The first time Jeff Hornacek worked out Kristaps Porzingis, it wasn’t his height that struck him as much as his skills. The first-year Knicks coach said Porzingis reminded him of a shooting guard.
“He’s pretty smooth, and you forget he’s 7-2 or whatever height that he is,” Hornacek said. “That lends for a lot of different things that he can do.”
Porzingis is 7-3, and he still might be growing. His game certainly is. There’s no telling how high his ceiling is.
After an impressive rookie year, Porzingis enters his second NBA season stronger, more confident and feeling more comfortable. He scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in 19 minutes in the Knicks’ 116-98 victory over the Nets in preseason action at the Garden on Saturday night. Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 16 points.
Derrick Rose, who remained in Los Angeles for his civil sexual assault trial, and Joakim Noah (sore left hamstring) were unavailable.
For all the moves the Knicks made in the offseason — acquiring Rose, Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings — Porzingis, 21, is the main reason the future looks bright. He’s expected to outlast them all and eventually supplant Anthony as the face of the franchise.
But Porzingis is in a great position, as Anthony and Rose will get most of the attention. They did in Tuesday night’s preseason-opening loss to the Rockets, and Porzingis scored 22 points and shot 8-for-11, including 5-for-6 from three-point range.
Playing with them, Porzingis can continue to improve as a go-to player who someday will be asked to carry a team.
“The expectation for me wasn’t as high last year,” he said. “I basically played without pressure, played my game. I plan on doing the same thing this year.”
He averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in his first NBA season, finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Karl-Anthony Towns and was a unanimous selection for All-Rookie first team.
Aside from making the playoffs, Porzingis’ goals are to stay healthy and be more consistent.
Porzingis spent the offseason working on different facets of his game. He spent hours on his ballhandling, post game and shooting.
The Knicks went away from him too often last season under Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis, but Hornacek has given Porzingis the green light to shoot. Team president Phil Jackson told Porzingis he wants him to take pull-up three-pointers in transition.
Hornacek wants the Knicks to push the pace, so that could be a weapon. He also plans to use the versatile Porzingis in pick-and-rolls, pick-and-pops and inside.
“He’s starting to realize that [he] can shoot the ball over guys relatively easy,” Hornacek said. “So if we can set some good screens, make teams switch and get him the ball somewhere in the lane, he’s just got to turn around and shoot over the top.
“That’s a skill that you can’t teach. You can’t teach 7-2 and be able to shoot the ball as well as he does.”
Notes & quotes: Hornacek said he doesn’t expect Rose back for Monday night’s preseason game against the Wizards unless something changes with the case, which will resume Tuesday morning. “He’s just going to take care of that and then come back,” Hornacek said. Hornacek also said Noah “more than likely” won’t play Monday night. He wants Noah, who also missed the preseason opener, to go through a full practice and see how he feels after that . . . During the national anthem, the Knicks stood on their end of the court with their arms around each other. The Nets lined up on their side with their arms interlocked . . . Undrafted rookie Marshall Plumlee started at center, picked up three fouls in the first 2:02 and went to the bench after committing his fourth with 7:35 remaining in the opening quarter.