Kristaps Porzingis removed himself from last night’s 111-104 win over the Nets after a non-contact injury to his left knee. He tweaked it once in the first half and then left the game in the third quarter after re-aggravating it on this play.
That’s fine—get out of there. As sporadically thrilling as this season might be, these 15-13 Knicks are not going anywhere that would justify making their prized asset slog through discomfort in a December game against the Nets.
Non-contact knee injuries are ominous; no updates have arrived yet today. Yesterday Porzingis offered some post-game reassurance—“I’m standing and doing everything so it’s just them being cautious and tomorrow when we find out, I’ll let you know”—and a mid-game reminder of what makes him such a promising player.
Among the giant’s oddly diverse skills—scoring off the dribble, posting up, shot-blocking, three-point shooting—the least refined is perhaps his passing. This season he’s the clear centerpiece of the offense but averaging a career-low assist percentage of 7.1 and notching just 1.3 dimes a game. At times he displays a mild form of tunnel vision: getting the ball in the high post, doing whatever move he is intent on doing, and then stubbornly shooting over double-teams, as he did, unproductively, down the stretch against the Lakers. After securing that tense win, Porzingis told the Daily News that the problems posed by double-teams are still fresh to him and he’s still learning how to read those situations:
With 1:30 remaining and a 5-point advantage, Porzingis missed three consecutive contested shots – including the potential game-winner at the buzzer. “Still trying to learn when the double team comes to make the right pass and make the right play,” Porzingis said. “I’m still learning that. This is my first experience where every night I’m playing the other team is coming and I have to be capable of making the right plays so they can’t be (double-teaming me) every time.”
It was refreshing to hear a Knicks top scorer acknowledge this particular shortcoming. It was even more refreshing to see him put this learning into practice immediately in the next game, where he notched four assists through his first 12 minutes of play. Porzingis has serious gravity, and any aggressive movement of his is likely to free up a teammate. It’s just a matter of peering down from his lofty vantage point and finding them.
Given that he now shares the court with some decent floor-spacers and cutters—like Doug McDermott and Courtney Lee, both of whom shoot over 40 percent from the arc and readily dive at the rim—he should continue to get them open looks rather than going it alone. He may always be fragile; these are the costs of being built that way. But he is savvy and self-aware and eager to evolve, which is way more than could be said for most stars this team has employed in recent memory.