OKLAHOMA CITY -- If Thursday's season-opening loss is an indication of things to come, it's going to be a long season for the New York Knicks. New York had too many turnovers (25) and defensive lapses in a 105-84 loss to Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder. They were outscored 35-8 in fast-break points and their point guards (Ramon Sessions, Ron Baker) combined for nine points and seven turnovers in 43 minutes.
One of the few bright spots for New York? The play of Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis had 31 points and 12 rebounds in his first game of the post-Melo era, giving ample evidence that he can handle life as the face of this franchise.
"I was happy for him, just to see that he's ready to take on that role," said Anthony, who was matched up against Porzingis for a significant portion of the game. "He looked aggressive tonight, looked comfortable, felt comfortable. So I was happy to see that."
Anthony got the closure he was looking for as his Thunder dominated the Knicks for much of the game. But Porzingis got the best of his individual matchup with Anthony early on. He had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting in the first quarter while Anthony missed five of his first six shots. Porzingis also blocked one of Anthony's first attempts at the rim.
Things evened out a bit over the course of the game but Porzingis' energy and production never waned, something that stood out to Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek. "Maybe last year that would be a struggle because he'd get tired and maybe get some silly fouls," Hornacek said. "But even at the 37th, 38th minute he was cutting hard and moving and blocking shots and getting rebounds."
Perhaps the most significant number for Porzingis was his nine free-throw attempts. That's nearly triple his per-game average last season, though he also took 10 more attempts than his 2016-17 average.
"I'll try to stay aggressive and stay in the paint. That's going to bring me easy points," he said. Of course, everything won't be so easy for Porzingis this season. Management and Hornacek have been careful to say that they want to ease the 22-year-old Porzingis into the role of leading man.
Porzingis, impressively self-aware for a player his age, knows that there will be long nights ahead as the Knicks' No. 1 option on offense. But he's up for the challenge. "I never doubt myself. I never feel like I'm not ready for something even if it's the most difficult challenge in my life," he said earlier Thursday. "I always try to think about the things I'm capable of doing and focus on those things and focus on the thing I can affect. I'm never too afraid of a situation. I'm here now, I had a great experience watching Melo, how he does stuff on and off the court. I think that's what I'm going to use to go forward."
Porzingis talks often about how he learned how to handle the spotlight while watching Anthony. Things will be different now that Porzingis is on his own, something Anthony addressed in a chat with reporters on Wednesday.
"Even last year and the year before, he had pieces, a couple pieces around that can kind of shelter him a little bit," he said. "Even when things weren't going good for him, I would always take the blame and take the pressure off of him ... [Now] he has to embrace that role. He has to be ready for what's in front of him."
On opening night, in an otherwise ugly loss for New York, Porzingis showed that he's indeed ready for that role. It's the rest of the team that fans should be worried about.