The Knicks Fix: Take the Risk in Porzingis, Keep Him Around For the Reward

@AlanHahn

You’re mad, but you aren’t quite sure why you’re mad. You’re also confused because while you may have booed the Knicks decision to select Latvian big man Kris Porzingis with the 4th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, some of the loudest critics of the franchise over the last decade came away praising the work of Phil Jackson and his staff.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” ESPN draft guru Chad Ford tweeted during the draft. “Kris Porzingis and Jerian Grant? I’m loving the Knicks draft.”

Grant, who was selected at 19th overall by the Wizards, who flipped him to the Hawks, who traded him to the Knicks in exchange for Tim Hardaway Jr. (got all that?), is a nice pick up. A big guard who can get to the rim and also shoot the three, Grant is a four-year player from Notre Dame who comes with maturity and a high basketball IQ.

But Porzingis … he’s just … well …

And what about that little kid, the Knicks fan, who was seen crying as he tried to take a selfie when Porzingis was announced?

Just look at him! He’s tall. He’s skinny.

I mean, just keep Vince Carter far away from this dude.

He probably has NO IDEA what he’s getting himself into.

“They’re booing me because they don’t know me,” Porzingis told MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio moments after he was selected.

Kristaps Porzingis speaks exclusively with MSG Networks' Tina Cervasio after being selected fourth overall by the Knicks during the 2015 NBA Draft.

“Or maybe,” he then added, “they don’t want a European on their team.

Maybe he gets it more than you think.

Pay close attention now, because here’s what you need to know about this kid, beyond the basketball court. He’s not your typical European prospect. This is very evident in a very candid remark he made in an interview with Yahoo! Sports earlier this month: “They’ll say, ‘This guy is a bust’. He’ll be Tskitishvili, this Georgian guy. Bargnani, Darko…That’s why I am talking, because I want the fear to go away with me. I want people to get to know me. I don’t want to be the mystery man from Europe.”

“Some fans – they don’t want a European on their team. People have opinions, but maybe they’ve never seen me play. There’s nothing I can say, only I can go out and prove myself.”

He actually named names. And how about the fact that all three of them once played for the Knicks?

Phil Jackson admitted the “risk-reward was the greatest for this guy,” but added he based his decision not on popularity but on “What do I do best for this franchise?” He called Porzingis “an eye-opening athlete and a player” and said “his upside is terrific.”

Knicks President Phil Jackson explains why the team selected 19-year-old power forward Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

This was not just the opinion of Jackson. Many GMs were intrigued by Porzingis. Many draft experts who attended his workout in Las Vegas salivated at his potential. He’s 7-foot-1 in his stocking feet at the age of 19. There is room to grow, especially on that spindly frame. He weighs about 220 pounds, which is a waif by NBA standards, but keep in mind that Pau Gasol entered the NBA at almost the same exact size.

Man strength comes in your 20s.

But let’s not get into the debate about Porzingis’ potential. With the right environment and development, it’s clear his skill set is favorable to being a talented NBA player in the future. What we need to focus on here — and no one is — involves the Knicks history with the draft and their decisions.

And it has nothing to do with Frederic Weis.

If Porzingis is somewhat of a project, if he is going to need time to grow, then let him have that time. Let him reach that potential in a Knicks uniform, which we so rarely get to see anymore from this team’s draft picks.

Consider this: Since Patrick Ewing was selected No. 1 overall in 1985, the Knicks have made 25 first round picks going into this year’s draft. Guess how many, after Ewing, stayed with the Knicks beyond their first five seasons?

One.

That would be Charlie Ward, who spent 10 seasons with the team after he was selected 26th overall in 1994.

Porzingis is the eighth Top-10 pick the Knicks have made since 1985. Of those eight picks, only Ewing became a franchise player. The seven other picks — Kenny Walker, Nene, Michael Sweetney, Channing Frye, Danilo Gallinari and Jordan Hill — remained with the team for an average of just two years.

None of them became NBA All-Stars.

So if there’s anything that the Knicks must learn from as they make Porzingis their most important draft pick in three decades, it’s to learn from their history. Invest in your decision, develop the player and have the patience to allow him to grow into his potential.

And when he does, make sure he’s still wearing a Knicks uniform.