by Brendan Ripley-Barasch
In the weeks leading up to the NBA draft lottery, Phil Jackson, the president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks, kept a close eye on the three best prospects. He attended Kentucky’s practice to see Karl-Anthony Towns, then stopped by at Madison Square Garden for a St. Johns-Duke game to scout Jahlil Okafor, and attended the Ohio State-Nebraska game to observe D’Angelo Russell. With a record of 17-65, the New York Knicks had a great chance at landing the number one overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Unfortunately the ping-pong balls did not fall their way, first pick went to the Minnesota Timberwolves, second went to the Los Angeles Lakers, and third went to the Philadelphia 76ers. How is that possible? How did the Knicks drop out of the top three? Finally at number four the New York Knicks name was called. Phil Jackson and Knicks fans alike were disappointed with landing the number four spot but still had hope that one of the top three prospects could fall to four.
Fast forward to the NBA draft, the solid depth of the draft opposed to recent years gave NY fans hope they could still find a superstar at the fourth pick. The draft begins with the Timberwolves predictably taking Karl-Anthony Towns. Next, the Lakers take D’Angelo Russell, and that was a bit crushing to fans and of course Phil Jackson because he was very public about how highly he thought of him, “He’s a great-looking kid,” said Jackson. Then the crushing blow to Knicks fans was when the 76ers selected Jahlil Okafor. The top three were gone, who is Phil going to pick? “With the fourth pick in 2015 NBA draft, The New York Knicks select Kristaps Porzingis,” announced commissioner Adam Silver. The arena filled with boos and the camera even caught a young Knicks’ fan crying. Everyone was baffled at the pick because no one even knew who this guy was.
Leading up to the season teammates and coaches were raving about Porzingis and his incredible athletic ability, but NY fans were not convinced, they had to see it with their own eyes. In the regular season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks, Porzingis dropped sixteen points including a three, grabbed five rebounds, and had a block. Now fans were paying attention, the 7-3 power forward had made a great first impression with the city of New York. This was the first of many great performances which led to Porzingis being named rookie of the month in November. The highlights of the first month with a twenty-nine point and eleven rebound game against Charlotte and a game against Houston where he had twenty-four points, fourteen rebounds, and seven blocks.
After his insane first month, Kristaps Porzingis had become a sensation in New York. Much like the short-lived Linsanity that swept through Knicks fans, they were honoring Porzingis like a god, even with some giving him the nickname “Porzingod” or “Godzingis”. Night after night he made spectacular plays, most notably his put-back dunks over players and his use of the post move we know as the “Dream Shake.” Everyone knows how New York media can hype something up, and that was exactly what was happening to Porzingis. First they booed him and ridiculed Phil Jackson for picking him and now all of a sudden they were praising him and foresee him as the savior for the New York Knicks. Number six jerseys were flying off the shelves, he was a fan favorite and his goofy personality made him a favorite of the press as well.
Now the media focuses on Porzingis more than they focus on the former superstar and savior, Carmelo Anthony. Remember that kid who cried when the Knicks drafted Porzingis? Yeah, they met and the kid ended up getting an autograph and apologizing. It is rare to find a story about the Knicks that doesn’t mention Porzingis now.
But is the hype about him real? I think so. After collecting his third consecutive Rookie of the Month award, helping the Knicks surpass their entire win total of last year before the All-star break, drawing raves about him from superstars such as Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, and posting a line of 14 points/7.7 rebounds/1.9 blocks. It is fair to say that this is not the same case as with Jeremy Lin where the media got overly excited and talked about him being a future superstar and face of the franchise after one month and then he ended up falling off the NBA radar for a while. Porzingis has continued to display consistency, maturity, and improvement over the NBA season and may have the highest upside out of any rookie with his size, athletic ability, and basketball IQ. Although he’s not an All-star and might not even be the Rookie of the Year thanks to the stellar season that Towns is having, New York has found a player to build around for the future with Carmelo Anthony for sure.