Kristaps Porzingis switched places with Carmelo Anthony and sat out Tuesday night with a sore lower back. Porzingis could soon be switching places with Anthony as the face of the Knicks.
Anthony has given cryptic answers lately that have led to speculation that he’s ready to move on. The Knicks also seem ready to move on from Anthony, who sat the prior two games with a back injury. They tried to deal him before the trade deadline.
With Anthony back and the Knicks getting an unexpected lift from undrafted rookie Maurice Ndour, they reached 30 wins with a 100-91 victory over the Bulls Tuesday night at the Garden.
Anthony finished with 23 points. Ndour, starting for Porzingis, had his first career double-double (13 points, 12 rebound) in his first career start. The Knicks (30-48) led by 25 against the Bulls, who are fighting for a playoff spot. The Knicks will be Porzingis’ team — perhaps beginning next season. It all depends on what Knicks president Phil Jackson is able to do this summer with Anthony, a high draft pick and in free agency.
But many nights Porzingis was the Knicks’ third option behind Anthony and Derrick Rose. So the second-year big man has yet to prove he can be a franchise player or go-to guy. With Anthony and Rose questionable to return to the Knicks, Porzingis might have to make that big leap to featured guy.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek believes Porzingis still has work to do, but this season should help him.
“You have to see a guy go through it,” Jeff Hornacek said. “He’s seen some of it this year. Even though we’ve had Carmelo and Derrick, people know what he does. They try and take things away from him. Can you say that’s next year or the year after? He’s made great strides. He’s heading that way.”
Porzingis is averaging 18.1 points this season, second on the team behind Anthony. But he doesn’t have a go-to move or shot yet. The 7-3 Porzingis can be thrown off balance when defended by guards or small forwards, and he hasn’t been that durable.
He missed 10 games last season and sat out for the 12th time Tuesday night. Porzingis needs to play in the final four games to reach 70. Hornacek hopes Porzingis will play Thursday against the Pistons, and believes any reps he gets will be beneficial.
“We want to continue to see KP play with and without Carmelo,” Hornacek said. “There are times when he’s with that second group when he has to be that main guy. He has to work in conjunction with Carmelo when they’re playing together.
“When you look at his year, the second year is always the toughest year I think. You’re not surprising anybody. The league now knows you. You become more of an opponent teams plan to try and stop.”
Hornacek said Porzingis has “done well” adjusting to that.
“He’s made a step up,” Hornacek said. “Maybe not like some other guys, but there are a lot of guys that now that they’re not a surprise in the league they’re maybe neutralized that second year.
“I think he’s done a great job. He’s learning different things. He’s picking things up. He’s only 21 years old. The game’s going to slow down even more as his years go on. That’s why everyone thinks he’s going to be a great player.”
Notes & quotes: Rose, who will undergo surgery to repair to a torn meniscus in his left knee, wasn’t at the game. Hornacek said Knicks’ officials haven’t discussed re-signing Rose. “\When the season ends we’ll all sit down and try to figure out the plan going forward,” Hornacek said. “When we go over it at the end of the year it’s a guy we’ll definitely take a look at and see if we can bring him back.”