Kristaps Porzingis: Finding The Unicorn
A quick Google search for the nicknames of Kristaps Porzingis yields many results: The Unicorn, KP6, Zinger, Porzingod, and the scarcely used Godzingis. In a marketing push to make Porzingis an all-star, the Knicks have tweaked his most common moniker and started referring to him as the “UKnickorn.” See what they did there? I’ll admit I’m impressed. But what matters most to us as fantasy players is not how many nicknames Porzingis can acquire; it’s how many rebounds he can grab, threes he can bomb, blocks he can make, and points he can score in each game he plays. And importantly, how efficient he can be when running up those numbers. Because lately, Porzingis has been anything but efficient.
The Struggle is Real
On January 8th, I noticed that KP6 had shot over 43% from the field just once in his prior 11 games. As a dynasty league owner of Zinger, I was growing concerned that his high-volume shooting at a poor rate was going to drag down my team’s field-goal percent. Over the next 72 hours, I found numerous mainstream websites offering feature-length articles with their take on “What’s wrong with Kristaps Porzingis?” Sports-talk radio hosts in NY started 20-minute segments asking the same question. Clearly, many folks got the vibe that he was struggling. Porzingis himself has admitted to being “so tired” recently. So let’s take a look at this development from a dynasty leaguer’s point-of-view.
Umm, Lil’ Help Here?
When it comes to assessing player value, stats are king. I truly believe that. But I also know there are things you can learn about a player only through watching him. As a Knicks fan, I tune in to as many of their games as I can. Some things stand out to me as I watch Porzingis. As an owner, these are most concerning:
- He is constantly falling down! I know, it’s trivial. And it doesn’t necessarily impact his numbers (though we could argue about how well a player can rebound, pass, and score while seated). But it’s truly remarkable how often KP6 ends up with his backside on the floor. He worked on improving his strength last summer. Maybe he became too top-heavy. Maybe he needs to place his feet further apart in order to better stand his ground as opposing players bump into him. I don’t know. But it’s alarming to see a player that may already be labeled as “injury prone” getting tossed to the floor with regularity. If anything, this heightens the long-term risk profile for a player with a body-type that historically struggles to endure the grind of the NBA.
- His teammates need to improve. Porzingis could certainly do a better job of passing out the frequent double teams to which he is subjected. It’s a skill he should develop quickly over the next few seasons. But the reason he is often defended by two players is because no one else on the Knicks demands attention. The recent return of Tim Hardaway Jr. should help. But until Frank Ntilikina develops a shot (36% from the field so far), or the Knicks bring in more talent around Porzingis, we should expect the double-teams to continue.
- His coach has no idea how to use him in a game. This is the most frustrating issue. We have a truly gifted player that can literally do anything you need him to do on a basketball court. But nearly every shot Porzingis takes is contested, taken only after receiving the ball in isolation while in the post. Coach Jeff Hornacek seems uncreative – unable to design a few plays to get KP the ball while open. Rarely does he receive a pass when rolling to the rim, or pop open off a series of screens teammates set for him. Whatever the answer might be, creating a few easier looks for KP could help get his shooting back on track.
Not All Hope is Lost
There are many reasons to remain positive about KP’s long-term outlook. Here’s what I enjoy seeing while he plays:
- Porzingis’ usage rate is high. The Knicks go to him early and often – with that usage rate around 32, one of the highest in the league. Better future teammates might cause a drop in usage but an increase in efficiency. But for now, he’s being asked to shoulder the load. Which he can (mostly) handle. It’s a learning experience, and he’s being given as many opportunities as he can handle.
- KP is becoming a better defender. Speaking of learning, Porzingis is improving as a help defender. His defensive rating and plus/minus metrics are not great, though I find them often misleading. But watching him move around the court, he’s rotating toward the ball much better than in prior seasons. Statistically, he leads the NBA in blocks (2.3 per game) and is second in block percentage, at 6.1 (behind only Myles Turner).
- Despite all the misses, his shot still looks sweet! Again, something we can only tell by watching the games. Even with all the missed baskets lately, Porzingis can smoothly stroke the ball from anywhere on the court. His height gives him the ability to shoot over nearly any opponent. KP has complained recently that defenders are touching him on the elbow when he shoots, and refs miss the foul call. That could be a contributing factor here, as many of KP’s shots rattle out as near-misses.
The Bottom Line
I would still rate Kristaps Porzingis in the top 10 of dynasty league assets. Historically, Porzingis has struggled in the second half of prior seasons. Even if that were to continue in 2018, I’d encourage owners to hold tight. Those looking for an opportunity to buy low, this may be your time to strike. He is only 22, and clearly still developing. Despite being an NBA toddler, Godzingis (I had to) averages 23.6 points, with 2.3 blocks (leads NBA) and 1.8 threes on a team lacking other offensive threats. This is a player with relatively high health risk, but an equally high performance level. He may never have the statistics associated with a NBA superstar big (30 points, 10 rebounds). But what he does offer is a unique blend of stats while at the center position, with additional potential that has not yet been met. There will come a year (it may be this one), where Porzingis becomes the first NBA player to hit 150 threes and block 150 shots in a season. You’ll want him on your squad when that happens.