After I watched Kristaps Porzingis play in Las Vegas, I thought a few things:
- This kid's better at defense than I expected.
- This kid's clearly got touch, but he might need a lot more practice, strength, and conditioning before he's a reliable in-game jump shooter.
- When did I become the kind of person who calls 20-year-old men kids?
- This kid just isn't gonna rebound.
Let's talk about that last thing! If I had any lingering concern this summer that Porzingis wasn't ready to compete against NBA players, it was because of his poor glasswork in Summer League. He chased boards headfirst, failing to establish position in advance and rarely keeping his hands high. With immature lower body strength and those limited fundamentals, he looked set to get pushed around and folded in the paint.
The Knicks have only played 7 games, but in those 7 games, Porzingis ranks 16th in the entire NBA in rebound rate -- he grabs 18.8% of available rebounds while he's playing, most of them on the offensive glass, where he ranks 4th. So uhhh, not only is he holding his own as a rebounder, he's actually been quite proficient, at least on one end of the floor.
Last night, I watched all of Kristaps's rebounds to date -- 25 offensive, 35 defensive. You can do this, too! Here are some things I noticed, and had noticed before, and that you've probably noticed:
Kristaps is tall as hell, and he's using it to his advantage
You generally don't box out on the offensive glass. Lose that fight, and you'll end up lagging while the other team gets in transition. That end of the floor is where you track more opportunistic rebounds -- ones that carom long or slip through bad positioning by your opponent. Porzingis is already excellent at this, not just because he's 9 feet tall, but because he's got a feel for his teammates' shooting habits -- the timing, the angles, and all that. You needn't dig deep into the video to illustrate this:
Being 14 feet tall does help.
Kristaps actually boxes out sometimes
I swear Porzingis didn't once use his lower body to get rebounding position in Vegas. He was either tall enough and in the right place enough to get the loose ball, or it wasn't his. He's been nowhere near great battling under the defensive backboard, but he has his moments, and acquits himself remarkably well in those moments:
After Vegas, I was most worried about Porzingis's rebounding. Awesome to see him not only reaching, but boxing out pic.twitter.com/tJ6SXwu2J6— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) November 10, 2015
Look at that asswork! Dude's barely had time to do squats and he's already getting a rebound or two a night by dislodging dudes with his buns. He can get a lot better in pretty much every raw skill required to command defensive boards, but he's already made progress.
Robin Lopez is a great rebound buddy
Portland people told us Lopez would chase few rebounds, but create a bunch with his box-outs. Indeed! As noted below (and mentioned in this celebration of guard rebounding), the New York frontcourt isn't doing great on the defensive glass, but when they're efficient, it's often because Robin's securing space for Kristaps to glide through and snare basketballs:
Sorry about that last clip. The internet stopped being good while I was recording. The point is: Robin Lopez does do little things that don't show up in the box score. When they say that, they are right.
So what's left to improve?
A lot! Porzingis still stabs at the ball instead of grabbing it pretty often. He brings it down too low and rushes when opponents reach in. And, more generally, the Knicks have been a mediocre defensive rebounding team so far (22nd in the league, grabbing just 74.4% of defensive caroms), with Kristaps among those who clearly aren't boxing out quite well enough. At least they make up for it by getting a ton of second chances.
The upshot, though, is that it was perfectly reasonable entering the season to expect Kristaps Porzingis to rebound badly. The rookie's dead-set on slaying that expectation ...
Kristaps Porzingis: "they thought, skinny white guy, he’s not going to be physical. But I still fight for those reboiunds."
— Al Iannazzone (@Al_Iannazzone) November 9, 2015
... and, even with much room to improve, he's doing an impressive job so far.