What would the New York Knicks look like had Phil Jackson not drowned out the criticism and selected Kristaps Porzingis at the 2015 NBA Draft?
As a lifelong New York Knicks fan, I am now a devout servant to God-Zingis. Kristaps Porzingis was drafted at No. 4 overall by the Knicks in 2015, and he appears to be a cornerstone in New York’s future. We know this now.
We didn’t know that on draft night in 2015.
One of the most memorable images from the 2015 draft was a closeup of a young Knicks fan crying and booing when Porzingis’s name was announced. Undoubtedly, this kind of scene broke out in homes all over New York. Knicks fans like myself feared that Porzingis would turn into another Renaldo Balkman, Mardy Collins or any other number of Knicks draft busts.
Knicks fans wanted someone proven; someone bound to be a solid NBA player; someone like Justise Winslow.
If Knicks fans got there way on draft night, we may be approaching the second year in the reign of the “Wall of Justise” or “Just Wins-low” or whatever the New York Media would have called him. While Winslow looks poised for a long NBA career after a successful rookie campaign, he’s not the ultra-rare 7-foot-3 stretch-five unicorn that Kristaps Porzingis is.
If the Knicks had gone with what seemed to be popular opinion on draft night in 2015 and drafted someone like Winslow instead of Porzingis, the 2015-16 season, as well as their future, would be undoubtedly very different.
In the short-term, the Knicks would have had an even less successful 2015-2016 season with Winslow over Porzingis. Porzingis was able earn minutes early in the season to fill a hole at the power forward position. Porzingis caught onto NBA game quicker than Winslow and maintained his early-season success, for the most part, throughout the year.
With a bit of a log-jam on the perimeter with Aaron Afflalo, Langston Galloway, and Sasha Vujacic, Winslow may not have been given the minutes he needed to succeed in the way Porzingis was.
Porzingis provided much more offensive firepower in his rookie year than Winslow, averaging 14.3 points per game to Winslow’s 6.4. In addition to pure scoring, Porzingis was also able to improve the Knicks spacing on offense in a way Winslow wouldn’t have been able to do.
With Porzingis on the floor, the Knicks were able to use him at center with four perimeter players around him, maximizing floor space for shooters. The Knicks were also able to use him as a stretch 4, allowing two big-men to be on the floor at the same time for size and rebounding.
Winslow would have offered the Knicks a much more limited offensive role, only playing the wing and shrinking the floor with his limited 3-point shooting.
While Winslow is limited offensively at this point in his career, his defensive versatility is superior to that of Porzingis. Porzingis is great at blocking shots in help-side defense, but he often struggles not to get buried in the paint by stronger centers, or beat off the dribble by athletic forwards.
Winslow will have a long career in the NBA because of his ability to defend four positions on the floor, a trait New York desperately needed, as it had trouble defending the perimeter last year with slow, aging guards.
Defensive versatility aside, the potential Porzingis displayed as a 7-foot-3 anomaly who can run the floor, dribble, shoot, pass, rebound, and block shots was enough to keep Knicks fans satisfied and content up until the All-Star break.
With Winslow instead of Porzingis, it would have been hard to see head coach Derrick Fisher making it past the 30-game mark.
By drafting Winslow instead of Porzingis, the Knicks free agency choices in the summer of 2016 would have been much different. With a duo of Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis, the Knicks front office felt they were in a good enough position to try and win now.
In an effort to win now, the Knicks hired Jeff Hornacek as head coach, signed Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah, and traded for Derrick Rose—all proven NBA players at the point in their career where rings are the goal.
If Carmelo Anthony were paired with Winslow as his sidekick, it’s questionable if the Knicks front-office would feel confident enough to make moves in an effort to win now.
If New York did have enough trust in Winslow to have a big second year, it may have targeted a star power-forward like Al Horford in free agency rather than guards Rose and Lee.
With Winslow’s current trajectory to stardom behind Porzingis’, it’s possible that the Knicks may have given up on winning now, instead choosing to start over and aggressively move Anthony to a different team for prospects and draft picks.
While Porzingis did not bring New York a playoff win, he did bring the Knicks something they haven’t had this decade, hope.