Porzingis gets first chance to lead Knicks tonight

Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis watches from the bench during the first half of a preseason  game against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 6, 2017. / AP / Nick Wass

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kristaps Porzingis is 22 and has never been an All-Star or played a full NBA season. But starting Thursday night, the Knicks are officially his team.

Ironically, when Porzingis debuts as the face of the franchise in the regular-season opener against the Thunder it will be against the former face of the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony. It’s a tall task for the 7-3 Porzingis, but he believes he’s ready to fill Anthony’s shoes.

“I never doubt myself,” Porzingis said following the morning shootaround. “I never feel like I’m not ready for something even if it’s the most difficult challenge in my life. I always try to think about the things I’m capable of doing and focus on those things and focus on the thing I can affect. I’m never too afraid of a situation.

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“I’m here now, I had a great experience watching Melo how he does stuff on and off the court. I think that’s what I’m going to use to go forward.”

Porzingis has had some very good moments over his first two seasons and has averaged 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. But Porzingis has missed 26 games overall, and the person who garnered most of the attention from the defense and the media was Anthony, who the Knicks traded to Oklahoma City last month.

Now Porzingis is the central figure in a rebuilding effort. The Knicks have stated that this year will be about the development and growing of Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez. Porzingis will learn very quickly what life without Melo is like.

“I think we’re going to realize that as we go forward, how much pressure he took off of everybody and how valuable a player like that actually is,” Porzingis said. “He just draws so much attention. We’re going, and myself also I’m going to feel it as the season goes on.

“Right now I’m just going to play my game really and not try to force things, play my game and that’s it.”

The Knicks are facing Anthony for the first time and Enes Kanter, who came over from Oklahoma City in the trade, was back in the place he called home for 2 ½ seasons. Kanter expects it to be an “emotional night.”

Kanter, who likely will start at center, said he’s been told by his former teammate, Steven Adams, to also expect a physical night.

“Actually, he told me, ‘From the jump ball I’m going to elbow you,” Kanter said. “He said, ‘Watch out, I’m going to elbow you from the jump ball.’ I’m really looking forward to that.

“I texted him two nights ago. It doesn’t matter if he’s going to defend me, he’s always my brother. Not just him, but him, Russ and the other guys I cannot say enough about how much they helped me on and off the court.”

Russ is league MVP Russell Westbrook, one of the most competitive players in the league. Kanter isn’t sure Westbrook will speak to him since he feels if you’re not on his team you’re the enemy.

“His mentality, probably no,” Kanter said. “But I’m going to say hi to him because he’s my brother. I’ll say hi to him.”