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Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis becomes fan favorite in summer league

New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis plays in an

New York Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis plays in an NBA summer league basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Las Vegas. Credit: AP / Ronda Churchill

LAS VEGAS - Sitting in the last row of the lower bowl at Thomas & Mack Center all by himself last week, an adult fan sporting a Knicks jersey quickly pledged his allegiance to the franchise's lottery pick once the national anthem finished.

Kristaps Porzingis hadn't peeled off his warm-ups yet and his newfound admirer was showering him with love, shouting "Let's go, Porzingis!" Not long after that, a line for Porzingis' autograph signing expanded, swelling to a sizable contingent by the second quarter.

An international man of mystery no more, Porzingis is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

"That's amazing, I love my fans," Porzingis said. "They were really waiting for me there and I just tried to smile back and be as positive as I can, and try to have a little conversation with the fans although there's not a lot of time. For me, it's great to have people who've followed me and want me to succeed."

Porzingis spent the better part of the last two weeks getting acclimated to the NBA, navigating his way through a style of physical play that is unlike anything he faced in the Spanish league. It's been educational for the Latvian big man.

Whether it's figuring out how to prepare his 7-3, 233-pound frame to hold up for the physical grind of multiple games in a short span of days, learning how to play with the same energy level consistently or trying to master the triangle's inner workings, school was constantly in session.

"A really great experience," Porzingis said. "I was excited to play in the summer league. We knew it was going to be the first time that I played in the states. I could show myself here to the fans and to the coaches, everybody. It was a great experience, something different obviously. Different basketball, more physical."

But he's shown he can be a quick learner and is able to adjust on the fly, two good character traits that will help Porzingis' maturity and growth. While matching up against Jahlil Okafor, whom the 76ers drafted third overall one spot ahead of him, Porzingis initially was getting torched by Philadelphia's skilled big man.

Okafor kept working Porzingis over and the Knicks rookie was having serious trouble containing Okafor in the post, leading him to alter his approach. In the second half, seeing how he couldn't contain Okafor playing him from behind, Porzingis fronted Okafor instead and got much better results, blocking Okafor's shot twice.

noticed Porzingis' ability to modify his approach. Doing the small things right helps foster success and Porzingis' early penchant for switching it up defensively showed Grant something right away.

"High basketball IQ," Grant said. "He knows that at this point in his career, he is not the strongest guy, so playing behind someone that big is not going to benefit him. So he learned through the process that he needed to front him and I think it's going to help him a lot this year, just using his IQ for different things because he doesn't have the body right now."

Knicks coach Derek Fisher isn't ready to proclaim Porzingis as the starting power forward when the season opens.

Basing anything off how someone played in summer league action is always a tricky proposition and Fisher knows that probably better than anyone.

However, there are plenty of positives to extract from Porzingis' summer league stint.

"I got confirmation that he's not afraid," Fisher said. "I think he said it best. He wasn't going to be afraid to be in New York and in New York City and is not afraid of competition."

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