WEST POINT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Kristaps Porzingis was a mystery just a few months ago.
He was so little known that many Knicks fans who had never seen him play before thunderously booed his selection on draft night.
“Nobody knew who he was,” Carmelo Anthony said. “You had to go on YouTube to see his clips. Nobody knew who he was, so that’s why he got the reaction that he got when he got drafted.”
Anthony and the Knicks have gotten to know the new guy, and they like what they see.
Porzingis had his first NBA practice Tuesday when the Knicks opened training camp at the U.S. Military Academy, and he didn’t show any rookie jitters.
“I don’t know what he’s feeling on the inside, but I know from what I see he don’t feel any pressure,” Anthony said. “Looks like he’s handling everything pretty well, so we’ve just got to keep that going.”
Porzingis was the No. 4 pick in the draft, loaded with the potential but lacking the familiarity of a player who often goes that high. Anthony, for example, was a freshman sensation who had just led Syracuse to the national championship when he was taken one spot earlier in 2003.
But he said he had never even seen Porzingis play before the Knicks called to tell him they were drafting the 20-year-old forward from Latvia, and then Anthony watched some highlights on TV.
Porzingis’ size drew as much attention as his skills, as he was listed at just 233 pounds on his 7-foot-3 frame. But forward Kyle O’Quinn had played with Porzingis for a few weeks at Impact Basketball and knew he could push back when pushed.
“He competed with NBA-level guys, stronger guys,” O’Quinn said, “so when people were talking about, ‘Oh my God, his size’ and stuff like that … obviously you can tell he’s a little skinnier than most. But you don’t judge a man by his physique, you judge a man by his heart, I think. And he’s got heart. He’ll bang.”
Porzingis has since added some weight, though much of it might come right back off during the preseason. But the Knicks aren’t worried, with team President Phil Jackson saying Pau Gasol, who played for him in Los Angeles, told Jackson he came into the NBA at 227.
“I was real light during summer league. I’m a little heavier,” Porzingis said. “I’m still light for these heavyweights, but I’m getting there. I’m getting stronger so that’s a positive.”
It was during the summer league that Anthony got his first extended look at Porzingis, who averaged 10.5 points and blocked seven shots in four games.
“Honestly, that’s what I wanted to see him compete at,” Anthony said. “It wasn’t about him going out there and scoring 15, 20, 30 points. It was just more about kind of his toughness, his heart, how he was going to react to kind of the physical play over here in the NBA.”
Porzingis further proved himself to Anthony during 1-on-1 workouts in the summer, blocking the All-Star forward’s shot a few times. He will be tested by players such as Anthony many times this season, and his teammates believe he’ll handle it.
“I mean, first play of the game they’re coming at him,” O’Quinn said. “But he’ll hold his own. He’s skilled, so don’t think you’ll push him around and you ain’t got to guard him. He’s skilled enough to back you up a little bit and like I said, the kid’s got heart, so at the end of the day that can get him over the hump until his body catches up with the NBA game.”
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)