Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis new toast of the town in New York
NEW YORK — Kristaps Porzingis has long arms and quick feet, an ideal combination for rebounding, defending and distributing towels.
A big number on the stat sheet is no match for an 'R' on the roster — the letter that stands for rookie. So moments after scoring 29 points Tuesday in the best game of his young career, the 20-year-old forward dutifully fetched towels for his veteran New York Knicks teammates.
"There's certain things that you've got to continue doing. You had a big game, but you've got to get those towels, man," Carmelo Anthony said. "He can celebrate later."
It sure looks like he'll be celebrating often.
Once considered too young, too thin and maybe too European in style to contribute right away, Porzingis has become one of the best players on a much-improved team.
Just 17-65 last season, the Knicks are 6-6 following their 102-94 victory over Charlotte, when Porzingis added 11 rebounds.
"It's just one game. I want to keep doing this. Melo is doing this for every game," Porzingis said. "So the easy part is to play one game like that, the hard part to keep playing at this level."
Few thought he would before the season. He carried just 233 pounds on his 7-foot-3 frame when he was drafted and had the look of a player who would be pushed around before he learned to push back.
He was taken with the No. 4 pick because of his promise and potential, a 3-point shooter with center size who drew comparisons to fellow Europeans Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. But the Latvian had no interest in taking too long to show why he was here.
"Everybody saying project, few years," Porzingis said. "I will get better in a few years, but I knew I was able to play right now, so that was my mentality going into the NBA."
He's actually far more advanced than most first-year players after spending three seasons as a professional in Spain. It was clear Tuesday night he's further along in his development than the Hornets' Frank Kaminsky, who spent four years at Wisconsin, was the national player of the year as a senior and was drafted five spots after Porzingis.
"He's good, especially for his size," said Charlotte's Kemba Walker, a former UConn star. "I think he could be a really good player."
He had already proven the finesse tag that Europeans are forever fighting doesn't fit, matching surprising strength with a freakishly long wingspan that measures 7-4. He's the team's leading rebounder, with slam dunks on offensive rebounds against Portland and Milwaukee on his highlight reel.
On Tuesday night his outside shot was falling, and the result was his fifth double-double of the season.
"Whether or not he'll ever be able to do this nightly we don't know at this point, but because of the combination of skills and abilities at some point it's all going to come together," Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. "One night like tonight and then in a couple of weeks maybe there will be another night like tonight, but you could see he's getting more comfortable each game."
In New York, the back page of the Daily News read ZINGSANITY, with a small picture of Charlotte's Jeremy Lin and a caption declaring a new sensation at Madison Square Garden.
Lin was the toast of the town for a few weeks during the Linsanity days of 2012, and it appears fans who booed Porzingis on draft night have now embraced him the same way.
The towel boy is now a main man, but that will change fast if he doesn't keep producing.
"Couple nights ago the stat sheet looked a little different and they weren't calling his name," Fisher said. "So the main thing for Kris to learn is that tonight they love you, but just hold on."
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