NEW YORK (Reuters) - Knicks fans booed when New York announced their selection of a 7-foot-3, teenaged foreign import from Latvia with the fourth pick of the NBA Draft last June.
Now cheers of “Porzingis, Porzingis” fill Madison Square Garden, along with a fresh burst of optimism for a franchise that had fallen on hard times.
“It’s a big adjustment for me still. I‘m still learning,” Kristaps Porzingis said after leading the Knicks to victory over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. “A lot of road games, a lot of games in a short period of time.”
Knicks fans can hardly wait to see how a well adjusted Porzingis will do after the forward/center helped a team that was 17-65 last season make a 9-10 start to the young 2015-16 campaign with impressive play on both sides of the court.
The league, his team mates and rivals alike have also noticed.
Porzingis, 20, averaged 13.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over his first 19 games and was named this season’s first Eastern Conference rookie player of the month.
“That was a helluva pick,” said Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. “His upside is going to be whatever he wants to be. He loves the game and there is a toughness in him. I think he is unique.”
Porzingis came to the NBA from Spain’s professional league with a reputation as a fine shooter, but he has shown the potential to possess a commanding all-around game.
The lanky frontcourt rookie has registered eight double-doubles, including a 29-point, 11-rebound performance in a win over Charlotte, and 24 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks when the Knicks defeated Houston.
Knicks and Spanish national team point guard Jose Calderon said the sky was the limit for his young team mate, summoning the likes of NBA international giants Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol when evaluating Porzingis.
”He maybe looks even better than those guys when they arrived that first year,“ said Calderon. ”But we’re talking about two of the best players ever. So let’s give him some time to see where he can be. He’s been great for us.
“He wants to be the best.”
Besides his physical gifts, which include strong ball handling skills, good timing and coordinated control over his long body, it is the Latvian’s tenacity on court and business-like approach that also sets him apart.
”He thinks about wanting to be the best,“ Calderon said. ”He works hard. If he has a bad game, he goes back and works hard. If he has a good game, he goes back and works hard again.
“He asks, he listens. He can do whatever you want with him. He’s always listening to everybody. He’s kind of like a sponge, getting all that information.”
Porzingis credits his family and older brother Janis in particular for his approach to the game.
“My older brother, Janis, he was a really hard worker when he played,” he said about his sibling who competed at the Eurocup level.
”He wants me to take advantage of my potential and be the best player I can be. So I‘m very serious, very professional about what I can do.
“I‘m a student of the game, try to watch as much film as I can, learn from my mistakes and get better.”
Porzingis has even hit it off with Knicks’ high scorer Carmelo Anthony, who is accustomed to being the top banana on court but has taken the young Latvian under his wing and sees a bright NBA future for him.
“He can be as great as he wants to be,” said Knicks coach Derek Fisher.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes