The accolades, always impressive, no longer carry the luster of the new or the unexpected. Eastern Conference rookie of the month. Again. Numbers trending upward, unabated, all season: 14 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks and a three-pointer in under 30 minutes per. Pantheon players mythologize him. Opposing coaches gush (some poor souls, in a transparent defense mechanism, pretend not to know his name). Endorsement deals, domestic and abroad, seek to rise the rising tide. The dream is reality - Kristaps Porzingis is a 500-foot home run. But there's still room for him to grow into a grand slam.
1. Improve as a passer
Porzingis' assist-to-turnover ratio is essentially 1:1.5, continuing the numbers he put up while playing in Spain for Sevilla. Here, a lazy Porzingis entry pass to Robin Lopez gets picked off by Jared Sullinger.
This is the basketball equivalent of a quarterback throwing a pass off his back foot - it invites aggressive defense. Hope abounds: Pau Gasol didn't establish a clearly positive assist/turnover ratio till his fifth season, and Dirk Nowitzki did it in his second. Porzingis is younger than both of them, and his assist percentage has risen from 5% in the Spanish league to 7.4% in his rookie NBA campaign. If he can cut his turnover percentage in half from the 11.5% it stands at now, he'll be sitting pretty and doing more things like this.
2. Mid-range pull-ups = less foul trouble = more playing time
Porzingis commits more fouls than any established Knick rotation player. It's perfectly normal for rookies to struggle with foul trouble, sometimes for years. Porzingis in particular will welcome the day when he's mastered a little mid-range pull-up when in transition or driving to the hoop. Oftentimes he's still driving all the way to the rim and being called for charges or forced into unlikely circus shots. On fast breaks the blame sometimes falls on the Knick guards, who will feed him (and the other Knick bigs) too early. But as his consciousness expands, so can his efficiency, as seen here.
3. Know when to crash the glass and when to hold off
For everything there is a season - a time to reap, and a time to sow, and we all love a good Porzingis putback.
However, he needs to be more aware of when it's cool to crash the boards and when it's too risky. In the two clips below, the Knicks trail the Celtics by eight with just under three minutes left. Carmelo Anthony finds Porzingis wide open for a three from the top of the circle, a shot KP is comfortable with. Not a bad shot, especially since he has space to launch over Kelly Olynyk. But watch what Porzingis does right after he shoots.
Olynyk is not on the floor for his rebounding or his defense. He's a scorer; in fact, the only Celtic regular who takes more shots per 36 minutes than Olynyk is All-Star Isaiah Thomas. Porzingis gambles going for the offensive rebound and gives away an easy transition bucket.
Hopefully over time we see more of what happens in the clip below: an awareness that match-ups with someone like Andre Drummond, a low-post presence looking for rebounds, is a wiser time to crash the boards. Even if he misses the follow, there's no danger.
Porzingis won't be 21 until August. He's still played fewer minutes in a Knick uniform than Shane Larkin. He seems a prideful student of the game -- one who, even when he does lose, doesn't lose the lesson. Every game he plays from here on out is a new career high for games played in a single season, and that's going against bigger, stronger opponents than ever before. There's important work left for him to do, and the payoff is dreamy. It could be a lot of fun for a lot of years watching him evolve while watching the rest of the league struggling to adjust to Kristaps the Chimera.
In the spirit of optimism, let us end with a positive development: Porzingis has started going glass more. 7'3" + high shots off glass = throw in the towel, NBA.
This kid is gonna be alright.