Kristaps Porzingis will attend the first of what Knicks fans hope is many All-Star Weekends after being selected to play for the World team in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge, the league announced Wednesday.
The game, which is played on Friday night, Feb. 12, at Air Canada Center in Toronto on the first night of the NBA’s All-Star festivities, pits rookies and second-year players from the United States against a roster of young international players.
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Porzingis, who was flying with the Knicks to Toronto for Thursday night’s game, was not available for comment. Because the 7-3 bigman has twice been named the NBA’s rookie of the month, his selection to the game was not much of a surprise. What would be more of a surprise is if his name is on the list of reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Porzingis’ jersey is the fourth most popular in the NBA, behind only LeBron James, Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant, so there is an argument to be made that this is a player that NBA fans deserve to see. Even Kevin Durant, whose jersey is ranked No. 5 in sales, said he is a fan of Porzingis.
After scoring a season-high 44 points in an overtime win over the Knicks on Tuesday night, Durant said he enjoyed watching what the rookie could do on the court. With Carmelo Anthony sitting on the bench nursing a sore knee, Porzingis had 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks in the game. He also had one thunderous dunk over Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka that brought the Garden crowd to its feet.
“He played well,” Durant said about Porzingis. “He’s a tough cover. He can shoot the three. He can get to the rim and block shots. Yeah, he’s a tough cover.”
Porzingis is a big fan of Durant’s but he appears to have some mixed feelings about the nickname “Unicorn” that Durant gave him earlier in the week.
“Unicorn. I didn’t know how to take that,” Porzingis said after the game. “I didn’t know what it meant. But then KD, he’s a similar player — skinny — and he turned into the player he is now. I guess he sees some of that in me. That’s for me an honor. Just got to keep working at it and maybe one day get to his level.”
For the Rising Stars game, Porzingis joins a World team that includes the Nets’ Bojan Bogdanovic and Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins, who was last year’s rookie of the year. Notable selections for Team USA are Jahlil Okafor of the 76ers, Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves and D’Angelo Russell of the Lakers.
Notes & quotes: Carmelo Anthony, who sat out the overtime loss to Oklahoma City with soreness in his surgically repaired left knee, made the trip to Toronto Wednesday. The team did not update Anthony’s status. He had been listed as questionable for the Thunder game.