In his first season as the Knicks' franchise player, Kristaps Porzingis admits it has been a challenge to live up to the expectations placed on him.
At the beginning of the season, Porzingis flourished in his new role, sitting atop the leaderboards in points per game. The game seemed to come easier to the 7-foot-3 Latvian, who expected to shoot about 20 shots per game. However, teams began figuring out how to guard Porzingis, and recently, his production has taken a big hit.
Couple his tough defenders with injury issues like his sprained right ankle, Porzingis is beginning to realize he has to adapt his game to being in the spotlight every night on the court.
"I think in the beginning of the season, I was free. I was just playing my game and things seemed to happen so smoothly," Porzingis told ESPN's Ian Begley. "(Then) there was moments when all kinds of different defenses, the attention was on me, and I felt like I still had to put up the same numbers. I think now I'm starting to realize it doesn't need to be that way. I can just let the game flow and see what happens and I can make the right play and not force and try to get those numbers. That's not the main thing for us, that's not gonna be the main thing for us to win. If I just make the right plays, even if I score 15 or 20, and we win the game, that's better than just trying to force things and trying to get that basket for the team...It happened a little easier for me, and also it just takes a lot of energy to do that. So I'm learning this year, I'm learning a lot."
One way teams have been suppressing Porzingis' point surges are double teams whenever the ball touches his hands. When Carmelo Anthony was on the team, he would usually have one-on-ones to work with. However, teams realize his ability to score from anywhere on the floor, which forces a double team.
The Unicorn admits he's learning how to deal with them, especially in the post.
"I think what I've really learned this year is when I'm in post, at first I had all this space and I'm just going to work and shooting over guys," Porzingis explained. "And now every time I put it on the floor or I turn, there's someone coming. Those are the things I'm still picking up and learning and just knowing that from the back there's someone coming, so I can keep the ball or we can get an open shot. So it's a learning process.
"As soon as I get the ball, all guys are on me. I'm starting to realize that now with every game and I'm just trying to get better at it."
Despite the recent struggles, Porzingis is still averaging 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game whil shooting 43.2 percent from the field. Defensively, he is tied first in the NBA in blocks with 2.3 per game.
The Knicks are hoping Porzingis figures out how to combat the new defenses on him as they have won just four of their last 15 games. They have time to work their way out of their current 10th seed in the Eastern Conference, but they will need their new franchise player to lead them out of the rut.