TODAY'S PAPER
Overcast 39° Good Afternoon
Overcast 39° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Courtney Lee believes Kristaps Porzingis’ star is on the rise

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) looks

New York Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis (6) looks to shoot from outside during the first half of the game at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Courtney Lee has played with an impressive list of big men, and from his perspective, Kristaps Porzingis might be the most impressive.

Lee played with Dwight Howard when Howard was a rookie, Brook Lopez when he was in his second season, Yao Ming at the end of his career, a still-productive Kevin Garnett, and Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in their primes. But Lee has never seen any of them do what the 7-3 Porzingis can do.

“I don’t know if you can count him as a big man,” said Lee, the Knicks’ starting shooting guard. “He’s so agile and he’s got guard skills. As far as potential and ceiling, he has the highest. Once he starts putting on a little weight and strength and continues to do the things that he’s doing, he’s going to be one of the top players in this league.”

Porzingis isn’t an elite rim protector like Howard or an intense defender like Garnett. But Lee thinks Porzingis, 21, can grow as a defensive player. He’s already seen tremendous growth overall.

Lee was with the Grizzlies and Hornets last season and was mildly impressed with Porzingis when they played the Knicks. Playing with him every day, he sees the second-year pro in a different light.

“He made a couple of good shots and it was like, ‘He’s going to be all right,’ ” Lee said. “But being his teammate now, you just see the growth from that first year to now and the things that he’s capable of doing, it’s crazy. I think he’s going to be a top player in this league for many years.”

It didn’t take long for Lee to recall something Porzingis did that stood out to him. He brought up a sequence from Wednesday night, when Porzingis scored a career-high 35 points.

“He shot the three, missed it, got the rebound, shot a floater, missed it and tip-dunked that,” Lee said. “I said, ‘That’s crazy.’ How do you guard that? I was looking at it like, ‘Damn.’ It was crazy.

“He’s a special specimen. He’s 7-3, shooting a three-ball. It’s plays like that. The Toronto game [last week] — dunking on people backwards, reverse dunks. He shows a lot of glimpses of an All-Star-caliber, long-running top-five-player potential night in, night out.”

NOT SO PRESIDENTIAL

Phil Jackson has taken heat for calling LeBron James’ friends and business associates a “posse,” but he said other things in the ESPN.com interview that could have triggered backlash.

Jackson, who won a record 11 rings as a coach, took unnecessary shots at contemporaries Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, who have done something Jackson hasn’t. They won titles as coaches and executives. Jackson’s record as Knicks president is 54-122.

Why criticize Popovich’s offense in the early 2000s? Why say Riley’s “real nice vibe” with his players “broke down” with James and Dwyane Wade leaving? Why say Mike Conley’s $30-million-a-year contract is “almost insane?”

This won’t help the Knicks attract free agents or their dealings with other team executives in trade talks.

Those officials aren’t publicly criticizing Jackson for giving Carmelo Anthony a no-trade clause, or Joakim Noah a four-year, $72-million deal, or getting little in return when he traded Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.

They could, but they don’t, because it’s not the proper protocol. Jackson should follow suit and worry more about the Knicks.

SUNS HELPED HIM BE A SON

Tyson Chandler could have been traded to another team during the summer, but he wanted to stay with the rebuilding Suns. That decision helped him in a difficult time.

Chandler’s mom had been ill. When he was with the Knicks, Chandler would fly to Southern California to be with her and then fly back for the Knicks’ next game.

When her condition worsened recently, because Chandler was playing for the Suns, he was able to spend time with her. The Suns’ schedule brought him back to Los Angeles three times in a three-week span.

His mother passed away last week. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity had I not been here,” Chandler said. “I got my last hug, last kiss because I play for the Suns.”

DeROZAN DETERMINED

DeMar DeRozan, who leads the NBA in scoring, has had at least 30 points 10 times through Toronto’s first 12 games. The Sports Illustrated preseason player rankings might have lit a fire under him.

DeRozan was rated No. 46 after being an All-Star for the second time last season, helping Toronto reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time and winning an Olympic gold medal.

Among those ahead of him were Derrick Favors, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Serge Ibaka and Khris Middleton — who have zero All-Star appearances between them — and Andre Iguodala, who is effective and versatile but is a reserve role player.

After the rankings came out, DeRozan had a couple of tweets directed at SI, including one that included 46 and another that said: #ProveEm. DeRozan is doing that.

HONOR ROLL

Russell Westbrook was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame on Thursday. His presenter was Michael Jordan. “That’s ballin’ right there,” said James Harden, Westbrook’s former teammate.

Tim Duncan, the greatest power forward of all time, will have his No. 21 jersey retired by the San Antonio Spurs in a ceremony after the Dec. 18 game against New Orleans.

BIG FELLOWS

Courtney Lee’s teams and some

of his big teammates:

TEAM, BIG MAN

2008-09 Magic: Dwight Howard

2009-10 Nets: Brook Lopez

2010-12 Rockets: Yao Ming

2012-13 Celtics, Grizzlies: Marc Gasol

2014-15 Grizzlies: Marc Gasol

2015-16 Grizzlies: Marc Gasol

2015-16 Hornets: Al Jefferson

2016-17 Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis

New York Sports

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to Newsday is free for Optimum customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE