SLAM Top 50: Kristaps Porzingis, No. 37

After putting the League on notice last season, KP is ready to prove his place among the best in the game.

by September 27, 2016

The Internet can be very mean. And extremely inaccurate too. And on June 25, 2015, it was a bit of both when it came to Kristaps Porzingis after the New York Knicks drafted him with the fourth overall pick.

You had the cruel memes and the snarky (although some were downright hilarious) captions that came of it. From GQ calling it “the Knicksiest pick ever,” to Stephen A Smith announcing “I’m officially done” with the team after its selection, Twitter showed no mercy on that Thursday evening and in the days that followed. And let’s not forget the crying Knicks fan at Barclays, whose emotional breakdown went viral.

But then Porzingis took the hardwood. And it turned out that he could actually hoop. Like, the dude can actually ball. Any doubt that he was just another overrated overseas prospect whose game wouldn’t be able to translate to the League quickly evaporated within the first week of the season.

After dropping 16 points and 5 rebounds in the season opener, the 7-3 Latvian was already posting double-doubles by the following week when he finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds against the San Antonio Spurs. He had his second double-double by the end of the week—and then his third one by the weekend. He would go on to post eight double-doubles for the month of November, including a 29-point and 11-rebound outing against Charlotte and then a 24-point and 14-rebound night two games later in Houston. Ultimately, he would go on to win Rookie of Month for the Eastern Conference for October/November.

He then dropped 28 points against his idol Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in December, among an array of other impressive performances throughout the month, on his way to earning Rookie of the Month honors once again. And then he did it again in January, piling up a third consecutive Rookie of the Month award. By season’s end, Porzingis had accumulated an average of 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, finishing second in Rookie of the Year votes behind Karl-Anthony Towns.

Let’s be real. No one saw this coming. Not this quickly. Not even the “Knicksiests” fans out there.

According to Basketball Reference, when KP dropped 19 points and 6 rebounds against the eventual NBA champs Cleveland Cavaliers, he became the only rookie in NBA history to score more than 1,000 points, grab over 500 rebounds, hit over 75 three-pointers and block over 100 shots in a season. Granted, the League didn’t start counting blocks until 1974 and the three-point line was introduced in 1979. Nonetheless, his numbers were staggering any way you look at it.

From being mocked, booed and the subject of jokes (actually the Knicks were probably the main subject of half of those jokes, when you think about it), to being praised by the game’s top players, Porzingis really made it in America.

Kevin Durant referred to him as a unicorn. LeBron James predicted “a bright future.” Nowitzki acknowledged that the power forward was “way better” than the very own future Hall of Famer was at age 20. Teammate Carmelo Anthony boldly claimed that “he’s gonna lead this organization long after I’m retired.” You get the picture. People who are very good at basketball think he’s going to be very good at basketball for a very long time.

With his rookie season in the rearview, it will be interesting to see which direction his career takes sophomore year. Expectations are big in Gotham. But if we’ve learned anything about Porzingod’s career, is that there’s no point in trying to predict his ceiling. The kid is a unicorn.

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

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