KP Keeps Proving He’s “The Man”


1. Remind yourself that he’s 22 years old. He is far from being a finished product. And yet with each game this season, Kristaps Porzingis provides mounting evidence that greatness awaits him.

Understand that what you are watching right now is the growth process. These are the days to remember if this young man actually does realize the potential that so many — especially the game’s greats — see in him.

But before we continue with the accolades, I have to share this experience that is also, unfortunately, part of the process.

So after that dominating and historic (more on that later) 37-point, 11-rebound, 5-block performance by KP to move the Knicks (14-13) back over the .500 mark, I was on ESPN Radio with Larry Hardesty taking calls from Knicks fans about the game. One caller brought his wet blanket with him and suggested that the Knicks will never win in the playoffs because Porzingis only has one assist and can’t pass out of a double-team.

Don’t you just love sports talk radio callers?

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Coincidentally — after Larry and I pinned this caller to the mat in record time — I heard Porzingis address this very issue, himself.

“I’m still trying to learn when the double-team comes, to make the right pass, make the right play,” he said. “I’m still learning that … I have to be capable of making the right play so they can’t do that every time.”

He also acknowledged a need to get better at those last-second game-winning shots. That’s two he’s missed in the last three games.

“Next time,” he said, “we’re going to find an easier shot.”

Porzingis said it is “my first experience” in being The Man (capital T, capital M) on a nightly basis, so there’s a lot of adjusting to do along the way. The fact that he is fully aware of his need to become a better — and quicker — passer when the double-team comes speaks volumes about his mindset as The Man. It’s not about him just getting his points, it’s about doing whatever it takes to win the game.

That includes a commitment to defense. Name the last Knicks star who not only spoke about the importance of defense, but was also committed to it? Name the last Knicks star who was also aware of how opponents come into The Garden and try to take over and make sure that doesn’t happen? These are intangibles that can not be quantified, but certainly, speak volumes about what you really have here in Porzingis.

The Lakers, like the Knicks, travel well. At Staples, the crowd has a huge Knick contingent and when the Lakers come to The Garden, there is the same bipartisan support. It makes for a fun atmosphere and one KP immediately noticed when the young Lakers “were feeding off the energy.”

So while Lonzo Ball was making a mini-run and his ubiquitous father, LaVar, was dancing on celebrity row, Porzingis turned it up a notch and reminded everyone who’s house this was.

Oh and if there’s any doubt in how much ownership he has in this franchise and it’s history, just see his attention to detail:

About the Patrick Ewing reference:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Porzingis is the first Knick player since Patrick Ewing to score over 35 points, grab over 10 rebounds and block at least 5 shots in a game. Ewing, it should be noted, did it 16 times during his career and the most recent came Jan. 12, 1996 — over 20 years ago — in a win at Boston.

And, for that caller, Patrick didn’t record a single assist.

That voracious stat-hound Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders revealed through a Basketball Reference search that Porzingis is the first player in NBA history to do the 35-10-5 boxscore with 5 three-pointers.

KP’s response to this was pitch-perfect.

“It’s an honor,” he said, “but that doesn’t help us make the playoffs.”

2. Staying with the theme of the growing season, what are we seeing from Frank Ntilikina over the last three games? The 19-year-old is suddenly shooting with confidence, especially from three-point range where he has made 6-of-9 shots, including 3-of-4 from downtown against the Lakers.

Before this stretch, Ntilikina was shooting just 26% from three.

He also has 13 assists and five steals over these last three games and while scoring 10.3 points per game. Ntilikina seemed to rise to the occasion against fellow rookie Lonzo Ball, which he called “exciting.”

You know what’s coming next: So when do the Knicks move Ntilikina into the starting five?

[Robbins’ Nest: Ntilikina & Ball Are Two Of A Kind]

Jeff Hornacek was quick to squelch that conversation even before the Lakers game.

“Not at this point,” he said.

Hornacek explained that Ntilikina is learning from veteran Jarrett Jack and that he is also still getting “a good dose of late-game situations.” We’ve often seen Hornacek stay with the rookie over Jack in the fourth quarter and there is a confidence in Ntilikina in those moments, which is so valuable to his experience.

