NEW ORLEANS — Kristaps Porzingis has shown more of a fiery temperament lately, getting into it with opposing players who are being too physical with him.
But Porzingis doesn’t mind the contact.
“I like that,” he said.
Porzingis doesn’t back down from anyone, and twice in the last 2 ½ weeks, he had to be held back from going after an opponent.
It happened in Phoenix when Marquese Chriss pulled him to the court, and on Wednesday night in Atlanta, after Dwight Howard pushed him in the back when he was going up for a dunk.
Porzingis got up and shoved Chriss, and in Atlanta, he sprang to his feet, approached Howard and had some words for him. He said Howard didn’t say anything in return.
Porzingis knows this is only the beginning of teams trying to take him out of his game.
“Obviously, it’s dangerous sometimes when you get fouled hard like that,” Porzingis said before the Knicks faced New Orleans on Friday night. “But it’s something I have to start to get used to because as I get better as a player, guys will try to find ways how to get me out of my rhythm and foul me hard or play aggressively against me. I have to be ready for that.”
Very little has rattled the 7-3 Porzingis in his brief NBA career. The 21-year-old has carried himself with poise and handled the pressures of being a top-four draft pick in New York.
When he was growing up in Latvia and Spain, part of Porzingis’ preparation for making it in the NBA was watching video of players to emulate. One was New Orleans forward-center Anthony Davis.
“I watched him quite a lot, especially [because] he was a skinny guy coming in from college, how he was able to adjust to the NBA and play at this level,” Porzingis said. “Before I got to the NBA, I was watching him a lot. He was one of the guys I learned the game from.”
Porzingis said he specifically watched how Davis stood his ground defensively, particularly in the post.
“His skill set is pretty all around, so he can do anything,” Porzingis said. “But it was more just seeing how he can adjust his physicality.”
Jeff Hornacek has coached against both players and now works with Porzingis every day. He sees some similarities between the two.
“Long guys who can play outside and go inside,” Hornacek said. “Anthony’s a great player because he’s multidimensional in that he can post up, shoot the turnaround jumper, he can handle the ball. So him and KP do a lot of the things that are the same.”
There are differences. Davis, one of the best defensive players in the league, has led the NBA in blocks twice and ranks first this season with 2.69 per game. The fifth-year player from Kentucky also has developed into one of the best scorers. He dropped 50 on Denver on opening night and entered Friday night’s game averaging 29.3 points. Only Russell Westbrook had a higher average.
Davis may not have the range Porzingis has on his shot, but he’s taking more long jumpers than ever and is averaging 2.1 three-pointers per game. “He’s adding stuff to his game,” Porzingis said.
Porzingis wants to do the same. He still needs to work on his post game as well as his individual and help defense. He’s able to affect and block shots because of his size, but getting in the right position and reacting quicker will help him have more of an impact. Porzingis, who entered Friday night averaging 20.1 points and was fifth with 1.94 blocks per game, had 21 points and 12 rebounds against the Pelicans. Davis had 23 points and 18 rebounds.
Before the season, Porzingis said one of his goals is to have a quadruple-double in a game, which hasn’t been done since David Robinson (34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 blocked shots) did it on Feb. 17, 1994. Porzingis can see Davis accomplishing the feat.
“He might have the best chance of doing that in this league right now,” Porzingis said. “That would be something pretty amazing for anyone to achieve.”