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Let's rewind back 12 months ago, when basketball fans and people alike wondered what the Knicks had in a 7'3 rookie named Kristaps Porzingis. We saw the videos and we heard from the experts, but we really couldn't get a handle on Porzingis until he stepped foot onto an NBA floor.
I set very modest expectations heading into last season. I felt if Porzingis could play in 60 or more games while averaging around 15 minutes per game that would be a great introduction and one that would assure his skinny frame would hold up to the rigors of the NBA marathon.
I felt in those minutes he'd score some points and make a few threes and he'd average around 6.5 points per game and a handful of rebounds. The results from Porzingis and the confidence shown in him by the organization blew me away. With more and more responsibilities given to him as the season progressed, he proved to be more than up to the test. It was amazing to watch on a nightly basis and a star was born.
So as we head into his encore campaign, you will hear the standard narrative of a potential "sophomore slump" and other "typical Knicks" things put out by critics. I'm expecting Porzingis to step forward in his rebounding and overall shooting efficiency, as he won't settle for as many shots this year.
With the additions of Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee offensively, Porzingis will still be a focal point and will be urged to exploit mismatches and take shots in single coverage, but he won't have to force shots when double teamed. Porzingis and his young legs were at their collective best at the back end of back-to-back games (think at Atlanta and at Miami in early January) where he had a net rating of 8.8.
Looking at Porzingis' shooting stats, there are some really telling signs of superstardom and amazing things to come. How much better he is this year all depends on where he's getting his shots from and who he is directly playing off of.
Last year, Carmelo Anthony assisted on 60 of Porzingis' 373 made field goals, second only to Jose Calderon's 67. In comparison, Rose assisted on 100 of Pau Gasol's 467 made fields goals last year. Expect Porzingis and Rose to combine in a lot of pick-and-pop situations that should create easier looks for Porzingis, who projects to make well over 400 field goals if healthy with a player of Rose's caliber helping.
In terms of unassisted field goals, or what I like to call the shots that separate good from great offensive players, Porzingis tallied 122 unassisted field goals made. Of his 886 field goal attempts, 278 came in the mid-range. And when you consider that 46 percent of his attempts came between 15-7 seconds on the shot clock that tells you Porzingis had a fair amount of one-on-one isolation opportunities where he was comfortable in his matchup and able to convert the shot.
Judging from his shot chart, he's already a very accomplished catch-and-shoot maker who can also isolate mid-to-late in the shot clock. That's an incredibly valuable asset in a player of Porzingis' size. His high-release point, great footwork, and range make him almost impossible to guard one-on-one.
In total, 36 precent of Porzingis' field goal attempts last year occurred when his defender was "tight" on him within 2-4 feet and he was able to convert 41 percent of the time. With a bit more space, that shooting percentage bumped up to 43.5 percent.
Having a more efficient shooter, Lee, on the perimeter, will help boost Porzingis' assist numbers slightly as well. While the offense last year wasn't predicated on Porzingis to facilitate, he did build some chemistry with Anthony, as he assisted on 26 of Melo's 567 field goals made.
Porzingis can also can be sneaky in the Triangle. He is at his best when isolated or popping off screens in catch-and-shoot situations, which aren't conducive to piling up assists. That said, having Lee, Lance Thomas and Mindaugas Kuzminskas should create skip-pass opportunities should Porzingis draw more double teams if the Knicks decide to put him in more low block post up situations.
Another stat that jumps out a me when analyzing his shooting and scoring efforts last year was Porzingis' overall number of dunks, bank shots and hook shots and how he already has such an amazing arsenal that comfortably stretches past the three-point line.
We know about the put-backs, but he only attempted ten of those all season -- converting six. And his 52 dunks on the year were not within the top 50 in the entire league. That's a direct indication that he needed to get stronger closer to the basket, as he's more of a pick-and-pop player without much pick-and-lob to his game. Expect those numbers to increase as his leg strength does.
He made 22 of 49 hook shots (45 percent) and shot a ridiculous 61 percent when using the glass, making 36. It's not a stretch to say he may be the best bank-shooting big man since Tim Duncan, who tortured the NBA (and the Knicks in the 1999 Finals) during his time in the league.
In the end, and assuming he stays healthy, Porzingis figures to moderately increase his production in his second season, while increasing his overall efficiency significantly. He should pair well with Rose in his comfort zone, which is catch-and-shoot off pick-and-roll as well as continue to exploit matchups mid-range and closer in isolation situations. He'll also extend himself with more consistency to the three-point arc with the help of Rose's elite driving ability.
I expect his PER to be in the 18-20 range and his impact estimate (PIE) to be near 15. If he can reduce the number of settled shots, while taking 15-to-18 quality shots per game, Porzingis can inch his way toward a 20 point, 10 rebound average, making him an All-Star for the first time in just his second year.
However, if he continues to settle and get pushed out to mid-range at a similar frequency to last year, he won't progress to that level, but will still project to take a solid step forward in his sophomore season.