New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis has shown encouraging signs in the Las Vegas Summer League. The No. 4 overall pick is averaging 10.5 points on 48 percent shooting in four games.
At 7-foot-2, Porzingis has also made an impact on defense, blocking 1.8 shots while playing 20.5 minutes per game. New York has outscored its opponents by 7.6 points per 48 minutes with Porzingis on the floor.
While the 19-year-old's rebounding numbers (3.2 per game) have been underwhelming, Porzingis hasn't been afraid of contact and has shown an ability to get to the free throw line. He has taken 24 free throws on just 25 field goal attempts for a FTA/FGA ratio of 0.96.
Of course, what you see in the Las Vegas Summer League sometimes turns out to be nothing more than a desert mirage.
Case in point: Former Knicks prospect Anthony Randolph averaged 26 points per game in the 2009 summer league. Meanwhile, former Nets prospect Marcus Williams handed out 8.2 assists per game the same summer. Neither player approached anything near those numbers in the regular season.
So what Porzingis' Vegas numbers indicate about his long-term potential is anyone’s guess. Those who know his game well say it would be wise for Knicks fans to keep modest expectations for their prized rookie.
“I expect some moments of brilliance and then some clunker plays because you’re looking at a kid who’s just 19 years old,” says Fran Fraschilla, an ESPN analyst (for college and international basketball) who has been watching the Latvian since the summer of 2013, when Porzingis played in the Under-18 European Championships.
“The potential’s there but ... this kid is probably two years away from starting to become an NBA player that can win you games night in and night out. It’s not going to happen his rookie year.
"I just hope that there’s a process for him. You don’t take a kid like this and leave him to the wolves, so to speak. You have a plan for him.”
So what are fair expectations for Porzingis in Year 1?
The last five big men who were drafted in the top five at age 19 posted modest numbers in their first seasons. Of course, no two situations are the same, but if you combine the rookie-year statistics of Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarcus Cousins, you get a player who averaged 10.7 points on 47.7 shooting in Year 1.
Fraschilla believes Porzingis will be able to impact the game in certain situations in his first season.
“You’ll see him score running the floor," Fraschilla says. "He can score in transition, he can trail the break and score, knock down shots, and he’ll space the floor off of guys like [Carmelo Anthony].”
Fraschilla thinks Porzingis can have success in the post in Year 1 -- with a caveat.
“[He's] not going to be effective against the best post defenders in the league,” Fraschilla says. “He’ll be able to post up second-unit guys because of his size. You put a 6-9 power forward on him, because he’s going to be a stretch 4, and he can post those guys up and score over them. But he’s going to be mauled by the Z-Bos [Zach Randolph] of the world.”
Strength training this summer will be imperative for Porzingis because, Fraschilla notes, it will be difficult for the rookie to add strength to his 233-pound frame during the season due to the condensed schedule.
Also, along with any other rookie, Porzingis will have to deal with fatigue and durability issues in his first full NBA season. Last season, Porzingis played in 50 games for Sevilla in the ACB, averaging approximately 1.5 games per week.
That’s one reason why his coach at Sevilla, Scott Roth, thinks it’s important to have realistic expectations for Porzingis' rookie season.
“This kid is going to take two or three years; it’s not going be an overnight walk on the floor, and it’s going to happen for him,” Roth says. “He’s going to have some nights where he’s not very good and he’s going to look like he’s 19. But you’re going to see growth; you’re going to see what everyone else sees [at times]. And it’s just a matter of time [before] his body catches up to him.”