OKLAHOMA CITY — Carmelo Anthony tried to groom Kristaps Porzingis the past two years, knowing that he someday would replace him as the Knicks’ franchise player. Now that he has, Anthony called it “a big, big year” for Porzingis and had some advice.
“You’re there. You’re the unicorn. You’ve got to embrace it,” Anthony said. “You’ve got to understand what it’s about, what’s going to happen, whether good or bad, and be ready for it.”
Porzingis’ debut as “The Man” was an impressive one in Thursday night’s regular-season opener against Anthony and Oklahoma City. He had 31 points, 12 rebounds and a block, rejecting a layup by Anthony.
Porzingis, 22, said he’s ready for the challenge of filling Anthony’s shoes. “I never doubt myself,” he said. “I never feel like I’m not ready for something, even if it’s the most difficult challenge in my life . . . I’m never too afraid of a situation.
“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 told “The Players’ Tribune” that his three individual goals this season are to be an All-Star, the Defensive Player of the Year and the Most Improved Player. He averaged 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in his first two seasons but missed 26 games.
The person who garnered most of the attention from defenses and the media said we’ll all find out if Porzingis is ready for this huge responsibility.
“We shall see,” Anthony said. “This is a big, big year for him. Even last year and the year before, he had pieces, a couple pieces around that can kind of shelter him a little bit. Even when things weren’t going good for him, I would always take the blame and take the pressure off of him. Now he almost is, I don’t want to say forced to take on that role, but it’s there. He has to take on that role. He has to embrace that role. He has to be ready for what’s in front of him.”
Second-year center Willy Hernangomez had been touted by Knicks officials as one of the team’s cornerstones, but he didn’t play until garbage time. Jeff Hornacek said Enes Kanter and Kyle O’Quinn earned the minutes in training camp.
Hornacek spent a long time after shootaround sitting alone and talking with Hernangomez, who said the coach told him he isn’t in the current rotation.
“He told me, ‘Billy, be ready,’ ” Hernangomez said. “ ‘Enes and KO, they’ve been doing a great job too. Just be ready for your moment.’ I have to keep working the same way and be ready when my moment is coming. And just keep working. I’m not worried about that. It’s the first game. I have the experience from last year, so I’m not worried about today.’’
Beasley exits early
Michael Beasley played only 36 seconds in his Knicks debut. He made his first shot but then came down on Russell Westbrook’s foot and left the game with a sore left ankle. X-rays were negative. Beasley left the arena in a walking boot and said he will be re-evaluated Friday.
“It hurts, but it’s going to hurt for a while,” he said. “I want to say Saturday is fine [to play], but we’ll just re-evaluate it in the morning.”
Noah with Knicks
Though Joakim Noah is suspended for 12 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy, he’s still traveling with the team. Hornacek wants him at shootarounds and practices to see and learn new plays he adds. Noah can’t be in the arena for games while suspended, though. “He’s part of the team,” Hornacek said, “so we want him here as much as we can.”