The Knicks knew they had something special in Kristaps Porzingis when they drafted him with the No. 4 overall pick in last summer’s draft. But no one could have predicted, or been prepared for, the Latvian Lovefest that is currently taking place at Madison Square Garden.
Knicks coach Derek Fisher said that from Day One the organization did what they could to get the 7-3 center for the long grind of his rookie season. But, as far as the off court stuff goes, he’s learning to handle it as it comes.
“The things that come with being a rookie — and obviously as successful as he’s been — there are other things that call your name in terms of being out appearances and opportunities to do things,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said Tuesday night. “It’s hard to prepare a guy for that stuff.”
Porzingis headed into Tuesday night’s 120-114 win over the Boston Celtics averaging 13.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. Early against the Celtics, he looked as though he might be heading for the biggest scoring night of his career after he had 20 points and six rebounds in the first half. Porzingis’ scoring pace slowed in the second half after Carmelo Anthony went out with an injury and he began to get into foul trouble. He fouled out for the first time in his career, leaving with 2:44 left after scoring 26 points and grabbing six rebounds.
“As far as Kris, I tried to get him as many minutes as I could in that fourth quarter without bringing him back too early,” Fisher said. “It’s tough. The call he got, is not the way you envision guys going out in the fourth quarter.”
New Yorkers haven’t been this crazy about a player since Jeremy Lin gripped the town with Linsanity. Yet, unlike Lin, who seemed to grow weary of the attention as the season wore on, Porzingis seems to be enjoying every moment of it. One day he’s posing in a selfie with the 10-year-old boy who cried on the day he was drafted. And the next, he’s smiling upon hearing the news that his hometown of Liepaja, Latvia has erected dual twin billboards of him on the border declaring “Welcome to my Town.”
“From what I can tell, it seems like it hasn’t been an issue in terms of his focus,” Fisher said of all the outside attention. “He comes to practice every day and shoot around every day with a business-like approach. He’s still a very young man. I think you have to enjoy the fact that you grew up in Latvia, you’re now in New York City and a lot of people appreciate what you do on the court. You’re supposed to enjoy some of that.”