I’ve been waiting patiently to bring to you, the loyal readers of Posting and Toasting, some analysis on our rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina. Sadly, injuries have turned the Frenchman into the Benchman (hire me, New York Post), and Ntilikina has played just 24 minutes over the course of the summer league, preseason, and the regular season.
Someone who is playing, though—and I mean really playing—is Kristaps Porzingis. Or maybe he’s NOT playing. Whichever one is the good one, he’s doing that.
Porzingis had a couple of “student has become the master” moments in the season debut against his former mentor, Carmelo Anthony and his new Oklahoma City Thunder squad, but Porzingis’ growth was perhaps even more clear during the Knicks’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons.
Let’s take a look at all of the things Porzingis did well, how he handled Detroit’s adjustments, and what we’re learning about our lovable, over-sized diamond in the rough.
Here is KP’s shot chart from the Detroit game.
This is good evidence to begin with, because while KP actually missed 9 shots (11 for 20 shooting on the night), two of those shots were actually end-of-clock heaves from beyond half court, not true jumpers.
We’ll do our best to work in chronological order. KP began the night 7-for-7 from the field. Here’s how he got his work in early during the first half.
Porzingis was finally able to take advantage of smaller defenders! Thankfully, some wiseguy pointed it out on Twitter, or I would have never figured that out.
One of the most promising KP developments is how he exploited the early Stanley Johnson matchup. Last year that may have been a problem for him.— NYBasketballObserver (@NYBBobserver) October 22, 2017
Something really important to note about this game—and really the first two games—is that KP had gone to the line six times by the end of the first half. Porzingis only averages about three-and-a-half trips to the line per game for his career, so the way KP worked inside out to start this game, coupled with his ability to get to the line, really seems to be helping his rhythm and his jumper—two things that were inconsistent last season.
After canning back-to-back 3s in Leuer’s grill, Detroit has no choice but to show a bit more aggressively on any pick-and-roll to KP. This brings Drummond a bit out of his comfort zone and allows Kanter to roll right into a lane occupied only by the 6’2” Avery Bradley. Good luck.
After a seriously deep heat check (pictured in shot chart above), the tide begins to change a bit. With around a minute left in the first half, Anthony Tolliver takes on the assignment of guarding KP, and the tactics in general change a bit too.
Porzingis didn’t necessarily get locked up by Tolliver. KP definitely showed some better understanding of the game and was able to take advantage of his height and speed when opportunity presented itself, but clearly Tolliver and the physicality in general disrupted Porzingis’ rhythm a bit.
It took KP a few possessions to shake off the rust. Oftentimes players start to overthink their touches or rush their shots after going several minutes without a clean look.
Tolliver did his best to win some of his battles with KP, with Porzingis winning his share as well. It seemed fairly obvious that outside of Tolliver, no one on the Pistons squad had much of a shot defending KP consistently. After a short break at the end of the 3rd quarter, Porzingis came back into the game with Tolliver on the bench and did his thing once again.
Obviously, we’re purely looking at Porzingis’ offense from this game. There was a crucial possession late in the 4th quarter where KP helped off of Tobias Harris too far and gave up an open 3—which Harris made. The help was completely unnecessary, but with so much made of Porzingis’ expectation to become the Knicks’ new leading scorer, we will leave that part of KP’s game for another day.
As the game came down to the wire, I did think Jeff Hornacek did a good job getting KP in a position to get the ball (below). Ultimately, KP was fouled on this play and went to the line, where he would split the free throws.
The most crucial offensive possession of the game happened with about 40 seconds left to play as the Knicks trailed by three. Much was made about a no-call on this play—one that the league confirms was a mistake. Nevertheless, I do think KP had several options on this play and maybe took the lesser of those options.
So the Knicks went down in defeat. We expected there to be a healthy serving of L’s this season, but the Latvian? Well, he’s looked pretty darn good.
Porzingis ended the night with 33 points (11 of 20 from the field), 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. 55% from the field, 43% from 3. Not bad.
What did KP do well? As noted, KP laughed in the face of Stanley Johnson, who isn’t even tall enough to get his face laughed in by Porzingis. He actually began using his physical tools to his advantage, shooting over Johnson and dribbling past Jon Leuer. Porzingis seems to be settling less and it’s showing. Porzingis got to the line 10 times and seemed more decisive off the catch.
What did KP struggle with? Well, Porzingis still seems uncomfortable with physicality, but not nearly as much as in years past. Obviously, we are dealing with a small sample size, but as long as Porzingis continues to work to get to his sweet spots on the court, he should, in large part, see success.
What did we learn? We learned that KP is serious about being an all-star and leading this team. I was a bit skeptical of Porzingis’ ability to consistently be the focal point of the offense with success, but everything I’ve seen in the first two games suggests that he is. The frequency with which he’s gotten to the line (9 times in game one, 10 times in game two) and the distribution of where his shots are coming from will have a big impact on his efficiency. As the offense and rotations hopefully gel, and the pace gets the big fella some easy buckets, we may be in for a season of many 30+ point nights from the Unicorn.