The traditional downside of playing five shooters together in a small ball lineup is the lack of a true rim protector. Most lineups with five shooters will therefore inevitably give up a lot of points on the other end. Players like Channing Frye and Spencer Hawes are seven footers with legit three point range, but these players generally will not offer the rim protection necessary to excel as a team on the other end of the floor. 

The amount of big men who can hit a three-point shot and consistently protect the rim can be counted on one hand. The amount of big men were able to do it in their rookie seasons can be counted on two fingers.

Enter Kristaps Porzingis, a 7'3 freak of nature who can shoot three-pointers and protect the rim.

Despite far exceeding rookie expectations when he was initially perceived as a long-term project, Porzingis still has some limitations as a player. But Porzingis could become a player that we have never seen before - a strange hybrid of Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett. 

On a team loaded with veterans, Porzingis is by far the biggest X-factor when attempting to project the success of the new-look Knicks. What can Porzingis improve on in order to begin grasping his potential as a game-changing two way player?


Porzingis' primary offensive asset at his size is his shooting ability. His shooting numbers don't particularly jump off the page; his TS%, FG% and 3pt% are all average at best. But some of the best pure shooters of all time posted utterly dismal shooting percentages during their first season in the NBA - Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon both shot under 21 percent from 3 in their rookie seasons. If Porzingis' shooting is analogous to his predecessors, his value as a floor spacer will substantially increase - even with pedestrian percentages last season, opposing teams were afraid to leave him alone to help their teammates defensively. Having a defender glued to Porzingis opens up the middle of the floor for dribble drives, particularly when he acts as the screener in the pick and pop.

Floor spacing is not the only effective use of Porzingis in the pick and roll - he can be a great rim runner as well. When opponents hedge the high pick and roll to try and neuter the typical pick and pop action, Porzingis rolls to the basket, forcing the weakside defender to bump him in order to prevent an open dunk. This sort of gravity generates open three-pointers for teammates despite Porzingis never touching the ball.

With that in mind, it is important to remember that Porzingis played with arguably the least dynamic backcourt in the entire league last season as Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo averaged only .12 drives to the rim per minute, less than half of what Derrick Rose averaged by himself. With Rose and Brandon Jennings sucking in the defense and kicking the ball out, Porzingis should get plenty of catch-and-shoot looks - looks that were rare during his rookie season. Put Porzingis in place of Pau Gasol on this play, and you can see why the Rose addition will help Porzingis’ shooting efficiency.

Despite all of the positives, Porzingis had a couple of glaring holes in his offensive game. The most conspicuous of these was his finishing in the paint. This was hopefully related to his notably skinny frame and lack of strength. Porzingis was a below average finisher at the rim for a big man, shooting 58% from 0-3 feet, but he truly struggled to make good decisions and power through defenders when he got in the paint, shooting only 36% from 3-10 feet. For Porzingis to take the next step towards becoming an efficient, or even an elite scorer, he will need to improve his strength in the paint along with his finishing moves. 

On the mental side of things, Porzingis also had a penchant for excessively difficult shots throughout the season. It's reasonable to assume he did this as a result of being over his head as the second scoring option in his first season, but he will unquestionably need to cut the 30 foot jumpers for the Knicks to perform at their peak.

The second major area in which Porzingis floundered is in the post, an area which he MUST improve. Post up skills can punish defensive switches and allow him to excel in the Triangle offense. Despite scoring surprisingly high .82 points per possession in the post last season, the best method for neutering Kristaps' skillset was guarding him with a wing. Quicker wing players allow for a variety of palatable options for defending a pick and roll with Porzingis involved; this strategy also allows rim protectors to stay in primary help position instead of chasing him on the perimeter. If Porzingis can effectively score against smaller defenders, opposing coaches will have no choice but to guard him with a big man; at that point, Porzingis can take use his quickness to his advantage in the pick and pop game on the perimeter.

Over time, Porzingis showed improvement in his burgeoning post skills by revealing an intriguing face up game. He was able to take advantage of his unblockable shot against smaller players and take advantage of his quickness against big men. Becoming a consistent threat with his back to the basket, however, is what will truly unlock his potential as an offensive game changer. Once he gets to that point, he'll begin to see consistent double teams, which presents another problem.

As the season progressed and the scouting report on Porzingis solidified, teams tested him with double teams down low. He generally struggled in these situations; turnovers and panicked attempts to get rid of the ball allowed teams to get away with contorting their defense with the sole purpose of disrupting his rhythm. He will need to improve his decision making and discipline in these scenarios in order to leverage them to the benefit of his team - fortunately, Carmelo Anthony should have plenty to teach, as he has faced double teams for most of his career.


The final aspect of Porzingis' game that needs to be improved to reach his offensive ceiling is his screening, both on and off ball. At the moment, his screens are pretty weak, if he even makes contact at all. This should improve as he gets stronger, and the newly acquired Joakim Noah should pick up where Robin Lopez left off in Porzingis' education in the finer points of borderline illegal screens. If Porzingis cannot learn to set more effective screens, the Knicks will be substantially easier to defend - especially when he plays center.


While Porzingis is undoubtedbly a valuable offensive player already, the truly great big men in the NBA are able to play on both ends of the floor. For rookie big men, struggles on defense are common, but remarkably Porzingis was able to have an impact right off the bat.

Among qualifying players, Porzingis ranked 17th in opponent FG% at the rim at 47.7%. His incredible 7'6 wingspan combined with his relative springiness and quickness allows him to be a monstrous obstacle wherever he is on the floor. As shown by players like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, defensive length is invaluable for making the other team uncomfortable - shrinking passing lanes, lowering the margin of error for ball handlers, and ramping up the difficulty of routine finishes at the rim. 

So far, a still unrefined Porzingis has been able to effectively leverage his length to great effect very quickly on the defensive end. Despite his obvious lack of strength, his long arms allow him to bother shots and deny passes that most players couldn't dream of. He averaged 2.4 blocks and just under one steal per 36 minutes, numbers that are staggering for a rookie big man.

Interestingly, Porzingis quickly learned to contest shots at the rim by abusing the concept of verticality. Doing so at such a young age bodes well for his consistency as a rim protector - being too aggressive can result in free throws and a debilitating barrage of personal fouls.  Porzingis struggled with foul issues early in the season for precisely this reason.


When Porzingis was in the primary help position, he showed remarkable awareness and timing - here, he recognizes that the gameplan calls for Robin Lopez to shade to the strong side to try and contain Russell Westbrook. When Westbrook makes the correct play to dump the ball to a rolling Steven Adams, Porzingis quickly makes the correct rotation in time to get a good contest on Adams' shot at the rim. 

The true rookie mistakes showed themselves in a more subtle manner. Porzingis is still raw defensively, acting mostly on instinct - he occasionally struggled to play within team defensive concepts, and often found himself out of position when he was not directly involved in the play. Naturally, he also displayed some of the typical rookie inconsistency - Porzingis' performance on both ends was extremely variable on a game to game basis.

Porzingis has shown the ability to bridge the gap between helping and overhelping - here he helps perfectly on Jose Calderon's man after Calderon gets stuck on a screen. He contests Bradley's attempted jumper well enough to force a dump off, but Porzingis is ready for this as well, and scampers back in time to cut off an open lane to the hoop.

On other nights, Porzingis looked disinterested and lazy. Fatigue was probably the biggest factor in his up and down performances defensively as this coincided with his precipitous drop in shooting efficiency midseason, but we can't know for sure until he plays a full season.

Porzingis also flounded when attempting to contain smaller players on the perimeter, which provided opponents with a reliable counter when he is played the 4. This was somewhat expected, as he projects as a center in the long term, but wing players could often beat him off the dribble or use a screen to easily generate an open 3 point shot. KP showed some very intriguing flashes of fantastic footwork and agility defending on the perimeter, but for the most part, perimeter players took advantage of him outside the paint.

Fortunately, Porzingis' biggest projected weakness - rebounding - was quickly proven inaccurate. His defensive rebound rate was a serviceable 20.7%, slightly below average for a power forward (LaMarcus Aldridge had a DREB% of 22.2% last season). Porzingis did not feast on  uncontested rebounds, either, posting a contested rebound rate of 35.7% (also nearly identical to LaMarcus Aldridge) and an offensive rebound rate of 7% (identical to that of Kevin Love - another big who plays away from the basket on offense). His length and mobility, once again (seeing a theme here?), was his saving grace on the glass.

Despite holding his own most nights - thanks in part to some heavy lifting by Robin Lopez - he clearly struggled with stronger presences on the glass. Some of the better offensive rebounders in the NBA were able to clear space on Porzingis with shockingly little effort.

In the interest of fairness to the aforementioned international scouts who largely ate crow this season, one of Porzingis' weaknesses coming out of Europe was his defense against physical players in the low post. This proved to be largely accurate, as Porzingis was unable to keep stronger post players from tossing him like a rag doll when they got the ball down low.

As he grows stronger and gains a better feel for the game, Porzingis should be able to hold up reasonably well. Realistically, however, physicality down low and on the glass may be the most viable avenue of attack for opponents trying to hamstring lineups with Porzingis playing center.


Naturally, Porzingis will be extremely hard pressed to improve on most of these issues in one offseason (let alone all of them). But for a player who was assumed to be two years away from being the player we saw last season, the sky truly is the limit. Mere consistency could help catapult the reloaded Knicks into the top of the Eastern conference, assuming (generously) that they stay healthy - a closing lineup of Rose/Lee/Thomas/Melo/Porzingis 2.0 can be a very threatening unit to some of the top teams in the league. But on a team loaded with players either in their prime or well past it, Porzingis will be the biggest factor in whether or not the Knicks finish the season as the Cavs' first round fodder or as a true Eastern Conference contender.