The 5 plays that define Porzingis' first All-Star Year

Kristaps Porzingis has earned his first All-Star nomination, so let's take the opportunity to look back on the 5 plays that defined his best season to date with the Knicks.

We did it, folks. Kristaps Porzingis, the most noteworthy Knicks draftee since Patrick Ewing, has been nominated as an NBA All-Star at 22 years old. The first of what should be many nods. And as much as I want to pat myself, other Knick fans, the city of New York and like, the entire country of Latvia on the back for their respective support, I'd also like to point out how well-earned his first All-Star nod was. While he is certainly not above criticism for how he has handled being the number one option for New York so far, 20+ points per game while leading the league in blocks is nothing to sneer at either. In his first year as team leader, he's given us a wealth of highlights, both offensive and defensive, that should cement his status as the Knicks alpha dog for years to come. Let's check out five of them! 

KP denies his former mentor

Here's the context you need for this one: During KP's first two years as a Knick, Carmelo Anthony took the young Latvian under his wing, walking him through the culture shock of coming to America as well as teaching him the ropes of NBA basketball.

There's little doubt that without Melo's tutelage, Porzingis probably wouldn't be as versatile in the post as he currently is. He even uses the same moves that Melo does, the left-dribble-step-pivot from the baseline in particular. 

Coming into KP's third year, Anthony gets traded to OKC for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott. And who did the Knicks happen to play on opening night, oh yeah, OKC. You couldn't script a more perfect revenge game than this.

Barely two minutes into the first quarter, KP is guarding Melo, now in an OKC uniform, at the three-point line. Melo puts his head down and drives into KP, eventually getting past him for what should've been an open lay-up when, thwack. KP elongates his arm like Jordan at the end of Space Jam to deny his former mentor at the rim, an amazing highlight play, and a perfect torch-passing visual metaphor.

 Porzingis seals the game with a clutch lay-up 

There's a lot of Knicks heartbreak folklore going on in this play. The first thing of note is that Porzingis should've had his first game-winner against Charlotte back in his first year, were it not for the fact Lance Thomas passed him the ball at around ankle-height and ran out the shot-clock by a fraction of a second. The second thing is that this play against the Hornets in 2017 greatly resembles the infamous Game 7 Patrick Ewing missed lay-up against the Pacers in '95. 

Except Porzingis MAKES THE SHOT.

I'm not saying that this now makes Porzingis better than Ewing, but... I also don't know how to finish that sentence.

KP gets a career-high 40 points against the Pacers

Admittedly, the last bucket that capped off Porzingis' highest-scoring effort thus far wasn't exactly highlight material. He catches an entry pass from Hardaway Jr. around 18 feet from the basket, briefly squares up against Thad Young before shooting right over him for an easy swish. Young is no slouch defender, and yet KP gave him fits the entire match as he either drove around or shot over him; two moves you would least expect from a 7-footer.

At this point, plays like this seem so run-of-the-mill for Porzingis, but only because we've become accustomed to them. It's also worth noting that in this match, KP had 6 GODDAMN BLOCKS as well. That's why he's The Unicorn, baby.

With defenders draped over him and the clock winding down, Porzingis nails the turnaround jumper

First of all, there's something very aesthetically pleasing about this offensive play, like it's Greek architecture or Rennaissance art made using the Golden Ratio. It just looks so nice, in a way I'm not bright enough to articulate properly. Secondly, it's a great example of Porzingis making good in a bad situation. Let's walk through the tape: Porzingis catches the overhead pass from Hardaway Jr. (side note: Hardaway has really come into his own as a secondary playmaker with the Knicks, a point that I've previously made on here) with Paul Millsap and Gary Harris already living inside his jersey. He takes a couple of hesitation dribbles, almost gets stripped by Harris (again, I feel like it's worth pointing out that Millsap and Harris are two-way players who can hold their own defensively), before thwarting both of them with the turnaround bucket. Nothin' but net.

Oh also, all this happens with less than 10 seconds left on the clock. To have this kind of poise and patience with time running out and the defense breathing down your neck is otherworldly, and demonstrates the kind of progress KP has made in his decision-making. 

KP gets the block on one end, the dunk on the other

This is Peak Kristaps, the play that best defines his first season as an NBA All-Star. It's perfect defense on one end of the court and undeniable offense on the other. My only real gripe with it was that it happened during garbage time in a match against the Suns, so the stakes weren't really that high. With that said, it's still incredible:

Suns forward Josh Jackson steals a lazy pass from Kanter to Porzingis and proceeds to sprint to the basket with KP in hot pursuit. As Jackson attempts the lay-up, Porzingis nails him with a Bill Russell block (i.e., blocking the shot in such a way so the ball goes to your teammate), and sprints back to the other end to execute the fast break. Jarrett "John Stockton" Jack then threads the needle with a perfect bounce pass to Porzingis, who in turn yams it right on Josh Jackson's head. 

To me, this is the play that perfectly represents KP's leap as the first option this year as well as showcasing the unique skill set that got him the Unicorn nickname in the first place, all wrapped up in a neat 30-second video. Maybe there'll be a time in the future where 7-footers who can attack, defend and run the floor, as well as Porzingis, can are more common, in the same way, that stretch-4's are near mandatory for NBA teams now but were such a rare commodity 10 to 20 years ago. It's highlights like this video that will remind me that Porzingis would be the blueprint for all of them.

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