(First posted at RealGM)
POST-FIRST YEAR ASSESSMENT
- 2,047 minutes
- +0.4 pace-adjusted plus-minus
- 17.7 PER
Everyone was upset when the Knicks drafted Porzingis fourth overall.
New York fans who were not familiar with him immediately assumed he was the next big European bust and booed him as his name was announced by Adam Silver. People familiar with his ability immediately assumed the Knicks were going to screw him up, as they have no track record of being able to develop someone with his sort of potential over the last two decades.
One year in, things are going far better than anticipated.
The first big concern raised was how Carmelo Anthony was going to react to Porzingis, a seven-foot-three shooter without the sort of physical profile that suggested he was going to be able to make an impact in the NBA right away. That turned out to be no problem at all. Anthony has been said to be helpful every step of the way and they are said to have developed a bond.
The next concern was whether Porzingis had the skill-set to fit in the triangle. That also turned out to be not much of a problem, at least when you consider the limitations of the triangle within the modern era of basketball.
As expected, Porzingis didn’t have the strength to set deep position consistently but his ability to make shots from any spot made up for the fact he was often pushed off to the high post or the wing.
His post game is still a bit mechanical, as he has no power moves yet and is often looking for one of two moves; a turnaround fadeaway jumper to the left or a routine of two dribbles, bang bodies with the opponent to set him up one way then launch a hook going to the opposite side.
But the results were solid, if not necessarily amazing. Able to shoot over about anyone who is not immediately in his air space, Porzingis averaged 0.82 points per possession on post ups.
He also flashed some development in his floor game, proving able to take escape dribbles and make one- or two-dribble pull-ups at a decent rate. Porzingis also passed the ball far better than he had demonstrated playing for Sevilla the previous two years.
He impressed some with his offensive rebounding early in the season, towering over multiple defenders for some highlight-worthy putback dunks here and there but Porzingis was not an actual impact player on that area, collecting just 7.1% of New York’s misses when he was on the floor and scoring just 36 points on putbacks all season.
His impact as an outside shooter was undersold a bit, though. Porzingis hit just 33.5% of his 242 three-point shots last season but demonstrated he can make not only standstill shots but also be put in the pick-and-pop and come off screens as well; plays opposing big men struggle to defend.
He nailed 46.7% of his 150 catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers. There’s real opportunity here for a coach with a modern mindset to leverage the threat of his shooting to a greater degree by having him set his screens or curl around picks set for him beyond the arc.
According to nbawowy.com, the Knicks averaged 1.145 points per possession in 477 minutes with Porzingis in but none of Robin Lopez, Kevin Seraphin, Kyle O’Quinn and Louis Amundson out there with him. He’s shown he catch lobs, but mostly in transition or cutting weak-side, nothing out of the ball-screen because there was always another big man drew by Lopez or Seraphin or O’Quinn preventing a clean path to the basket.
The logical conclusion to Porzingis’ development is having him play center more often, as he’s demonstrated he can be a real difference maker who can stress the opponent from anywhere on the court if the ecosystem around him is right.
The resistance to just running towards that direction right now regards his defense. Those lineups with Porzingis at center allowed 1.114 points per possession and permitted opponents to collect 26.9% of their misses.
Porzingis was a very good face-up defender in his first year. He proved himself able to keep pace from the foul line down with smaller players driving at him out of the pick-and-roll and even on straight isolations. He was also attentive to his responsibilities coming off the weak-side in help-defense, averaging 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes and ranking in the top 20 in nyloncalculus.com’s Points Saved Per 36 Minutes metric.
The problem was in individual matchups against true centers. Without the physical development to put up much on a fight, Porzingis struggled defending the post and boxing them out on the glass. He collected just 20.7% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor and opponents averaged 1.06 points per possession against him on post-ups – the second worst defensive mark among players who guarded at least 100 such possessions.
But with all of that said, it’s become unclear if it’s reasonable to expect Porzingis to build upon what can be considered a very successful first year. New York made a lot of changes in personnel, changes that suggest they’ll approach the game in a more modern fashion. But Phil Jackson is still in charge and still says he wants to see the triangle through, which he feels hasn’t happened yet, but while also saying Jeff Hornacek will have autonomy to run the team as he sees fit. It’s all very confusing to decipher from the outside.
Based on how he dealt with Channing Frye and Markieff Morris in Phoenix, Hornacek’s arrival should be a cause of optimism for Porzingis. It suggests the offense will leverage the threat of his shooting more often and he’ll spend a fair share of his time at center.
Robin Lopez was sent to Chicago in the deal that brought the team Derrick Rose but Joakim Noah was signed to protect Porzingis from tougher matchups at the start and end of games. That’s the optimistic view, at least.
It might be entirely possible the plan is for the two to share the court for 29 minutes per game in a more traditional setting. But even if that’s the case, Noah’s passing adds something to the table that Lopez couldn’t, though he will present some of the same challenges from a spacing-standpoint that Lopez raised or perhaps even worse ones if he, in fact, can no longer even make layups.
Rose, in his prime, was the sort of attacking guard Hornacek maximized in Phoenix by packaging dribble drives with screens set by a shooting big man like Porzingis. But it’s unclear what Rose can be counted on to be anymore. He was terrible for most of last season then OK at parts of it towards the end. More concerning, perhaps, was the fact his shot selection suggested he still saw himself as the sort of guy who should be out there trying to carry a team, which is evidently no longer the case anymore.
Anthony was pretty great last season, passing the ball like he’s never had before. Then he was once again magnificent with the United States Olympic Team as a spot-up gunner. Maybe he was more prepared than anyone thought to assist the transition towards having Porzingis as the building block of the next great Knicks team. But now that they are supposed to be contending for a playoff spot all of a sudden, it’s probable he’ll go back to doing a lot of dribbling again.
There should be more clarity with regards to what exactly is New York’s plan for developing Porzingis. And I think they did some to suggest they have a vision here. But Jackson’s presence and this sudden investment on guys past their primes still cloud things a little.
 For reference: the Pistons ranked second in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, collecting 27% of their own misses.
 Assuming Noah can still hold up physically, after spending the last two seasons dealing with meaningful injuries.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara