The Knicks big man is already making leaps just a few games into his second season. Salvation is at hand.
I am well aware of how writers, journalists and other commentators exaggerate and use vitriol to sell a point. Basketball is pretty egregious for it as well, due to the obvious spectacle that getting dunked on/having your ankles broken provides; I've lost track of how many videos I've seen titled "player X ENDS PLAYER Y'S LIFE with this earth-shattering dunk". Which is why I'm putting this self-aware preface in before I go ahead and claim the following: that Kristaps Porzingis is the only basketball player that matters in New York.
Sure, Derrick Rose is looking to have a rebirth of sorts as a Knicks, and Carmelo's captaincy was never under question following his Olympic victories in the summer. But Porzingis is, without a doubt at this point, the future of the Knicks franchise and could possibly be our best player by the time the season is over.
It is extremely unlikely you're reading this and haven't heard of Kristaps Porzingis, after all, Hashtag Basketball prides itself on providing in-depth coverage for the more discerning basketball fan. But in case there's some stragglers who've yet to be blessed by Kristaps' healing hands (read: vicious putbacks), here's the 30-second version of Porzingis' NBA journey thus far: Skinny Unknown Latvian Kid gets taken with the 4th Pick in the 2015 Draft by the Knicks, is immediately booed by a section of grumpy Knicks fans including the most bully-able kid in existence, however he plays well enough in the 2015-16 season to become the runner-up Rookie of the Year, almost averaging a double-double. He's also 21 years old.
And now that he's into his second season in the NBA and showing signs of continued improvement, it's the perfect time for a fandom in league with religious radicalism. I mean JUST LOOK at this fast-break dunk from him against the Grizzlies:
Are you being entertained?
With that being said, Porzingis collected dunks last year like a hack comedian makes local references, so we already knew stuff like this was already in his repertoire. It's not exactly something you can kind of practice in drills either. What we can see improvement in, however, is how he is shooting and moving without the ball. Take a look at this highlight package of all his points against the Grizzlies.
What is clearest at first is Porzingis' improved ability in driving to the rim. His confidence has obviously improved, and the strength conditioning he put his lower body through in the off-season is paying immediate dividends. I watched A LOT of Knicks games last year, and I feel pretty comfortable saying that the shots that fell at 1:04 and 1:36 would've missed or, best case scenario, sent Porzingis to the free-throw line if he took them last season. But that was then, when Porzingis was but a mere demigod, and this is now.
Secondly, Porzingis' shot selection has become a lot better since last year too. Not that his shot choice ever approached J-Crawford levels, its more so his shot timing that has improved the most. It's less apparent in the Dawkins vid, but Porzingis is letting the game come to him more often than not, without being totally non-assertive. He said it best himself in an NY Post article:
"I wasn’t as anxious as I was last year. I was still hyped, I was ready to go, but I knew how to calm myself down,” Porzingis said. “Last year, I think the first shot I took was an air ball. You could tell I was too excited. This year I was excited, but I knew I had to relax a bit and let the game come to me.
Having that one year of experience, going through all those things just calms you down a little bit. If you talk to yourself a little bit, chill out, [you] relax”
In time, he will learn how to take over a game. For now, this is a good a sign as any that any fears of a sophomore slump were unjustified as KP continues to learn and grow, both physically and mentally, in the NBA. All hail the PorzinGod.