Kristaps Porzingis gets first look at being the Knicks’ focal point

Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis watches a foul shot by the Brooklyn Nets in a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 3, 2017. / Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Kristaps Porzingis didn’t want Carmelo Anthony’s old locker. But the new face of the Knicks took his old teammate’s seat on the bench and will try to fill his void on offense.

As much as anything for the Knicks, this season is about seeing how Porzingis handles being the focal point of the offense and the team.

In his first two seasons, Porzingis had Anthony to garner much of the attention and take the focus off of him on the court and in the locker room. That’s all changed since Anthony was traded to Oklahoma City two weeks ago.

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Porzingis got his first taste of life without Anthony on Tuesday night in the Knicks’ 115-107 preseason loss to the Nets, and he was more involved perhaps than ever before. Porzingis said he was guarded differently and he expects to see all kinds of defenses this season.

“It’s the preseason,” Porzingis said. “The other team, they’re going to play a different type of defense once the season starts. I almost touched the ball on every offensive possession that we had. I have to be ready to make the right decision on every play.”

Porzingis shot 6-for-14 and finished with 15 points, five rebounds, two blocks and one assist in 22 minutes.

The Knicks plan to play faster, so they should be high-volume shooting team – provided they get defensive stops, which was an issue against the Nets. But in Hornacek’s offense, Porzingis should be able to score a variety of ways, as he showed Tuesday night.

Porzingis’ first two baskets were off post-ups. He added a pull-up jumper, a put-back in transition and scored twice on drives to the basket. On the last one, the 7-foot-3 Porzingis faced up Quincy Acy, froze him with a crossover dribble, went to the basket, dunked it with his left hand and was fouled.

That type of play is why Porzingis, at his size, is considered a unique talent and has been called a unicorn. NBA general managers believe the hype.

In the annual GM survey, Porzingis finished tied for second with Indiana’s Myles Turner for player most likely to have a breakout season. Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns was first.

Porzingis worked on strengthening his body and improving his all-around game during the offseason so he could handle a heavier workload and expand his game. He displayed some of it in while playing for Latvia in the Euroleague Championships.

“You can tell he worked hard in the summer,” Hornacek said. “Watching the Eurobasket games, there were moves he made that maybe you didn’t see much of last year in terms of banging a guy and then lean back and shoot it. So that’s age, that’s experience. That’s strength. I know he’s worked hard on his legs to get that better.

“He’s been great in training camp. He’s really stepping it up as kind of a leader in camp with his talking and his example of how he comes out there every day in practice and goes hard. I think he’s ready for a great year.”

Hornacek tried many different combinations Tuesday and had Porzingis playing some center. Porzingis can do that, but he would much rather play power forward, believing it creates more mismatches.

“It’s better for us,” Porzingis said, “especially if it’s a non-shooting [power forward]. I can do a lot. When I’m playing against the [center], I’m fighting with the big a lot of times and I’m wasting a lot of energy. Obviously offensively I have an advantage. But I’m just more comfortable playing at the 4.

“Fours are usually smaller, I can shoot over them easier. If it’s a non-shooter I can be under the rim and protecting the rim and that’s what I love. I’m just more used to playing at the 4. If we need to go small, then I’m playing at the 5, then I have to change a little bit my mindset. So I have to be able to adjust to different situations.”

Fast breaks

The Knicks have talked about playing faster this season and being a more committed, hard-working defensive team. They weren’t for large stretches against the Nets, and as a result they scored just five fast-break points.

“It’s tough when you’re taking the ball out of bounds all the time after a score,” Hornacek said.

The Nets shot 16-for-32 on three-pointers, many of them wide-open looks.

“I said to our guys, ‘Wouldn’t you guys want to shoot a shot with somebody four or five feet from you rather than in your face?’ Hornacek said. “They’re like ‘Yeah, OK.’ We’ve got to get more pressure, work more on one-on-one… Put pressure on the ball. There were several times they shot right on us. That’s something we need to do better.”

The Knicks waived former Pittsburgh forward forward Jamel Artis.