There wasn’t much for New York Knicks fans to get overly excited about last season, as the team once again failed to qualify for the postseason and limped to a 32-50 record.
However, the emergence of rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis did reinvigorate the fan base and provide a much-needed beacon of hope. He is the reason many Knicks fans came back into the fold last year and are now genuinely excited about the future.
Entering year two, New Yorkers are curious to see how their young cornerstone will evolve. At the Knicks’ Media Day on Monday, Porzingis hinted about improvements to his game that he spent time refining this summer.
“My ball-handling is better now,” Porzingis said. “I just feel comfortable with the ball now, so you’re going to see some new stuff this season. You’re going to see some new stuff, and hopefully more put-back dunks.”
Porzingis also talked about how he adjusted his weight-room preparation after an arduous rookie campaign.
“Last offseason, we made a little mistake that all I did was work upper body and try to get bigger. This offseason, I really focused on my lower strength, my legs, my core, [to] make sure that it’s strong,” Porzingis said. “And that’s going to give me strength to be able to hold my ground defensively and offensively as well. My legs have gotten much stronger. When I’m driving, I’m able to stay lower. Defensively, I can be lower and quick on my feet.”
When the Knicks’ training camp kicked off on Tuesday, the early returns were promising. Those who weren’t part of the team last season and were getting their first up-close glimpse of Porzingis were particularly impressed.
Derrick Rose, who won the MVP award at the ripe age of 22, liked what he saw from his new teammate and gushed about the group’s collective potential.
“We’re very talented. The sky’s the limit for us,” Rose said. “We’re coming together as a group. Everybody’s competing from day one and that’s what you want from players, to see them competing from day one and coming together as a team and pushing themselves and each other.”
When asked specifically about how he envisions playing with Porzingis, Rose explained that he planned to push the pace offensively and expected his young, tall teammate right by his side.
“I want to make him run!” Rose said with a smile. “What is he 18 [years old]? He’s young!”
“I’m always going to find a way to get him the ball,” Rose added. “I’m not selfish at all. One of the reasons I love the position that I’m in is that it allows me to be the point guard, which I am. With the Bulls, I had to learn how to score the ball in crazy ways because I had to adapt to the league. But coming here, I have so many options. KP can pop, he can post, he can pass. He’s skilled and very talented. We can play with him in many ways.”
Rose also discussed how opposing defenses will have fits attempting to deal with a trip of Carmelo Anthony, Porzingis and Rose.
“Then you think about ‘Melo on the other side of the court, where we can run pick-and-roll. One-three pick and roll or three-one pick and roll. Give it to him in the post…” Rose said. “There so many options just with those two players. It’s kind of scary when we get everything clicking. But it takes hard work and dedication, coming in here everyday and making sure we are working our butts off.”
Rose acknowledged that this is still Anthony’s team and he’s just trying his best to contribute at a high level.
“My job is to make [Anthony’s] job easy,” Rose said. “I’m not coming in with an ego problem. I’m not coming in chasing no stats or anything like that. I don’t care about no stats. I don’t look at them after games. As long as we win, I can sleep easy at night. That’s the only thing I am worried about.”
New Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek also walked away with a strong first impression of Porzingis after the team’s initial practice.
“We want all our guys to be versatile; KP has the ability to go inside [and] if we can just get him the ball somewhere in that paint, with his length, he can just turn around and shoot it,” Hornacek said. “Depending on the match-up, if he’s setting a screen and he pops, he is shooting the ball extremely well. That’s a weapon.”
In the short portion of practice that was open to the media on Tuesday, Porzingis beat guards Courtney Lee, Rose and Sasha Vujacic in a three-point shooting drill/contest. At one point, Porzingis knocked down seven-of-eight attempts from behind the arc.
Hornacek knows that Porzingis’ adaptable skill set causes major headaches for coaches on the opposite bench.
“I think it’s going to make teams trying to make a scouting report against him say, ‘What do we do? Do we put a small guy on him? Do we put a big guy on him?’ That’s why it’s fun to have players with that versatility,” Hornacek said. “Go ahead, put a small guy on him and we’ll take advantage of him inside. And if you put a big guy on him, he’ll take them outside. KP’s got all that.”
On Monday, Porzingis talked about how he was looking forward to playing some center (as our Jesse Blancarte suggested over the weekend) and also pushing the pace with his new point guard.
“My ability to stretch the floor, if I’m at the five, the paint is going to be completely open,” Porzingis said. “So I think the style of basketball that we’re going to be playing is going to be better for the people that we have, especially with Derrick being able to push the ball up. With his quickness, he’s going to open things for us, driving and kicking out. I know we’re going to have space in the paint, as well; we didn’t have so much last season.”
Although expectations will be raised for Porzingis after his stellar rookie season, it seems his new point guard and head coach seem intent on putting him in positions to succeed.
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