By Brian Norris
When Kristaps Porzingis was drafted with the 4th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, many Knicks fans were upset. They booed and cried about the selection when it was made. Porzingis was seen as a project, someone who would have to be developed for several years before he could contribute. Those fears have proven to be laughable now. He played better than anyone expected in his rookie season last year, and this year he has made a quantum leap forward. Porzingis is playing like an All-Star this season, and his future and the Knicks’ looks very bright.
Relentless Work Ethic
Even though Porzingis exceeded everyone’s expectations as a rookie last season, he didn’t lose his desire to get better. He worked tirelessly in the offseason to improve his game. He could have represented his home country of Latvia in the Olympics this past summer, but he instead wanted to focus on improving his game. He worked hard to add more moves to his post game. He did a lot of strength training, working especially hard to get his legs stronger. He also worked on his shot as well as his handle. Porzingis is setting the bar high for the young generation of European players entering the league.
The Improvement Is Obvious
All of these efforts are already bearing fruit. Through 11 games this season, Porzingis has shown that he is well on his way to becoming an elite player in the NBA. In the Knicks’ last two games, he has played incredibly well. First, he showed Dirk Nowitzki that the torch has been passed to a new generation of European big-man shooter, nailing a signature Nowitzki one-footed stepback jumper and starring Dirk down in a blowout victory over the Mavericks.
In the next game, Porzingis scored a career-high 35 points as he led the Knicks to a 105-102 victory over the Pistons. The home crowd at Madison Square Garden was so impressed with his play that they serenaded him with “MVP” chants. These are the same fans who booed when he was drafted. Now they are eating crow.
Where He Goes from Here
With a talent like Porzingis’, there is no telling how far he can climb. There has never been a player like him before in the NBA. The closest analogy is Nowitzki, but Porzingis is bigger. With his 7’3” height and 7’6” wingspan combined with his freakish athleticism, Porzingis is a unique phenomenon whose like has never been seen before.
If he continues to show the same relentless work ethic that he had displayed thus far, Porzingis could be the cornerstone that turns around the Knicks franchise. He could be an All-Star this year. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could be in MVP discussions in the next few years. The Knicks should become regular playoff participants, and they could challenge for the title in a few years if Phil Jackson can put the right pieces around him. For now, it will be fun to watch Porzingis lead the Knicks back to relevancy and a possible playoff berth this year.
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