Kristaps Porzingis: The New York Knicks rookie booed on draft night is lighting up the NBA

Porzingis scored a career-high 29 points in win over the Charlotte Hornets

Tom Sheen
Wednesday 18 November 2015 11:16
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After the New York Knicks selected unknown Latvian Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, boos were hurled at the teenager as he walked to the podium.

European big men with huge talent had come to the NBA before, been taken with an early pick and failed spectacularly, leading to an outright suspicion of their types. Porzingis would be 'guilty until proven innocent' as one expert said in his pre-draft report.

Draft busts Darko Milicic (No 2, 2003), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (No 5, 1997) and Andrea Bargnani (No 1, 2006) were all fresh in the memory and for a Knicks team that had won just 17 games the previous season under rookie head coach Derek Fisher. The Knicks set a new record for most losses in a season (65) and legendary coach turned GM Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, appeared to be ruining his legacy.

Why then, were the Knicks taking a chance on the, albeit talented Porzingis, who would only turn 20 during the season and had never lived outside Europe? Although the premier talents were already gone (Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor), more experienced and polished players were still available with the fourth pick.

It was the kind of high risk/high reward pick that the 'smarter' Knicks - known over recent years for spending huge amounts of money on over the hill players - were now meant to be avoiding.

Fast forward five months and Porzingis is proving those doubters wrong.

Porzingis was booed by Knicks fans after being drafted fourth overall in June

Sitting just outside the play-off spots Derek Fisher's squad have been the surprise of the season, winning half of their 12 games so far and looking like a much better all around team than they did at any point last year.

Having All-Star Carmelo Anthony back and playing at a high level after he missed almost half of last season with injury has certainly helped, while New York's free agent additions have been better than expected. But it is the Latvian who is drawing a lot of the headlines, while the boos are definitely gone. The Madison Square Garden crowd have been were loudly cheering his name in recent fixtures.

The 7ft 3in forward is a unique talent in a league full of eye-popping athletes. His mix of size and speed can only be matched by a handful of others, but it's his ability to shoot the ball from distance that is already setting him apart and giving the Knicks huge hope for the future.

His shooting stats are below average right now but the beauty and smoothness of his shooting stroke has experts believing the numbers will pick up soon enough. He is already among the league's best at protecting the basket (he's also averaging more than a block per game) and is a very efficient rebounder, averaging more than nine per game in his 26 minutes.

In 12 games so far he has five double-doubles and against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night his talent was there for all to see as he added 29 points and 11 rebounds, including hitting both of his three-point attempts. It was the best performance by a Knicks rookie in 30 years - the last rookie to hit those numbers in a game was Hall of Fame centre Patrick Ewing in 1985.

In his own words, the 20-year-old is only just getting started.

"Everyone was saying I was a project," he said after the win over Charlotte. "I'm going to get better [with time], but I'm ready to play right now."

That's a worrying thought for the NBA's 29 other teams.

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