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Schmeelk: Projecting What Knicks' Kristaps Porzingis Can Be Down The Line

By John Schmeelk
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The wide shadow cast by the NFL season has kept the phenomenon of Kristaps Porzingis out of the city spotlight for the first month of the Knicks' season. But for the people who follow the Knicks regardless of the time of year, he is the most meaningful player to hit the Knicks since Carmelo Anthony showed up, and Amar'e Stoudemire before him. But you knew that already, didn't you?

As productive as Anthony is, he is on the wrong side of 30, making Porzingis the potential face of the franchise for the next 15 years. Many things -- an injury (watch those feet!) being the primary fear -- could derail what is a promising career, but for now Knicks fans have been able to enjoy watching a burgeoning player come into his own.

What excites Knicks fans the most is that Porzingis has such a well-rounded game, which makes it hard to predict exactly what kind of player he is going to become. There has been no limit to the number of comparisons thrown out there.

Is he the next Dirk Nowitzki? Porzingis is already a better rebounder and defender than Dirk was. They both have sweet touches and are tall Europeans, but the similarities end there.

Anthony Davis has been mentioned. Both guys are long, athletic, can shoot and can control the area around the rim defensively. But Porzingis lacks the eye-popping athleticism of Davis and the ability to create off the dribble.


Kevin Durant is a tall catch-and-shoot guy, something Porzingis did a ton of in Europe, but that has not been in his game in the NBA. Besides, Durant is a small forward, and Porzingis' rim protection will land him at the four or the five.

With his height and shooting ability, he actually compares to former Pacers center Rik Smits, but Porzingis is far too athletic to be in that category. Porzingis is also a much better defender and rebounder.

The truth of the matter is that Porzingis will likely become a player all his own, combining some of the skills and abilities of all those players. In his first dozen or so games for the Knicks, Porzingis has shown a little bit of everything. After starting slowly from beyond the arc, his three-pointers have begun falling. He has shown the ability to catch and shoot. He can pull up off the dribble. He can get to the rim. He is deadly as the screen man in the pick and roll. He can post up. He can turn over either shoulder and finish. He is a good offense rebounder and finisher. He protects the rim. He is mobile enough to defend the pick and roll.

The chance that he ends up excelling at the highest level at all those skills is slim to none. You can't be great at everything. Figuring out where his game will eventually fit is purely speculative, but it is also fun.

When all is said and done, I think he'll wind up at center. Based on what we've seen so far, there's no reason to think he won't become an elite rim protector and shot blocker at that position. As he continues to get stronger, he'll be able to hold up banging in the paint and absorbing the pounding that comes with that position. Playing center will create endless mismatches with opponents who won't want to step out on his jumper, or won't be quick enough to stay in front of him when they close out.

What makes Porzingis so effective offensively is that he gets so many of his baskets in the flow of the offense. He gets a lot of second-chance points on put-backs on offensive rebounds and kick-outs from driving teammates. He can spread the floor. The offense doesn't have to revolve around him in order for him to score.

As he gets better, he should be able to get a lot of easy points in the screen and roll. Whether it is picking and popping or going to the baskets for lobs, he is the perfect big man to pair with an excellent passing point guard in pick-and-roll sets. It would be virtually impossible for opposing teams and bigs to guard those types of plays once Porzingis gets comfortable in those sets.

The best way to combat that type of offense is to put a smaller player on him, much like the Heat did on Monday night when they asked Luol Deng to play Porzingis. That's when everyone realized how unbelievably tall Porzingis actually is. Even as a rookie, he was able to take a strong, experienced, rugged NBA small forward into the post and score on him using an array of turnaround jumpers that are impossible to guard -- even for a top, yet undersized defender like Deng.

The big question for Porzingis right now is how he will eventually be able to create efficient shots on his own as the focal point of an offense. Developing a post-up game, which Porzingis already seems to be doing, will be what separates him as a true offensive force.  At 7-foot-3, few NBA players can truly contest his shot in the paint. He is already using his body to create space for shots. He has a hook shot and a turnaround jumper, and he has even showed some nifty work on the baseline getting to the rim. As he gets stronger, which he will, he will only get better down there.

While that height plays to his advantage in the paint, it will hurt him when he has to put the ball down and go the rim from the perimeter. That's not to say he won't be able to face up bigger defenders and take them off the dribble, but it will be hard to maneuver around the help defenders who will step in and try to strip the ball or draw offensive fouls.

At 7-foot-3, Porzingis has a natural high dribble that will be difficult to protect, and he isn't quick enough to beat help defenders to their spots near the rim consistently. Nightmare scenarios for Knicks fans should be Porzingis skying towards the rim on a drive while a smaller player tries to draw a charge. All those long limbs flailing in the air and crashing to the ground is the best way to halt a promising career.

He would be far better operating in the post, where he can control his dribble easier and see double teams coming. He would be able to score without having to navigate long distances. If double teams come he has the height to pass over opponents and find open men. His height would make almost any post-up shot open, given his length. Yao Ming used to be able to just turn and shoot over smaller centers, and Porzingis would be able to do the same. Operating out of the high or mid-post like Nowitzki did in his prime would be effective too, getting him closer to the rim and limiting the amount of dribbling he would have to do.

Developing that kind of game will take time. While Porzingis has shown the moves to operate down there, he still has to become stronger to do it consistently. That might not happen until his third or fourth year in the league. But if he can develop an offensive game where he can consistently create his own efficient shot, he could very well be one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA. All it will take is health and time. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch.

You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.

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