Kristaps Porzingis: From Latvia’s Son to New York’s Unicorn

It’s not hard to see why Knicks fans love Kristaps Porzingis. Kevin Durant said it best. He’s a Unicorn. Standing at 7’3″ and weighing 240lbs with an impressive 8-foot wingspan, it’s enough to make anyone do a double take. But perhaps more impressive are his actual basketball skills. At his size you wouldn’t expect him to be able to dribble like a guard, shoot 40% from the 3pt line, block more than 2 shots a game and that’s not even scratching the surface. What’s even scarier?: He’s only 22 years old. For a fan base that’s been deprived of relevant basketball since the new millennium, it’s no wonder why the city of New York has embraced the star from Latvia with open arms. But it didn’t start out that way. There was a time when Pozingis’ introduction to New York didn’t start with the love and excitement he gets today but instead with a smattering of booo’s that had adults shaking their heads and children in tears (literally). It was a scary time for the Knicks faithful. Would this skinny kid from Latvia be just another European bust and throw another nail in our already miserable coffin or could this kid actually be something that New York hadn’t beheld since the era of Patrick Ewing? It wouldn’t take long to find out.

Humble Beginnings

Kristaps was born on August 2, 1995 in Liepāja, Latvia. The youngest of three brothers, he would decide to follow his family’s footsteps and pick up a basketball at the age of 6. At the age of 12 Kristaps would train and partake in youth competitions with his older brother Janis, who played professionally in Europe, onlooking his development, along with a handful of scouts, until the age of 15. Around this time an agent from Latvia would send film of Kristaps to teams in Italy and Spain. In 2010 Baloncesto Sevilla, a team which had a professional team competing in the Liga ACB in Spain, would call Porziņgis. They would offer him a tryout in an attempt to recruit his talent to it’s junior squads. He would receive a contract and play there for two years and end up averaging 16.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in his second season.

Entering the 2012-2013 season Kristaps would get the opportunity to play for Sevilla’s first team, Cajasol Sevilla. He would end up not playing much his first season saying “I was very nervous at the beginning: I wanted to do well and not pick up turnovers. At the same time, I got a lot of confidence with players of my same age. That allowed me to play better with the first team and practice with more confidence.” He would get a significant boost in playing time in his last two seasons and would finish his last season in Sevilla averaging just under 12 points a game.

NBA Here I Come?

On April 28, 2014, Kristaps would declare himself eligible for the 2014, NBA Draft. He would receive heavy interest, most notably from the Orlando Magic, who was picking 12th and had scouted him in Europe, and the Oklahoma City Thunder who were, reportedly, certainly going to select him with their 21st pick had he still been available. At this point he was considered a top 15 pick although he was also considered an unfinished product. Kristaps would ultimately decide against getting drafted at this point and would choose to withdraw a day before the draft. His agent at the time, Andy Miller, would go on to say to ESPN that his client did not feel prepared to become a part of the NBA and wanted to develop his skills until the 2015 draft. One NBA General Manager would also go on to say “He’s very talented. He wasn’t ready, but we would’ve seriously considered drafting him anyway. If he continues to develop his game, get more minutes and his body develops, I think he could be a top-five pick in 2015. He has that kind of talent.”

On April 16, 2015, according to his then agent Andy Miller, Kristaps would declare for the 2015 NBA Draft. He would now be considered by many at this point to be a top 5 pick. He would be compared to the likes of NBA All Stars Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol but the stigma of European big men becoming bust would still linger due to European big men such as Darko Milicic and Andrea Bargnani not panning out. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports would write “Porzingis has an innate awareness about the way the American public sees a young, long European teenager. He comes to the NBA with the full understanding that popular basketball culture declares him guilty until proven innocent of the basketball crimes of Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Andrea Bargnani. He’s considered a stiff, a bust, a blown lottery pick until he doesn’t become one…”

Dream Come True

Porzingis would eventually be selected as the 4th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks, much to the dismay of the New York crowd. Kristaps would understand their skepticism but he was determined to show the New York faithful that he wasn’t the soft European that people had pegged him to be. “A lot of fans weren’t happy they drafted me,” Porzingis said. “I have to do everything that’s in my hands to turn those booing fans into clapping fans. There’s nothing I can do. I was happy about it. I want to be part of this organization. Fans are a little bit harsh sometimes, but that’s how it is in New York and I’m ready for it.” He certainly was. Originally labeled 2-3 years away from being able to contribute to the team, Porzingis would immediately spark a 2015-2016 Knicks squad with exciting play, emphatic blocked shots and thunderous put back ducks over the likes of San Antonio’s Lamarcus Aldridge and Cleveland’s Kevin Love. The excitement was back at the Garden and Porzingis was worth the price of admission.

The following season, with the Knicks fallout with then star Carmelo Anthony, it was clear that the team would soon become Kristaps to lead as top dog. However, after another losing season in 2016-2017 and the dysfunction of the Knicks front office, headed by Hall of Fame Coach Phil Jackson, Porzingis would skip his exit meeting with the team putting serious question marks on the rising star’s future with the team. Realizing that Porzingis was too special of a talent to let go of, the owner of the Knicks, James Dolan, would fire Phil Jackson letting Porzingis and Knicks fans know that this would be Kristaps’ team moving forward and realized that the culture needed to change.

The culture change would start when the Knicks would their star forward of 7 years to the Oklahoma City Thunder signaling the passing of the torch to Porzingis as the Knicks alpha dog. He wouldn’t disappoint as he would lead a young rebuilding Knicks team with team highs in points with 22.7 and blocked shots with 2.4 a game. He would also be named an All Star reserve for the Eastern Conference for the first time in his career. However, On February 6, 2018, in a 103–89 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Porzingis would tear his left ACL after dunking on Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, leaving the entire Knicks faithful speechless. He would later be ruled out for the remainder of the 2017-2018 season.

The Comeback

Although there is no official timetable for his return to the court, Porzingis is confident that he will return even stronger and better than ever. “I’ve been having a positive mindset this whole time and just going day by day, doing whatever I need to,” he said. “Every day is a little progress, a little something, and just moving forward and getting better every day with my knee.” There is a growing belief that Porzingis could miss the entire 2018-2019 season but Porzingis remains positive that he’ll be able to play next season. Knicks fan can only hope that he comes back better and healthier than ever. Porzingis will be eligible for a five-year, $157 million extension starting this summer.

Game Kicks

2015-2016 Season: Nike Kobe 10

2016-2017 Season: Adidas Crazy Explosive

2017-2018 Season: Adidas Crazy Explosive 2017

Fun Facts

– Porzingis is currently sponsored by Adidas.

– Porzingis can speak 3 different languages fluently. His native language Latvian, Spanish and English.

– Porzingis suffers from Anemia, meaning he has fewer red blood cells than the average person. Doesn’t seem to effect his game on the court though.

– Porzingis would have cornrows as a kid because his childhood idol and future teammate Carmelo Anthony had them with the Denver Nuggets.

– Porzingis’ mother is listed at 6’1″ and his father at 6’4″ and they both played basketball.

 

Jonathan L. Ciudad

kicksonhardwood.com

 

 

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