But to put the added weight of expectations on him as a starter is not something Hornacek is ready to do yet. Why? Mainly because he feels it’s important for young players to “learn the league” first. To get to know opponents and opposing players the first and second time around and also the feel of the NBA game. This suggests that perhaps Ntilikina could find himself in the conversation to be a starter in the second half of the season, if his play and confidence continues to steadily improve.

“This process is about time and how much work I put in,” Ntilikina said in his postgame interview.

“I know what I have to do and I will keep doing it.”

3. While the Knicks want to take their time with Ntilikina, the Lakers pushed Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 overall pick, right into the crucible by naming him the starting point guard. To the credit of Luke Walton, they are sticking with him through the expected growing pains that come in a rookie season.

As we know, Ball isn’t a typical rookie and it goes beyond the passion of Lakers fans who are not used to having bad teams year-in and year-out. His bombastic father and the traveling circus that is the family’s reality show only add unnecessary insanity to the roller-coaster that is an NBA rookie experience.

But there is something special about Ball and it was on display for a while in his Garden debut. He filled the box score with 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block and after the crowd literally laughed at his first two three-point attempts — that shooting form is pretty goofy-looking — he finished making 3-of-his-next-4 from downtown.

“It was a lot of fun,” Ball said of playing at The Garden. “You heard the crowd the whole game.”

While Ball is mostly quiet and seemingly humble, he does possess a bit of his father’s showmanship in him. Exhibit A is the hoodie he wore into the game, which was his face transposed on a picture of one of the greatest hip hop albums in the history of the genre, “Illmatic” by New York hip-hop legend Nas, which was released three years before Lonzo was born.

Pause a moment to wince at that reality, fellow Generation Xers.

As the story goes, Ball infamously proclaimed on the family reality show that “no one listens to Nas now,” meaning his generation.

After the game, Nas took to social media to congratulate the Knicks on the win.

Great Win Knicks!

A post shared by Nasir Jones (@nas) on

“I never sleep, because sleep is the cousin of death/Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined…”

4. Amar’e Stoudemire was back at The Garden, back for the first time as a retired player and, probably soon, another member of the “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” family. STAT lives in Florida now but admitted he loved living in New York and being part of a love affair with the city that burned hot, but burned out too quickly.

That first season with Amar’e was a lot of fun, especially those first few months when he was an MVP candidate and had one of the great scoring streaks in franchise history. He scored 30 or more points in a franchise-record nine straight games from Nov. 28-Dec. 15, 2010. The Knicks won the first eight games of that streak and went into a highly-anticipated showdown with the Celtics at the Garden.

Amar’e put up a huge night with 39 points and 10 rebounds and almost won the game with a three-pointer at the buzzer that was waved off after replays showed he did not get the shot released in time.

That moment, just before they waved off the shot, might have been the apex of his career in New York. The team lost 17 of the next 29 games and the faltering built the momentum that motivated the Carmelo Anthony trade. Stoudemire went from The Man to the forgotten man. Then the injuries started to mount.

His legacy will be of the player who famously said, “The Knicks are back” when he signed as a free agent in 2010 and then showed just how special The Garden can be for a star player when the Knicks are winning. That caught Melo’s attention.

But it should also serve as a cautionary tale. If you don’t build properly around a player — Stoudemire never played with a dynamic point guard who could get the most out of his skill set — the love affair doesn’t last for long. Stoudemire was a talent, but he certainly was a flawed star who needed the right type of supporting cast.

Looking back, regardless of the outcome, those first few months of Stoudemire’s Knicks career reawakened The Garden after several dormant years.

5. With the Lakers in town, that means Magic Johnson was in the building. He drew a rousing ovation as he usually does from The Garden faithful and Magic returned the accolades via Twitter:

It would be fun to one day see a sixth NBA Finals matchup between these two franchises.

Oh you didn’t know? Yes, of the eight NBA Finals appearances made by the Knicks in their history, five of the meetings were against the Lakers: 1952 and ’53 (Minneapolis Lakers), 1970, ’72 and ’73 (LA Lakers).

The other three? The Houston Rockets (’94) and San Antonio Spurs (’99) are the easy ones. Can you name the third?

The Sacramento Kings.

Wait, what?

It’s true (technically). Look it up.

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