TORONTO — Kristaps Porzingis reached one individual goal when he was selected for the Rising Stars Challenge. But the Knicks’ rookie sensation has bigger dreams that may have seemed far-fetched not that long ago but could become a reality as early as next season.
When the NBA announced the All-Star reserves on Thursday night, it wasn’t surprising that the coaches didn’t pick Porzingis. But if he can stay healthy and continues to develop and improve, he could make the team a year from now.
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“I’ll keep working and one day I’ll be there,” Porzingis said. “That’s one of the things I want to achieve individually, but that will come with team success as well. I just want to grow as a player. As I grow as a player, we’ll get better as a team and hopefully one day I can be there.”
Carmelo Anthony, who was voted a starter by the fans, will be the Knicks’ only representative in the Feb. 14 All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre. But although the Knicks played in Toronto on Thursday night, the fans here will have to wait for All-Star Weekend to see Anthony and Porzingis play.
Anthony missed his second straight game with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee. Porzingis was a late scratch and missed an NBA game for the first time because of an upper respiratory illness. The Knicks also were without Jose Calderon (sore right groin). Lance Thomas, Kyle O’Quinn and Langston Galloway started in their places.
Anthony said he hasn’t undergone any tests and isn’t concerned that it’s anything major. He hopes to return Friday night against Phoenix.
“I’m very confident that this is nothing but some fatigue, a little soreness, some general soreness, probably just an overload of work,” Anthony said. “I feel much better.”
Porzingis didn’t seem under the weather at the morning shootaround. The Knicks announced that he would not play about 45 minutes before tipoff.
Porzingis will play for the World Team against the U.S. in the Feb. 12 exhibition game featuring the top rookie and second-year players, but it appears he won’t be involved in the Saturday night activities. The rookie has been playing through shoulder, foot and finger ailments and needs to rest.
“That’s a dream come true to be a part of All-Star Weekend,” Porzingis said. “My big dream is to be in the All-Star Game one day, but this is one step closer to that, and I’m just real excited for the weekend.”
Porzingis was considered a project when he was drafted fourth overall by the Knicks, but he has opened eyes and turned heads with his overall game.
The Eastern Conference’s Rookie of the Month for November and December, Porzingis is in the running with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year honors. And his peers have taken notice.
Just this week, Kevin Durant called Porzingis “a unicorn” for his ability to shoot three-pointers and also mix it up inside and block shots. Other members of NBA royalty — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, to name a few — also have complimented the 7-3 Latvian.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey very clearly recalls Porzingis jumping over a few Raptors for a follow dunk in the Knicks’ win here in November. “It was unbelievable,” Casey said. “Over all of our guys. Over all of those white jerseys. I remember that vividly. I think it was the highlight of the week.”
Porzingis has provided many of those, but he’s proved more substance than flash. He’s third among rookies in scoring (14.0 points), second in rebounding (7.8), first in blocks (1.96) and second with 16 double-doubles.
“He’s going to be a handful to be reckoned with,” Casey said. “He’s a tough kid, he’s not soft. I know that. He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time. That was a great pickup by New York. His future’s going to be bright.”