Lauri Markkanen Beat Kristaps Porzingis At His Own Game

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Remember the end of the last Knicks season, when Phil Jackson, having totally alienated and depressed the trade value of Carmelo Anthony, hinted that he might go full demon and undo the only good thing he’d ever done, drafting Kristaps Porzingis? Remember when he reportedly wanted to dangle him for a shot to draft Lauri Markkanen? Remember how profoundly idiotic it felt to swap one known-quantity seven-foot, sweet-shooting Euro prospect for an unknown-quantity version of same? And wasn’t Markkanen supposed to be some kind of unathletic stiff, anyway?

Anyway, Jackson was dumped like so much murky bong water, Kristaps thankfully stayed put, and Markkanen was drafted by the Bulls. There he would average more made threes per game than any rookie ever, and would hoist 15 threes—the Knicks as a team attempted just 21—making eight, en route to a 33-point, 10-rebound win at Madison Square Garden. New York’s long son delivered some late-game theatrics, blocking Markkanen’s game-winning layup in regulation, then dunking home a buzzer-beater in the first overtime; none of this could fully conceal the fact that he spent much of it limp and exhausted, and was outplayed by his hypothetical replacement.


I think he might be a little athletic:


Compare their rookie seasons and the similarity startles, with the Finn edging the Latvian in almost every offensive category—and, still more hauntingly, shooting twice as many threes per game as that Kristaps did, and more than the current Kristaps does, 6.6 to his 4.7. What should give any Knick fan pause is how much wiser Markkanen’s shot selection is. Surveying Porzingis’s field goal attempts this season, a career-low 24 percent come from three, and a career-low 16 percent at the rim. “He’s 7-foot-3" has become a popular caption for his flashy ball-handling highlights; it’s also the reason that second figure is unforgivable.

Once upon a time Zinger was shooting over 60 percent from midrange, but nothing that sweet could last. His shot selection remains doggedly unmodern, except at this juncture the season he already lacks the strength to pull it off. Jeff Hornacek’s uncreative offense is doing him no favors: A gassed Porzingis spends nearly the entire game wrestling to establish position in the high post, and when he puts that inevitable contested jumper up the results are exactly what you would expect. Maybe it’s time to try something different. At this point it would come as a tremendous relief to see Kristaps Porzingis chuck 15 threes on this Knicks team that is shooting a league-worst 21.1 per game and recently took three in a godforsaken half.

This season, despite a misleading start, has brought different and subtler horrors than the one we previously expected from Phil Jackson. These include: Jarrett Jack and Michael Beasley, both unlikely to be a part of this team’s future, outplaying their promise and overstaying their welcome; to repeat, that’s 34-year-old Jarrett Jack notching his second-ever triple-double in a double-overtime game against one of the worst teams in the league while a lottery-pick rookie point guard languishes on the bench; early-season MVP-level Kristaps withering away even more prematurely than he had in previous seasons, or maybe just distracted by butts; and yet another rebuilding season that feels something like purgatory, not quite bottoming out for a draft pick and not quite being a playoff team either. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to convince myself that a few surreal Beasley memories might compensate for a shot at a special wing. I guess I will keep trying.