Kristaps Porzingis just began his third season, and somehow it feels like we’ve waited a decade for him to have a competent point guard. This is a more Knicks-wide crisis, decades in the making, involving a procession of washed, deluded, or otherwise bleak names: Stephon Marbury, (old) Baron Davis, (old sad) Steve Francis, (sad) Derrick Rose, Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Jose Calderon, to name just a few. So yes, the issue precedes him—but Zinger is the type of player who makes that absence really felt, the voracious son who deserves to be fed. Someone, anyone, just feed this boy, he’s so slender.
Already it was heartening to see Jarrett Jack—yet another old point guard, an easy signing to mock, but a good one—deliver Porzingis 12 assists in their first 28 minutes together. And last night, as Kristaps hoisted a career-high 40 to go with six blocks, his chemistry with rookie Frank Ntilikina was enough to wet the eyeballs:
Look at that pass, that dunk. That’s the shape of the future! I can see it now. And finally, blessedly, the tears are from joy.
This revelation shouldn’t have been so complicated. It’s almost like, if you have a 7-foot-3 man who’s got range out to the logo, can shoot over anyone, and who can also put the ball on the floor, it’s a good idea to find a decent ball-handler and run simple pick-and-rolls for him. With just a little space to breathe, Kristaps is unstoppable. Down the stretch, the Frank/Zing pick-and-roll yielded 12 points, fueling that rarest of Knicks happenings: an unblown fourth-quarter comeback. I could get very comfortable watching this play evolve over the next decade.
Historically, Kristaps had a lot of growing to do as a roll man—in his first two seasons, he’s averaged 1.07 and 1.05 points per possession on rolls, figures that put him in the middle of the pack —but this season he’s boasting hard-earned meat that helps him muscle through traffic, all while maintaining Dirk-like body control on tricky mid-range attempts. Through 10 games, he’s averaging 1.38 points per possession as a roll man, good for the 82nd percentile.
Porzingis, with his six blocks and seven rebounds to go with his 40 points on 62.5 percent shooting, was the obvious centerpiece; his 30.1 points a game put him behind only Giannis among all scorers, and he’s dunking all over Phil Jackson’s concerns about his readiness for a starring role. But Ntilikina’s contribution should not be forgotten, either: 10 points, seven assists, three steals, and lots of intangible pestering. Frank’s good, and finally being entrusted with serious, tense minutes. Watching him develop will offer a slower burn than the immediate heat and light of some of his draftmates, but initial signs suggest he could grow into the perfect co-pilot with KP.
If there’s anything missing from the Frenchman’s game so far, it’s an appetite for the rim; in this game he gave up an open layup for a tricky interior pass. (Frank needs to swap confidence levels with the putridly hubristic Tim Hardaway, Jr. and never switch back.) He has a tendency to give up on his drives even when there’s plenty of open runway ahead. These pick and rolls were both successful—if you’re going to prematurely defer, it’s better to defer to a red-hot Latvian manchild who’s poured on 15 straight points for your team—but it’d be nice to see more aggression here, an attempt to turn the corner and lure in some defenders:
But on defense, Frank is a complete, asphyxiating, NBA-ready creature. Frank’s arms are long. Frank’s arms are everywhere. Frank’s hands get high, and they get low. Frank’s arms are sneaking under your door as you sleep, skittering over your floorboards. Probably the highlight of the early season was watching him drape himself all over James Harden until he got the airball he was looking for, but No. 11 added more to his highlight reel last night, including some clutch disruption:
Whatever inhibitions might be holding Ntilikina back on his drives, there’s nothing stopping him from slinging from deep. He banged the two biggest shots of his life:
New York must be patient: Frank’s the second-youngest player in the NBA. He can at least enjoy the comforting presence of a big-ass big brother who’s already earning himself double-teams just below the arc, so he can find you for an open look. (The elder son, also, must enjoy the fresh feeling of passing to someone who can be reasonably expected to pass the ball back.) Kristaps Porzingis now has someone to look out for. To be a Knicks fan this morning is to be a proud, happy parent of two. It is a deeply surreal feeling.