When Kristaps Porzingis was drafted by the Knicks, the comparisons of his offensive game to Dirk Nowitzki were swift and obvious: both are gangly 7-footers more comfortable shooting the ball from long range than inside who also possess a level of nimble coordination and grace that their immense height belies. I mean, just look. But what really took people by surprise in Porzingis' rookie year was his raw talent on the defensive end of the floor. If anything, people were predicting the opposite; that Porzingis would be another manila folder in the filing cabinet labeled 'Soft Euro Players'.
So it really blew people's minds when this Latvian teenager came into the NBA and not only had an above-average defensive awareness and sense of where to be when teams would run certain plays, but was a serious problem for any opposing player trying to score at the rim. That season, the Knicks had the least points allowed at the rim of any team in the NBA (though admittedly, that was partly aided by Robin Lopez). It seemed like every New York game in 2015 was a block party as Porzingis controlled the paint, ready to swat any opposing shot into the fourth row. My personal favorite was when in a game against the Celtics, like some crazed Whack-A-Mole player, Porzingis blocks multiple shots in the same play with such stifling quickness that announcer Mike Breen struggles to call them as they happen.
This season, Porzingis' reputation as a Dirk-who'll-wreck-you-on-D continues to be solidified, with a number of spectacular blocks already recorded. We're almost a quarter through the season already, so let's take a look at a few of the more notable rejections by KP so far this year.
Shabazz Muhammad's enthusiasm is completely curbed
In this play, a nifty baseline cut made by Shabazz Muhammad that would've usually ended in an easy dunk, gets absolutely thwarted by Porzingis' left hand. It's the before and after of this offensive set that makes this block particularly memorable, though, as it highlights KP's knack for being always being a defensive step ahead of his opponents. Timberwolf Gourgui Dieng catches the ball at the top of the key, and first looks to pass to Karl Anthony-Towns until he is doubled by Plumlee and Kuzminskas. Muhammad, now unguarded by Kuz, notices KAT in trouble and immediately cuts to the basket for the entry pass by Dieng. Except Porzingis has been watching this play unfold the entire time on the other side of the key, and just as Muhammad catches the pass, he moves to block him at the rim.
And not only does he block Muhammad's shot, but he also keeps the ball in play with the Knicks having possession. That's another defensive intangible that makes KP such a unique force, and it's one that Bill Russell famously propagated when he was with the Celtics; it's one thing to savagely block a basketball into the cheap seats, but if you can stop a basket from being scored on you AND keep possession of the ball? That's straight up playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers.
Porzingis blocks Justin Anderson without jumping
This one is actually a little bit hard to watch, if only for the multiple times I've been in Mr. Anderson's position playing rec-league ball. You really can't teach height. Anyway, this vid starts off with another baseline drive, this time from JA on Porzingis. KP stays in front of him the whole time without committing any touch fouls (an unfortunate habit during his rookie season that he has since pulled away from), and when Anderson attempts to create some room under the basket, Porzingis stands his ground and blocks Anderson's shot WITHOUT JUMPING. Seriously, he just puts his hands up, that's mine, don't argue. I simply have to include this on the grounds of just how casually KP sends Anderson straight to hell.
KP has Frank Kaminsky shook
Some context for this vid: this Knicks home game between New York and Charlotte was incredibly tight, eventually going into overtime. Now even though the scores between teams were close, in a player-by-player matchup, there was no contest between Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Kaminsky. Frank the Tank was getting unbelievably murked by KP, often looking to pass while being guarded by him (even if he was right under the basket), and the game probably wouldn't have gone to OT had it not been for Nic Batum's heroics for Charlotte.
Anyway, so we're in overtime, and Kaminsky has the ball at the 3-point line while being guarded by Porzingis. He sees an open lane to the basket and puts the ball on the floor, momentarily blowing by KP. There's probably a brief second in that drive to the hoop, a momentary lapse where Kaminsky thinks to himself "Finally, I don't have that Bazingis or whatever his name is attached at my hip". That is, until Kristaps seems to come from behind Kaminsky's shoulder to swiftly reject him.
Take another look at how wide that lane was. How much room Kaminsky had on his way to what he thought would be an easy 2 points. None of it mattered.
The Assassination of Cody Zeller by the Heroic Kristaps Porzingis
This play I feel encapsulates Porzingis' effect on the floor, because even if his shots aren't falling, he'll still bust your ass on D. The clip starts off with Porzingis bricking a three-pointer, Nic Batum grabbing the rebound and starting the fast break before making a pretty damn accurate bounce pass to Cody Zeller, who at this point is just inside the opposing three-point line and ready to score. That's when, seemingly out of nowhere, Porzingis strikes into action. He times his block to perfection, touching nothing but the ball, and as was the case in the first clip, blocks it to a Knicks jersey so they keep possession. It's an impressive tableau, as Zeller's corpse lays on the ground in defeat, with Porzingis standing over him like the Colossus of Rhodes.
The kid is barely 21 years old, and he's doing this on a regular basis, to grown-ass men. Unbelievable.