By John Schmeelk
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Until Carmelo Anthony landed on Kristaps Porzingis’ neck, the Knicks’ first foray against one of the league’s best teams was going reasonably well. The Knicks were losing at the time, and Anthony was being outplayed by Kawhi Leonard, but the younger players on the roster representing the team’s future were acquitting themselves quite well.READ MORE: At Least 3 Injured In Fire, Collapse At Bronx Home In Longwood
Porzingis’ injury was deemed only a soft tissue injury, which is encouraging, but more will be known after further tests on Tuesday. Assuming the Knicks get good news from the doctors, they should be thrilled with what their rookie showed in a game against two of the best post players in the league: Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge.
In just 24 minutes on the floor, Porzingis finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and two blocks. He played Aldridge reasonably well in the post and showed his skills as a help defender, harassing more shots than the official tally of two blocks would indicate. Ironically, the one part of Porzingis’ skill set, his jumper, is the one that hasn’t shown up yet in the NBA. He shot just 5-of-15 from the field and 1-of-5 from three to put him at 35% FG and 18% 3PT for the season. He has actually been better around the rim than he has been with his spot-up jumper. There’s no reason to think his shooting won’t eventually show up at the NBA level.
The areas where he was expected to struggle have instead been strengths. Averaging 8.3 rebounds in only 24 minutes per game is fantastic and should only get better as he gets stronger throughout his career. He attacks the boards and fights for loose balls. He doesn’t get pushed around, and shows little fear in bodying up stronger player and trying to use his length to block their shots. Porzingis has everything you would want for a player to eventually become a two-way star.
Advanced stats show him as potentially the Knicks’ best defender so far this year. When he is on the floor the team is nearly 10 points per 100 possessions better defensively as compared to when he is off it. Given he plays a lot of his minutes with Jose Calderon, the human turnstile, that’s a truly impressive number. With the starting team struggling offensively, and his own poor shooting, Porzingis’ offensive impact when on the court has not shown up in the numbers — in fact, the team is better with him off the floor — but that could change as Derek Fisher figures out how to get balanced lineups on the floor.READ MORE: 2 Dead After SUV Found In Partially Frozen Pond In Piscataway, N.J.
Jerian Grant’s impact on the offensive end, on the other hand, is unquestionable. His leadership with the second unit has led to a 20-point-per-100-possession positive differential (113.9 vs 93.5) when he is on the floor compared to when he is on the bench. Ironically, the team is actually playing slower with Grant on the floor than Calderon, but they are playing more efficiently. He runs the pick and roll better than any other player on the team, and gets to the rim better than any other guard on the team. He is destined for a place in the starting lineup at some point. It might behoove the team, however, to always have him or Anthony on the floor so there’s always someone playing that can get to the rim and create shots with some level of consistency. (Derrick Williams is fighting to become a member of that group, too.)
Though not rookies, 25-year-old Kyle O’Quinn and 23-year-old Langston Galloway have also been invaluable members of the second unit. Scoring 11 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three assists, Galloway is unselfish, a good defender and an improving three-point shooter (8-of-12 3PT). He is a pure combo guard who can do a little bit of everything, something every NBA team needs. O’Quinn is logging just under 20 minutes a game, but is still scoring eight points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking a shot per game. They have the best +/- per game on the team of the players that play regular minutes.
Williams, 24, continues to be the wild card. After a red-hot shooting preseason, he has predictably begun missing some shots, but he has still managed to be a net positive on offense. His 42 percent field-goal percentage and 22 percent shooting from behind the arc are far from impressive, but he is getting to the free-throw line more than four times per game while playing just 16 minutes a game. His defense still needs improvement, but his ability to run the floor and get to the rim produces some easy shots at the rim.
Does all this mean the Knicks are making the playoffs this year? Maybe not. But it does mean they have some nice young pieces that the team can build around for the future. Coming off a 17-win season, that’s more important than any record. If they develop as quickly as they have so far this year, and Carmelo Anthony plays to form, making the playoffs is a real possibility.MORE NEWS: Adams Says 'Our Schools Are Going To Remain Open,' As NYC And Teachers Union Continue To Explore Remote Learning Option
You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports.