The New York Knicks have been one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2015-16 NBA regular season. Battling the expectations of a bottom-feeder, New York sits just one game below .500 with 19 games behind it.
At the heart of that success has been the improbable rise of rookie big man Kristaps Porzingis.
A 7’3″ anomaly from Latvia, Porzingis has emerged as one of the frontrunners for Rookie of the Year. He won Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, already has a number of signature performances, and has been infectious with his energy.
“There’s the magical element to this young man that has caught the admiration, I think, of the fan base here in New York City and people around the country that do follow the Knicks,” Jackson said on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Wednesday. “In seeing this guy he’s got the right temperament, the right attitude, carries himself well.”
“He’s still not getting the calls, he’s still getting some calls, doesn’t seem to have that issue with referees or protest or get upset. He seems to have a very calm, balanced nature about his game. You know, it’s a learning process. I see growth almost from game to game and that’s really the ticket you look at as you watch a young player.”
“The other day they made a big thing about Howard dunking over the top of him. That’s ridiculous,” Jackson said. “Everybody gets dunked on in the NBA game. But he seems to just laugh it off, come back. He’s obviously a lightning rod to our fan corps because you can’t hide him. He stands out in a crowd, there’s no doubt about it.”
It’s hard to disagree.
In almost every sense of the word, Porzingis has been clutch for the Knicks. His called-off buzzer-beater against the Charlotte Hornets was a prime example, whether it counted or not.
Beyond the should-have-been game-winner is an uncanny ability to make big plays whenever his team needs them.
From explosive put-back dunks to late-game free throws, Porzingis has never shied away from a challenge.
In his best performance to date, Porzingis recorded a career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds at Madison Square Garden. The opponent was, again, Charlotte, which only added to the allure of the performance.
In front of the three greatest players in franchise history, Porzingis was dominant.
What more evidence do you need of his unlimited upside?
Four days after his 29-point eruption, Porzingis had 24 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks against the Houston Rockets. He added two more 20-point performances to close out November, and had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in New York’s December-opening win.
The general consensus may have been that Porzingis would struggle early in his NBA career, but the magical element to his game has helped him avoid that fate.