When Kristaps Porzingis was growing up, his brother Janis would make him watch videos of Anthony Davis, Dirk Nowitkzi, Kevin Garnett and LaMarcus Aldridge to learn from some of the best big men in recent years. Now it’s Porzingis whom coaches are having their players watch.
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said that before Houston played the Knicks on Wednesday, he told 7-1 rookie Zhoi Qi to try to pattern his game after Porzingis’. Qi’s build is similar to Porzingis’, but his game isn’t nearly as advanced.
“I think he’s unbelievable. I really do,” D’Antoni said. “He is really good. I told [Qi], ‘Go get your tapes on him. That’s who you need to be right there.’ He shoots threes, runs the floor, long, thin. Everything, that guy’s got it.”
When Porzingis, 22, was told about this, he seemed genuinely surprised and honored.
“That’s crazy to think that there are already guys looking at my game and trying to learn something from my game,” he said.
Few can do what Porzingis can at 7-3. He’s very agile and graceful, can handle the ball and can score on the perimeter. He’s lean, but he has some power to his game.
Porzingis showed his unique skill set in Friday night’s 13-point win over the Suns when he raced back to swat a shot in transition, then sprinted upcourt to end the possession with a dunk.
“I wasn’t really surprised by the block or the dunk,” teammate Michael Beasley said. “I was surprised by how fast he got from the block to the dunk. He ran the floor in about three seconds.”
“Some of the stuff he does, we just look at each other on the bench like, ‘Man, did he really just do that?’ ” Enes Kanter said.
Porzingis has drawn comparisons with Nowitzki. D’Antoni mentioned Nowitzki and another future Hall of Fame player, Kevin Durant, because of how much they can do at that size.
D’Antoni, a former Knicks coach, said the way “the game’s changed” will make Porzingis even more dangerous. D’Antoni should know, because he is credited with the modern offense that teams such as the Warriors have perfected. He started it with the Suns; playing fast and small and having shooters all over the floor now is how teams play.
With Porzingis playing power forward, D’Antoni wonders who is going to guard him. “He’s going to be a scoring machine,” he said. “There’s no way you can stop him because of his length and skills. But you just try and . . . I don’t know what you do. He’s going to be a superstar the next 10 years, for sure.”
Porzingis scored 37 points Friday, his sixth game of at least 30 in eight games this season. He is averaging 29.0 points per game overall. In the Knicks’ four wins, he is averaging 34.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.75 blocks.
Porzingis seemingly has slid effortlessly into Carmelo Anthony’s role as the face of the team and go-to guy. He worked hard in the offseason to get stronger and improve his all-around game. Besides his goal of leading the Knicks to the playoffs, he hopes to make the All-Star team and be named Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year.
Porzingis is handling double-teams well and, when he posts up, isn’t letting smaller players rest their weight on his lower body to take him out of his game. He just turns and shoots over them.
He’s also learning how to handle drama, but he still has a long way to go before he does it with Anthony’s aplomb.
Janis, Kristaps’ brother and agent, created a mini-panic last week by saying in an interview with a Latvian monthly magazine that Kristaps re-upping with the Knicks isn’t a slam dunk. Kristaps said “a big part” of the interview was “taken out of context,” that he loves New York and that “I see myself as a Knick for a long, long time.”
D’Antoni doesn’t know Porzingis, but he knows New York. From everything he’s seen, he believes the Knicks have their franchise player and someone who can dominate in this league for a long time.
“When I watch him, I go, ‘Holy sugar,’ ” D’Antoni said. “This guy’s good, so New York should be happy.”