Kristaps Porzingis has been hitting the heavy bag. And the speed bag. And sparring. And working on his footwork. And lifting weights.
No, the Knicks’ 7-foot-3 stretch forward isn’t eyeing a megabucks fight against the Floyd Mayweather-Connor McGregor winner. His focus is to take that big step toward stardom that many of the best players in the NBA have taken in their third year in the league.
work or get outworked pic.twitter.com/YAxWr8tvLF
— Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) June 27, 2017
This is exactly what Porzingis said he intended to do at the end of last season, in which he missed 16 games with inflammation in his Achilles tendon and an illness.
He still averaged 18.1 points on 45-percent shooting and 7.2 rebounds. Porzingis added 129 blocked shots and 97 assists. He was 112-of-314 on 3s (35.7 percent), showing why he’s one of the unique young talents in the NBA.
But at 7-foot-3, 240 pounds, Porzingis knew by the end of last season that he had to add muscle and improve his overall conditioning. Setting up camp in Latvia, he’s turned to boxing, a sport many pro athletes use to supplement their offseason conditioning and development.
“If your footwork is wrong, everything is wrong because that’s where your balance and power come from. We have a lot of pro athletes come in during the offseason and work on that.’’
Porzingis has been sparring with Mairis Briedis, the first Latvian boxer to win a world title, the WBC cruiserweight crown, which he claimed in April.
— Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) May 27, 2017
“I’ll try not to hurt him,’’ Porzingis quipped in late April at a press conference in Latvia.
Porzingis wasn’t joking before the Knicks’ final game of the season when he labeled this ‘a huge summer’ to physically develop.
“I’ll be doing a little bit of something I haven’t done before that’s not attached to basketball,’’ Porzingis said. “Maybe that will help my game. I’ll experiment a bit over the summer.”
The summer has been a time of strengthening and healing for Porzingis. Unhappy with what he perceived to be the team’s direction, Porzingis made a youthful error by failing to attend to his exit interview.
The team’s change in the front office, with Steve Mills’ promotion to president and the hiring of Scott Perry as GM, has reaffirmed KP’s desire to remain in New York.
“For me, it’s now home,’’ he said.
KP has been keeping tabs on the young talent the Knicks have added. He’s heard great things about 1st-round draft choice Frank Ntilikina and knows free agent signee Tim Hardaway Jr. could be on the cusp of greatness.
“Look, I was so happy when I got drafted by New York,” KP said in a recent interview with NBA.com. “I was never worried about the big stage or anything like that. I’ve always enjoyed that.
“I can envision [a championship someday] and see it. But we’re still a long way from there. As we get better, if we can all see that goal at the end and work towards it, anything can happen.”
With that outlook and a body that is primed for the season, anything is possible for Porzingis. It starts with staying on the court and remaining strong throughout an 82-game season.
Guzman, a huge Knicks fan from the Bronx, said the biggest benefit of boxing training is building up the body’s ability to recover from wear and tear and injury.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) July 28, 2017
“Boxing is about giving out punishment and taking punishment without getting injured,’’ said Guzman. “You train your body to be able to take punishment and recovery from it quickly.
“That’s why a boxer can go 12 rounds, take punishment and come back in six or nine months and fight again. The training helps you avoid injury and recover more quickly.’’
He’s added muscle and not just weight to his frame. Porzingis finally had a chance to work out with his idol, Dirk Nowitzki. And he’s worked out with teammate Mindaugas Kuzminskas.
Porzingis and teammate Courtney Lee are expected to play for Team World in the NBA Africa Game on Aug. 5 in Johannesburg. KP then will play for the Latvian National Team in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament. Latvia’s first game is Sept. 1 against Serbia in Turkey.
Porzingis did not play FIBA the last two seasons, but just as he added boxing and more weight lifting, Kristaps is hoping that a new approach will help him excel this coming season.