NBA: Why Kristaps Porzingis Has Been the Steal of the 2015 Draft

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 01: at the United Center on January 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Knicks 108-81.

Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis guarded by Chicago’s Taj Gibson | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the No. 4 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft it was not exactly received well by the New York faithful. Despite the raw talent possessed by the young 7-foot-3 Latvian, the stigma associated with international players only made it harder for fans to appreciate the potential superstar they had right in front of them. As we reach the last month of the 2015-16 season, however, it’s clear that Porzingis has played the kind of basketball that’s made these same fans start to sing a different tune — even if he did eventually run into the infamous rookie wall (and the outmoded coaching principles of Kurt Rambis).

Less than a day after the Knicks’ 99-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers all the way back in November this is what the Zinger had to say about his game:

“As you can see, I’m still skinny, I’m still light. But I fight hard and I can’t back down to anybody,” said the 243-pound Porzingis. “So that’s been my game; a lot of people didn’t know my game. So that’s why they thought, ‘Skinny white guy, he’s not going to be physical.’ But I still fight for those rebounds and try to do my job on the court.”

It’s one thing for a player like Porzingis to have confidence in himself, it’s a whole different thing to inspire praise from one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. But that’s exactly what happened following the aforementioned game between the Knicks and Lakers. For that’s when Porzingis was dubbed the “steal of the draft” by Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. And you know what, we have to agree with him.

Kristaps Porzingis boxes out for a rebound

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Even at the beginning of the season, Porzingis had already shown that he wasn’t going to be overwhelmed or intimidated by the demands of playing in the world’s best basketball league. In just over 28 minutes per game, Porzingis is averaging 14.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks a night. While the numbers have been good enough to make even the most skeptical Knicks fans reconsider their position on the rookie, the most exciting part about this kid has to be his mindset.

“I’m bringing the same numbers to the team every game, [and] I want to keep that. I want to raise that, obviously,” Porzingis said. “I’m going to have bad games, good games, but the thing I always want to bring is the energy and the intensity on the floor. That’s my main focus.”

If there’s been one player on the Knicks’ roster who’s appreciated Porzingis’ dedication to his craft it’s superstar Carmelo Anthony. He knows the type of player the rookie can be and he’s not afraid to say it.

“He’s getting better day in and day out,” Melo said back in November. “You see different flashes every game of what he can be. I always say he has a lot of upside, so it’s just a matter of him staying consistent, him staying confident and believing in himself.”

Everyone knew Kristpas Porzingis could shoot the rock. But he’s been much more than just a tall player with the ability to extend the floor. With his length, athleticism, and high basketball IQ, Porzingis has shown the potential to be a force on both ends of the floor. But more importantly, not only has he been unafraid to get physical and mix it up with the bigs, he’s also shown an intense desire to get better each and every day. And that’s how he’s going to forge a career for himself in the NBA. Someday, we have to assume, the Knicks will not be 14 games below .500 and well out of the playoff picture. There’s a very real possibility that ‘Staps will be front and center (excuse the pun) of the next resurgent basketball campaign based out of Madison Square Garden.

New York Knicks fans may not have initially liked the Porzingis pick, but we have a feeling that’s no longer the case. After all, when the “steal of the draft” just so happens to fall into your lap, how can you do anything but smile and say, “thank you?”

All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.go.com, and NBA.com.

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