Kristaps Porzingis had trouble finding the word he wanted to use, and the Latvian rookie joked he’s still “learning the triangle and English.”
Porzingis is more advanced in both than anyone could have imagined or expected at this point. But the next phase of his education is for him to demand the ball in the fourth quarter.
It’s hard to do when he shares the ball and crunch time with Carmelo Anthony. The ball generally goes through Anthony. But when Anthony missed Wednesday’s game in Cleveland with a sprained right ankle, Porzingis should have been the Knicks’ focal point in closing time or at the very least been more involved.
Instead it went through Arron Afflalo and Lance Thomas. They were a combined 3-for-11 with two turnovers in the last 7:30. Porzingis, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds, attempted one long three-point shot just before the final buzzer in the 91-84 loss.
This is on Derek Fisher, the point guards, and Porzingis, too. He needs to make himself more available and call for the ball.
“I’ve got to be more aggressive at the end maybe,” he said. “As I get more experience, as I get more comfortable at the end, I’ve got to take a little bit of that responsibility at the end and take the ball and create for teammates. I think more-experienced guys, they were trying to get going.
“Arron was hitting some shots. He was trying to be aggressive and I just stepped off a little bit. But I was ready. I think as I grow as a player, I’ll have to take more — not shots, but just more, what’s that word . . . just have to be more important at the end, I’ve got to step up for the team.”
Porzingis came back to it and said the word he wanted was “initiative.” Good word, but an even better phrase would be: demand the ball.
The 20-year-old will get there. He’s also proven to be more productive and aggressive than anyone imagined or expected. He just has to take another step in his development as an NBA player. Porzingis will be better when that happens and so will the Knicks.
Not doubting Thomas
Thomas, originally signed to a 10-day contract in January, has become a vital cog for the Knicks.
He earned Fisher’s respect with his professionalism, work ethic and defense. Now Thomas has carved out a role as their sixth man and someone the Knicks believe in and want on the floor in crunch time.
Anthony talked about Thomas’ heart and said he would “go to war with Lance, any day.” Fisher said the way Thomas approaches his job is the reason his teammates trust and respect him.
“If it came down to one possession,” Fisher said, “and we had to get a stop or you had to literally go into battle in order to win the game, who would you want out there on the floor with you? If you polled the guys, Lance would probably be one of those guys.”
Thomas, whom the Knicks re-signed for one-year and $1.63 million, worked on his body and game over the summer. He’s playing with supreme confidence and producing more than he ever has. In the last six games, Thomas is 29-for-44 from the field (7-for-10 from three) and averaging 14.0 points.
“I’m going to continue to have the same effort,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to change up what I’m doing. I’m going to keep playing hard for my teammates.”
Deron Williams, the Nets’ consolation prize in 2011 when Anthony was sent to the Knicks, had some strong words for his old team before returning to Brooklyn. A hamstring injury kept him out of the game, but that probably was fitting.
Williams’ Nets tenure was filled with injuries, underachieving, sulking and bad body language. The Nets bought him out last season and he signed with Dallas.
In the lead-up to the game, Williams told Yahoo! Sports, that the three seasons after he signed a five-year, $99-million deal, “made me question if I even wanted to play basketball when I was done with that contract.”
Williams said it was hard to overcome all those injuries, but the overall environment didn’t help.
“Add that to the New York media and the fans — or I should say the non-fans, the ones that don’t pick you up — it all takes a toll on you,” Williams told ESPN Dallas. “I think it definitely took a toll on me, but that’s what happens when you get paid that money and you don’t produce like it.”
Dirk the trend setter
Dirk Nowitzki passed Shaquille O’Neal this week and moved into sixth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
Nowitzki is the greatest European player in NBA history. But Rick Carlisle credits the German 7-foot shooter with changing the game and says Porzingis could have a similar influence.
“When he came in the league, there was no guy that was the quintessential stretch power forward,” Carlisle said. “He has redefined that position, and in doing so, he’s been a game changer in a big way. Now a generation of players in the last 10 years coming through has taken his example. Very infrequently, you see power-forward types that don’t shoot the ball well.
“I’m sure Porzingis watched Dirk when he was a much younger kid and followed that example, as well. Dirk’s impact on the whole state of the game is undeniable. Porzingis is going to be one of those guys that’s going to have an opportunity to have the same kind of overall impact.”
KG: Boston’s best
Kevin Garnett was in his old stamping grounds on back-to-back nights with the Timberwolves playing at the Nets and Celtics. He was asked which city had better fans and Garnett said, “Bostonians all day. And they know that.”
Kobe Bryant is more popular than ever. There were 146 reporters from 24 countries and territories on a conference call with the retiring Laker this week, the largest global conference call with an NBA player. Then, the NBA released its first returns of the NBA All-Star balloting, and Bryant was the leading vote-getter, receiving more than LeBron James and Kevin Durant combined. “What the hell?” Bryant said. “Shocked doesn’t do it justice.”