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Don’t let defensive issues obscure Kristaps Porzingis’s scoring explosion

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The Unicorn has been one of the NBA’s most efficient offensive players this season.

NBA: Utah Jazz at New York Knicks Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Kristaps Porzingis didn’t exactly end Sunday’s 114-109 loss to Utah on a banner note, as he was posterized by French Jazzman Rudy Gobert with only a few ticks remaining:

It was the kind of moment that can crush a man’s soul. But Kristaps plans on using it as a tool for learning ... and inspiration for revenge. Per Marc Berman:

“I had a chance later on [for retaliation]. Of course I always want to get somebody back. I’ll be happy if we win the game in Utah. That’s the most important thing, but I’ll get him back, too.’’

Kristaps missed his shot at retaliation, as Gobert blocked him a few seconds later. The Unicorn finished with 28 points, yet the game still felt a tad bit disappointing after he dropped 14 on Utah in the first quarter.

Personally, though, I felt like this game was a positive step for The Unicorn, at least on offense. I was quite concerned after Kristaps failed to score in the second quarter — how many time last season did we see him start out hot only to falter after a long layoff? Instead, the Latvian rallied for 14 points on 5-10 shooting, 6 rebounds, 1 assists, zero turnovers and 1 block in the second half.

For all the talk of defensive struggles — he’s still holding opponents to a field goal percentage that is 13.2% lower than league average within six feet of the rim, though his perimeter D has been quite rough — it’s time to step back and take a look at what Kristaps has done these first six games on offense: 18.8 points per game on 49.3 FG% and 43.3 3P%. Take out the one Rockets contest, when the entire team essentially forgot he was there (4 FGA) and Kristaps has scored an average of 22 points per game. He’s draining threes at a clip we never saw last year, and he’s improved at exploiting mismatches inside. Oh, and he’s averaging less than a turnover (0.9).

All told, Kristaps has accumulated 0.7 win shares, the same number as Chris Paul and Anthony Davis.

So, yes, the Knicks are 2-4 and currently rock the worst defense in the NBA. But if the Knicks stick to putting Kristaps Porzingis in a position to score, the Unicorn is going to take their offense to dazzling new heights. Not bad for a 21-year-old.