When Kristaps Porzingis scored his career-high 35 points against the Pistons, the reaction was akin to a coming-out party or a high school graduation. Everyone knew the young Latvian was capable of scoring 30-plus but, mostly due to the minutes restrictions/problems with fouling that rookies usually face, he fell agonizingly short of that 30-point milestone a few times during last year's season. Once the 2015 season concluded, Porzingis threw himself into shootarounds and weight training like a man possessed and, now that we're 14 games into 2016, the results are already pretty breathtaking; not only has Porzingis got that 30-point monkey off his back, he's now done it twice with the Knicks' most recent victory over the Portland Trailblazers, nabbing 31 points along with 9 rebounds and a block. And he's not just scoring more than he did last year either, he's also doing it on a ridiculously improved efficiency:
In fact, there's definitely an argument to be made that Porzingis is, right now, the best player on the New York Knicks. Of course, Carmelo Anthony is still the leader of the team, which he has absolutely earned after not only becoming the first player in history to win three gold medals in Olympic basketball, but also because he stuck around for the bad times as well. He had his opportunity to flee to Chicago when he saw New York starting nobodies like Sam Dalembert, but he didn't. For all the criticism 'Melo's received for supposedly being 'soft' and 'immature', that going-down-with-the-ship attitude is still a kind of emotional leadership, and given how many all-stars jettison their teams these days when things get rough, should be respected. And for the sake of fairness, it's worth mentioning 'Melo still has Porzingis beat on scoring output, 22.9ppg compared to KP's 20.2.
However, I feel like the most important Porzingis stat I cribbed from Basketball Reference is located just to the right of the Season category: KP is only 21 years old. When New York drafted him on that fateful night, most thought he would be a project similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo: an overseas specimen with several physical tools to become a potentially great NBA player, though it would most likely take a few years for him to develop the necessary skills to reach that point. Of course, this narrative got torn asunder after KP's rookie year, where he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting next to the actual ROY, Karl Anthony-Towns. Not only has he defied every expectation put on him, and not only is he the current number-two scorer on the Knicks, but he's doing so at an age where he can only improve.
Depending on the value you personally place on floor spacing and advanced analytics (shoutouts Charles Barkley), there's another interesting stat worth considering in regards to Porzingis' ability to score: KP is currently the second-best player at shooting the three, just behind Courtney Lee, making just under 40% of all his shots behind the arc. Having another player who can shoot comfortably from outside the three-point line has benefits to ball movement and spacing (both of which the Knicks are trying to emphasis under Coach Hornacek), but there's also the obvious mathematical upside of efficiently shooting three's. After all, three IS a bigger number than two. Shooting three's at a rate of 33% works out to be equal to shooting two's at a rate of 50%. The numbers, like the ball, don't lie.
Offensively, the Knicks are at their best when the offense runs through Porzingis rather than 'Melo. His mobility, shooting, and ability to exploit mismatches in the post endear him much more to a motion-based Hornacek offense rather Melo's ball-stopping isolations. It still behooves the team to defer to Anthony though, as he has earned the right to be the representative player of the franchise. But he is no longer the cornerstone of the team, the question is now totally about what players to surround Porzingis with rather than who compliments 'Melo the best. For now, Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony are the first and second-best players on the Knicks; who is first and who is second may change from night to night, but KP is building a serious case as the overall Number One.