As the season has progressed, Derek Fisher has shortened up his rotation, choosing to rely upon a specific set of players for longer periods of time on the court. In turn, Robin Lopez has been the beneficiary of more minutes, not just in general, but specifically in the fourth quarter. His defense has been strong, but perhaps more importantly, he's been able to make a bigger impact offensively. He's been assertive on the offensive glass, which is something Lopez has a reputation for. Moreover, he's been more prevalent in the pick and roll and the Knicks are encouraging him to post up and attack the basket more over.
There's no doubt Lopez has been trusted as of late. But when he takes a seat, Coach Fisher is opting to lean on an interesting choice. In addition to shortening up his rotation, the coach is also mixing and matching his lineups. This means developing a blend between different starters and reserves, and not simply subbing five in and five out over and over again. Such flexibility has allowed him to have Kristaps Porzingis spell Lopez and spend some time at the five spot of the lineup.
The rookie has thrived with more minutes at center. Prior to the start of the season, New York wondered if their Latvian sensation would be able to assert himself and stand ground physically against some of the NBA's more imposing big men. But he's, so far, exceeded, some of the even more promising expectations. This isn't just about his offense and improving instincts. He's tough. Pozingis isn't one to back down. He's been able to provide the Knicks with a very strong presence down low. At times, he's even more assertive than Lopez.
There's no doubt that the Knicks have quickly been able to conclude that the rookie can hold his own. There were questions early on about whether the necessary transition to the pro game would pigeonhole him into playing more four, but the awareness he's shown has helped him even anchor the Knicks' defense at times. He's rather intelligent around the rim. Rebounding comes easy for the 7'3" Porzingis, and while he sometimes struggles to stay in front of his man, he's able to compensate by using his long frame to swat away shot attempts while trailing his man from behind. Plays like that obviously ignite the home crowd as well.
A lineup featuring Porzingis at center doesn't crack the five most utilized for the Knicks this season just yet. But there's no doubt groups with Porzingis manning the paint have been used more as New York has competed well to start off the New Year. Such lineups are more efficient offensively with a higher field goal percentage and an advantage on the defensive glass.
Porzingis can obviously handle the pressures that comes with being a favored rookie in the Big Apple. He's not one to back down from a challenge. In turn, he's become very dependable. As Fisher begins to understand which rotation fits his team best, Porzingis may be looked upon to cover more ground at center than initially believed.