If year one of the Kristaps Porzingis Experience was about promise, year two has been about swagger. The 7-foot-3 Latvian showed as a rookie that he belonged in the NBA, that he can fit in, that neither the pace of play nor the opposing talent were too much for him to handle. Early into his sophomore season, it appears those questions have been answered to Porzingis’s satisfaction, and he’s playing like a guy looking to prove not his competence, but his stardom.
There were never any doubts that Porzingis, with his preternatural perimeter game and increasing appetite for going to the basket, can be a scorer. The only question has been how often he wants to be. Last night, he wanted it. Porzingis scored a career-high 35 points in the Knicks’ 105-102 win over the Pistons, and in one stretch in the second quarter, Porzingis scored 10 straight points, including this alley-oop dunk and subsequent sneer.
Porzingis had 25 at the half, and the Madison Square Garden crowd—this is kind of their thing—sang him off the court with chants of “MVP.”
“Too early. It’s too early,” Porzingis said sheepishly about the chants. “It’s the New York crowd.
The real revelation this year has been the 21-year-old’s occasional emergence as a go-to guy, instead of a complementary player in a lineup that already has two inveterate scorers. Derrick Rose is no long-term solution, and Carmelo Anthony isn’t going to be effective forever, and in the not-too-distant future this is going to be Porzingis’s team, and Porzingis’s offense. (Don’t look now but he’s just 1.8 ppg off Melo’s team lead.)
“It’s crazy,” Rose said. “He’s in his second year ... He’s out here scoring 30 and he doesn’t really know the NBA yet. It’s scary.”
It feels like just a matter of time and experience before Porzingis is confident enough to run shit, but one way to get him used to that role is to give him minutes with the second unit and leave him no other choice but to be the scorer. Indeed, when Porzingis went off in the second quarter, he was the only Knicks starter on the floor.
It’s easy to get excited about what Porzingis may be capable of within a few years (and terrifying as hell for Knicks fans, who have learned that getting excited about anything can only lead to pain), but this is a promising feedback loop. Every time Porzingis carries the team, his confidence grows. And the more confidence Porzingis has, the more likely he is to take over a game.
Kristaps Porzingis confidence level: high-fiving fans while a play is still live.