It must have been a nightmare. From a very young age, Kristaps Porzingis probably dreamed of being drafted and playing in the NBA. He had waited his whole life for the moment that occurred early in the draft on June 25, 2015. However, when the New York Knicks made Kristaps Porzingis’ dream a reality and commissioner Adam Silver called his name the response from the crowd was anything but a fairytale. A loud, deafening“boo” filled Barclays center, one filled with anger and hatred. As a New York Knicks fan watching the draft live my thoughts were very similar to almost every other fan watching, “How could the Knicks have messed up again?”.
We have all seen the video of the young Knicks fan crying his eyes out just minutes after Phil Jackson and the Knicks brass made an unknown 20-year-old from Latvia the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. This unknown Latvian was little solace for a fan base that had been expecting much more after they watched their team suffer through the worst statistical season in the history of the franchise, in which the Knicks traded J.R. Smith and former first round selection Iman Shumpert for next to nothing and shut down star Carmelo Anthony at the All-Star break. Fans expected the tumultuous season to result in either Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns, both deemed “franchise changing” players by most draft experts, becoming a New York Knick. Yet, the Knicks fell to number four in the draft lottery and missed out completely on Towns, Okafor, and even Ohio State guard Deangelo Russell, considered by many the third best prospect available.
With the three “can’t miss” prospects off the board, many fans wanted the Knicks to target Duke forward Justise Winslow. A 6’6 “tweener” who fans were very familiar with due to his freakish athleticism and championship pedigree after his heroics down the stretch of the season and in the NCAA Tournament culminating with a national championship. Drafting Winslow, the Duke champion, would have indisputably satisfied most Knicks fans more than drafting Porzingis, the skinny Latvian. However, Knicks president Phil Jackson had already made his mind up. To the dismay of many fans, he was going to make 7’3 220 pound Kristaps Porzingis the face of the Knicks rebuilding campaign.
Although I do not believe booing Porzingis just minutes after he was drafted was fair, there was plenty to not like about him. He was foreign, which gave Knicks fans horrible flash backs to bust Andrea Bargnani who was the first overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft. He was really skinny, which gave many fans the impression that he would be “soft” and get pushed around by stronger NBA bodies. With criticism from every angle, it would have been easy for Porzingis to curl up in a ball and wither or call out fans for unfairly booing him. However, since the moment the boos ended on the night of June 25, 2015, Kristaps Porzingis has been nothing but the perfect draft pick.
His numbers? Outstanding. Over the first 28 games of his professional career, Porzingis has averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. However, it has been his stellar defense that has put the rookie over the top. Porzingis has completely changed the complexion of the Knicks defense, and is currently tied with first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns for sixth in the entire league in blocked shots at just over 2 a game. His defensive excellence has made Porzingis a major factor almost every night, even when he is not shooting the ball well.
His intangibles? Even better. The bipolar personalities of former Knicks duds including Stephon Marbury, Eddie Curry, and JR Smith have made the fiery, passionate disposition of Kristaps Porzingis a breath of fresh air. This attitude has been on full display multiple times throughout the first quarter of the season. Firstly, Porzingis made his initial impression on the NBA with a series of ferocious put back dunks that had fans buzzing. While his numbers during this stretch were not great, Porzingis was still catching the eyes of people around the NBA and in the process, gaining the respect of his peers. Secondly, when perennial All-Star Dwight Howard dunked on him in an overtime Knicks loss at the Garden, Porzingis told reporters after the game that he “wanted to get him (Howard) back” the next time the two teams play. The response was subtle, yet mature and perfect for a rookie who has aspirations of becoming, like Howard, one of the better, feared big men in the game.
There is little doubt that since Kristaps Porzingis became a Knick the feeling inside the hallowed walls of Madison Square Garden has just been a bit different. For a fan base that has suffered year after year over the past decade, the youthful Porzingis has given Knicks fans a reason to believe. Yes, Carmelo Anthony is still the clear leader and best player of these Knicks but whether you refer to him as “PorzinGod”, “Zinger” or his personal favorite, “KP”, Kristaps Porzingis is the one who has given Knicks fans hope. Hope that one day he will be an NBA All-star, hope that one day he will make the Knicks relevant again, and hope that one day, maybe in a magical dream, Kristaps Porzingis will lift the NBA finals trophy at Madison Square Garden.