New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis has arrived much quicker than anyone anticipated.
After being selected with the No. 4 pick in this year's draft, to a smattering of boos from New York fans, Porzingis was deemed a project — a player whose long-term potential would outweigh what he could immediately produce.
Instead, after a 29-point, 11-rebound performance in a 102-94 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night, Porzingis is already way ahead of what people thought he would be capable of in his rookie season.
Porzingis, of course, knew this was coming. He told reporters after reaching a career high in points in the win: "Everybody was saying that I was a project, to wait a few years. I will get better in a few years, but I knew I was able to play right now. That was my mentality."
Carmelo Anthony said of Porzingis' big night: "I knew he was ready … I'm pretty sure this will be the first of many that you all see."
In each appearance, Porzingis has shown off a different aspect of his diverse game, gradually looking more and more comfortable on the court.
His putback dunks have made him a mainstay in the highlight reels:
On Tuesday night, he showed off moves that were less flashy but nonetheless impressive, like a "Dream Shake," made famous by Hakeem Olajuwon, for a baseline jumper:
Or muscling among two Hornets players for an offensive rebound and putback layup, with a foul. That's impressive, considering his slender 7-foot-3, 240-pound frame.
Down the stretch of the game, Porzingis heard chants of "Por-zin-gis!" and perhaps sarcastically "M-V-P!" from the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
While there's a clear sense of confidence from him, he is clearly appreciative of the attention as well.
But it's not just the lovable personality or highlight plays that make him special — there are other signs of a legitimately great player in the 20-year-old Porzingis.
For instance, he has been, statistically, one of the Knicks' best players this season. He leads them in rebounds per game (thought to be one of his weaknesses before the season), and they are outscoring opponents by six points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. When Porzingis is on the bench, the Knicks are being outscored by six points per 100 possessions. With Porzingis on the court, the Knicks have a team-best 95 defensive rating, meaning they are allowing opponents to score 95 points per 100 possessions — their defensive rating as a whole is 100.
As Yahoo's Dan Devine notes, Porzingis' 29-and-11 game before his 21st birthday puts him in elite company. Some of the other players to do it at such a young age: Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, and Anthony Davis, to name a few.
Others around the NBA world are just flat-out impressed with what Porzingis is doing already:
I had Kristaps Porzingis 3rd overall in my first big board that I released last January. He's exceeded even my own expectations.— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) November 18, 2015
The Porzingis Show— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) November 18, 2015
Porzingis has changed the oxygen at Madison Square Garden. There's no stat for that ... but NO ONE thought he could do so in his first month— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) November 18, 2015
In the NBA's survey of general managers before the season, Porzingis didn't receive any votes for Rookie of the Year (in a survey that included his own GM), he didn't receive any votes for biggest steal where he was selected in the draft, and he didn't finish in the top five in votes for best rookie five years from now.
Porzingis will now be a legitimate candidate for Rookie of the Year, particularly because the Knicks are off to a decent 6-6 start and he has been a big part of it.
At some point this season, Porzingis will hit an inevitable rookie wall. While he has made contributions all over the floor, he is still shooting only 41% from the field and 26% from 3-point range. If he continues to have scoring outbursts as he did Tuesday night, defenses will key in on him, and he'll struggle with the adjustments.
For now, however, Porzingis has been one of the best early-season stories, and what he has shown just 12 games into his career makes him an extremely promising player for the future.
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