• The Great Latvian Hope

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    The New York Knicks has been the NBA’s laughing stock for more than a decade. I recall that they once had the league’s highest payroll during the Isiah Thomas era and produced worst-league records. The team has been in the doldrums for too long that they brought in NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson as President in March 2014. Despite the retooling under Phil Jackson, the Knicks were saddled with hefty contracts and were unable to get quality players. As a result, the Knicks finished the 2014-2015 season with the worst record in franchise history (17-65).

    Due to their terrible record, the Knicks won the 4th overall pick in the lottery plus a 19th pick with their trade to the Atlanta Hawks. The 2015 Draft Class was considered one of the more talented in recent history and it was a surprise to Knicks fans when the team used their high pick to choose the 7-3 Kristaps Porzingis, a Latvian barely out of his teens who was basically an unknown quantity. The pick was so unpopular that Knicks fans actually booed when Porzingis’ name was announced in June 2015.

    Critics had many knocks on Kristaps. First, they said that he didn’t have an NBA ready body with only 240 pounds of bulk despite his tall frame. Others said he was too raw and his competition in Europe during his teens was mediocre at best. Worse, they likened him to another Darko Milicic, a promising 7-foot Serbian who was picked after LeBron James in the 2003 draft ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. Milicic never received significant minutes despite his unique skill set.

    Fast-forward to January and those booing Porzingis fans are now clapping fans. The Great Latvian Hope has shown that he belongs in the toughest basketball league in the world averaging 13.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks per game so far. Highlights of Porzingis’ put back dunks, step back threes, and his swats are now dominating NBA TV.

    Honestly, no player in NBA history has possessed this combination of youth, height, quickness and outside shooting skills. Porzingis is a budding superstar and his recent play has been quite impressive. Last December, he recently earned his second straight Eastern Conference Rookie of the Year Award. The Great Latvian Hope is the real deal.

    And while his offensive abilities and range are no longer in question, another area where Porzingis is making his mark is on the defensive end. He ranks among the Top Ten shot blockers in the league and one impressive stat is that teams only make around 47 percent of their shots near the basket. Overnight, his presence has made the Knicks one of the best rim protecting teams in the league.

    The only concern with Porzingis is durability due to his height and size. One interesting fact is that no NBA player 7-3 or above has made it to 1,000 games. Mark Eaton came closest by playing in 875 NBA games. The rule of thumb is the taller you are, the more injury prone you get.

    Still, with the way he is playing, Porzingis might just be the outlier. The New York Knicks are finally on the way back to relevance and all their hopes are pinned on developing Kristpas Porzingis.

    raffyrledesma@yahoo.com

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