About five minutes into the second half on Tuesday night, Kristaps Porzingis ran around a screen from Carmelo Anthony on the wing, caught a pass from Derrick Rose and found himself wide open from 25 feet. He calmly knocked down the open 3-pointer to cut the Houston Rockets' lead to 25.
On the surface, it was another sequence in extended garbage time during a meaningless game for the New York Knicks. But it also offered a window into how New York, under new coach Jeff Hornacek, hopes to use Porzingis in his second season in the NBA.
Below, we'll take a look at a few ways in which Hornacek hopes to take advantage of Porzingis' unique blend of size and shooting touch in his sophomore campaign:
More Porzingis pick-and-roll plays?
Hornacek plans to use Porzingis as both a roll man on pick-and-roll plays and as a pick-and-pop big man regularly this season.
"We want him to mix it up," the coach says.
That's something that could be beneficial for the Knicks.
Porzingis, 7-foot-3, showed promise as a pick-and-pop big last season. According to Synergy Sports, Porzingis produced 1.034 points per play when used in pick-and-pop scenarios, which ranked in the 79th percentile. He was on the shooting end of a pick-and-pop 88 times last season, or a little over once per game.
"That's a weapon," Hornacek says.
And it's reasonable to expect that to increase this season. For context on Porzingis' 88 pick-and-pop possessions, well known pick-and-pop big Pau Gasol was involved in 206 such plays last season, per Synergy Sports.
Hornacek, of course, plans to increase pick-and-roll plays in general this season for New York. Players have said that they've used more screen-and-rolls in early offense during training camp.
If that translates to the regular season, it seems to be another area in which Porzingis can thrive. He ranked ninth in points per play among big men who had finished at least 150 possessions as a roll man, according to tracking data courtesy of NBA.com. So putting Porzingis in a screen-and-roll early in the shot clock with Rose or Brandon Jennings has the potential to cause issues for opposing defenses.
Pairing Porzingis with penetrating guards
On Tuesday, three of Porzingis' eight made field goals were assisted by Rose; two were assisted by Jennings. That might not sound significant, but it's a bit eye-opening when you consider that the Knicks' starting point guard last season, Jose Calderon, averaged just 0.9 assists per game to Porzingis (per NBA.com player tracking). Anthony, the team's best playmaker last season, assisted on 0.8 Porzingis shots per game.
So if both Rose and Jennings can stay healthy, it seems reasonable to expect an increase in open looks for Porzingis -- particularly on the perimeter, where Phil Jackson has encouraged the Latvian to take an aggressive approach.
If Jennings and Rose can slightly increase Porzingis' open looks this season, it will be a step in the right direction. More than half of Porzingis' shots last season were taken with a defender within four feet, per NBA.com, which is considered "tight" defense. On Tuesday, four of Porzingis' eight makes were taken with Rockets defenders farther than four feet away. Three of those were assisted by either Rose or Jennings.
"We're working on that connection," he said last week of the new point guards.
Will Porzingis' touches decrease?
In the wake of the Rose trade, some expressed concern about where Porzingis fit in the Knicks' pecking order. Both Anthony and Rose had usage rates (which measure possessions used while on the floor) of more than 27 percent last season. So the natural assumption was that Porzingis would get fewer shots and touches in the coming season.
Though it's certainly something worth keeping an eye on, Jennings says he believes Porzingis will be a priority on offense this season.
"He can definitely stretch the floor and he's going to be big for us this year," Jennings said Thursday. "That's a guy that we have to keep in mind and make sure he gets the ball, because he can knock down a shot."
He certainly showed that on Tuesday, hitting five of his six 3-point attempts. But given the market he plays in and the teammates he shares the court with, the concern about Porzingis' touches probably will linger. Just don't expect the big man himself to lose sleep over it.
"I always put the team first. I want to see us in the playoffs. That's the No. 1 thing in my mind," he said recently. "If that happens I'm going to be happy, and the individual success will come with that."