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SportsColumnistsAl Iannazzone

Knicks Insider: Big men coach sees Kristaps Porzingis as a franchise player

Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks

Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks drives to the hoop in the first half against Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies at Madison Square Garden on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 in New York City. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Kristaps Porzingis’ play has taken a dip lately. Some nagging injuries and the rigors of the NBA schedule appear to be taking a toll on the rookie big man.

The upcoming All-Star break might be just what he needs to return to the player who opened eyes and turned heads earlier in the season.

Scott Roth, a former NBA player and longtime assistant coach, believes Porzingis will rise again and keep rising.

Roth has an interesting and unique perspective. He works with big men, and before coaching Porzingis with Seville in Spain last season, he coached Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki when they were rookies. Roth believes Porzingis can reach their level.

“The Knicks have a franchise player, as long as he can stay healthy,” Roth said from China in a phone interview. “He’s a great worker, no ego, very humble and as skilled as anyone at his size that’s ever played in the league. They’re just scratching the surface with him.”

As an assistant with the Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors, Raptors and Pistons, Roth has been around Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Shane Battier, Gasol and Nowitzki in their formative years. Roth said Porzingis shares something with them.

“They just have that IT factor,” Roth said. “I don’t know what it is, but they have that IT factor.”

Roth, who has been in China for five months while mentoring the new coach for the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks, also has worked with Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas and former Knick Andrea Bargnani. Roth had no doubt that Porzingis would succeed because of his maturity and drive and the NBA game.

“The NBA style of play was going to be much more conducive to him being a better player,’’ he said. “In Europe, they just beat the crap out of him. There’s no freedom of movement. The NBA, the game is about skill and spacing the floor and freedom of movement, and he’s playing with much better players. I’m not surprised by what he’s done at all.”

Before his 17-point, 10-rebound game Friday night against Memphis, Porzingis averaged 11.0 points and 5.6 rebounds and shot 36 percent in his previous six games. Overall, he’s averaging 13.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.92 blocks and has won all three Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month awards to this point.

Gasol was the Rookie of the Year while playing for Roth. Nowitzki struggled during his first season. Roth said Nowitzki “got trampled on” because he came in during a lockout year and was thrown into the starting lineup. He became an all-time great.

Roth said Porzingis was more ready to play immediately and is ahead at this stage of their careers.

“I thought he was the best player in the draft,” he said. “That doesn’t take anything away from the other guys drafted ahead of him. I just thought he was the best player with the biggest upside. He played at a high level last year in a very tough league. So he was pretty seasoned and ready to break out.

“If he could have a career like Dirk Nowitzki, and there’s nothing that says that he won’t, he’s going to have a great career. I think he’s as good a shooter as Dirk. It’s just a matter of him staying healthy, his body naturally progressing. He’s going to get better. He’s a worker. That’s just how he is.”

What’s the point?

If the Knicks can’t upgrade at point guard by the Feb. 18 trade deadline, they’ll try in the offseason.

Two potential free-agent targets were in New York on Friday as Mike Conley Jr. and Rajon Rondo faced the Knicks and Nets, respectively.

Conley loves Memphis but said “everything will be on the table.” Rondo didn’t exactly leave the door open, saying “the triangle’s not really a good look for me, I don’t think.”

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