It should be difficult to designate a former top-five pick as a draft-day steal. The selection of Kristaps Porzingis, however, is a unique tale requiring context, one Knicks fans are all too familiar with.
The NBA Draft had yet to take place and New York had already been disappointed. Having finished with the second-worst record in the league, the team fell two spots to No. 4 in the lottery, devastating all who were forced to endure a horrendous 17-win campaign.
Fans were hoping Duke phenom Jahlil Okafor would fall to them. With the likelihood of that scenario slim to none, others were pining for the likes of Justise Winslow and Willie Cauley-Stein, both of whom had impressed at the college level.
What fans didn’t want was for their beloved Knicks to take a massive gamble on a mysterious Latvian player who would theoretically lead them into a new era of basketball.
Overseas prospects have a spotty track record in the NBA, especially those taken with a top selection. Pau Gasol inspired hope that Europeans could hang around, while Darko Milicic crushed it soon after. Some draft experts believed Porzingis had the potential for greatness, but his development would require a level of patience Knicks fans just weren’t ready to endure.
From the moment KP stepped foot on the NBA hardwood, he did everything possible to write his own story. He swatted shots, slammed monster jams over anyone in the vicinity and provided tangible results that gave the fanbase hope, enough to be selected to the All-Rookie First Team.
He’d continue his development as a unicorn of the league, a unique 7-footer with a non-traditional game in the best of ways. He captured New York City with his flare and skill-set and took another step towards superstardom when he was named an All-Star during the 2017-18 season.
His time with the Knicks has since come and gone, a bitter ending for what always seemed to be a fractured relationship. Porzingis is now enemy No. 1 in New York, but in a way, that’s a good thing.
Nobody would’ve hated him had he became the bust so many had him pegged to become. The front office went against the grain with this selection and was rewarded handsomely for it, even if they had to endure some incredible backlash at first.