Kristaps Porzingis: The Role of His Teammates In His Development

Jan 6, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 6, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports /

Kristaps Porzingis is considered to be the New York Knicks’ next franchise player. We take a look at how his current teammates influence his development.

With 6:16 left in the second quarter versus the Milwaukie Bucks, Kristaps Porzingis used his skinny frame to power his way to the basket from the baseline and lay in his first NBA field goal. In just 24 minutes, Porzingis scored 16 points and grabbed 5 rebounds.

It wasn’t a pretty game, but he scraped his way to a decent performance while shooting only 28 percent from the field. Fans who were excited from the glimpses of versatility he flashed during Summer League were not yet sure what to make of him. If anything, his first game solidified that he was a strong piece to a larger puzzle, and maybe more.

He continued to play wildly above the “project” status he was considered to be coming out of the draft and became a Rookie of the Year candidate. Porzingis’ development moved the New York Knicks’ timetable forward.

They realized that his development will be a huge factor in the Knicks becoming a perennial winner, but that he could also be a vital piece to a winning team, now.

Steve Mills, general manager of the Knicks, made the following statement regarding Porzingis:

"“It is really important for KP [Kristaps Porzingis] to develop as a basketball player and the best thing that we can do to help him develop is to put him in a culture where we are winning basketball games and he is around other good players.”"

Those “other good players” he is referring to are Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee, Brandon Jennings and Lance Thomas, marquee signings from the 2016 free agency period.

Each of these players will play a role in the development of Porzingis and other young players such as Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Maurice Ndour, Marshall Plumlee and Guillermo (Willy) Hernangomez.

Carmelo Anthony

While Anthony is the Knicks’ “favorite son,” at least for now, Porzingis is waiting in the wings to take over that title. Anthony has an important role in making sure the title is passed on to him.

Anthony has been in Porzingis’ shoes. Entering the league at 19 years of age, he was once the up and coming star of the Denver Nuggets. Now the star of the Knicks, he can use his experience as a young franchise player to mentor Porzingis on how to handle the pressure, media, and attention that comes with the title.

Anthony and Porzingis have similar games, personalities and will probably have a similar career arc. Porzingis is at the beginning of his while Anthony is closer to the end of his peak. By the time Anthony is well on to the downside of his career arc, Porzingis will be approaching the peak of his.

This makes their mentor and mentee relationship logical, as there will be a natural transfer of leadership from Anthony to Porzingis.

Derrick Rose/Brandon Jennings

One of the most important strengths Kristaps Porzingis can learn from Derrick Rose, and Brandon Jennings for that matter, is how to play with a penetrating point guard. In his rookie year, Porzingis played with a facilitating, 3-point shooting point guard in Jose Calderon.

Penetration was a major problem for the Knicks last season. Porzingis didn’t get many chances to shoot wide open threes created from deep guard penetration. Most of his threes came from a swing, trailing the play or a pick and pop.

He didn’t get many dunks or layups by slashing with a penetrating guard. Most of his dunks came from him breaking down the defense, a putback or a fast break. Shooting open threes and getting easy layups and dunks will help Porzingis expand his ability to move off the ball.

It will also help his scoring average by giving him easier scoring opportunities.

Joakim Noah

Energy. Intensity. Fearlessness. These are all traits that Noah possesses and can pass on to Porzingis. On most nights last season the Knicks lacked a fiery approach to the game. This was partly due to the personality makeup of the team.

With guys like Noah and Courtney Lee, who brings a defensive mindset and energy to the team, the Knicks should rarely lack fire. Playing with his new teammates will help Porzingis learn how to bring energy and an aggressive mindset to the game on a nightly basis.

Courtney Lee

Lee has played for six different teams during his eight-year career. As a journeyman, he’s been all over the NBA spectrum. In 2008-2009, he played significant minutes in an NBA Finals run with the Orlando Magic. The following season he played for the 12-70 New Jersey Nets.

Since playing for the worst team in NBA history, Lee played for two Houston Rocket teams that missed the playoffs, but had winning records. He also played for one Boston Celtics playoff team, three Memphis Grizzlies playoffs teams, and participated in the playoffs the Charlotte Hornets last season.

On each team, he’s excelled in different roles.

Whatever his role—off the bench, defensive stopper or scorer—Lee stays willing and ready to perform for the betterment of the team. This is an invaluable characteristic and one that Porzingis will benefit from this year and in the future as his role evolves from a second or third option to the No. 1 option, then eventually to a role player as he reaches the twilight of his career.

Lance Thomas

All of the players mentioned are known to have a great work ethic and perseverance, maybe none more than Lance Thomas. Read Thomas’ blog post on the The Players’ Tribune.

The post describes the work ethic and perseverance that exemplified his journey from an undrafted rookie; to the D-League; to multiple 10-day contracts; to playing overseas; to getting traded to the Knicks and to finally be in a position to land a long-term contract.

Thomas learned valuable lessons through his journey. Porzingis having the opportunity to pick his brain and gather that knowledge will be essential to his development.

The Young Guys

Porzingis, Hernangomez—a close friend of Porzingis—and Plumlee are in the same age range and seem to be of high character. Social development is important for any person, but imagine being a 20-year-old player on a team full of veterans trying to figure out how to live an NBA lifestyle.

Porzingis seems to have a great support system at home. Unfortunately, they are not around him during all the team outings, on the plane or in every city in which he plays. It’s important to have players his age he can relate to and share experiences.

While Anthony is a great mentor for Porzingis, they have a 12-year gap in age. Porzingis, Hernangomez and Plumlee will need to learn from each other as they develop socially and professionally.

While Phil Jackson has developed a team that is slighted towards a win now approach, he has not forgotten the development of Porzingis. He’s surrounded Porzingis with players that have complimentary basketball skills, and traits and characteristics that will help Porzingis and the other young players reach their potential.

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Great Job, Phil!