry too much weight on his shoulders.’’"
Pace is the key.
New York has done an excellent job of blending patience and earned opportunity with Porzingis thus far. Carmelo Anthony has taken on the role of a mentor and Fisher has granted Porzingis the opportunity to start at power forward.
According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, there’s one thing that you can expect Porzingis to do as a member of the starting lineup: rebound like hell.
"“Just having that mentality that you want to get every rebound possible,” Porzingis said."
It may be a longer process than most were hoping for, but the future is bright in New York City. Porzingis is already working at a ferocious pace, displaying a champion’s work ethic.
The question is, can he one day become the champion that New York has longed for since 1973?
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