GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- As a younger player in Europe, Kristaps Porzingis would watch highlight tapes of Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, picking up nuances on how to succeed as a scorer with a slight frame.
“How he draws fouls, how he drives to the basket, how aggressive he is offensively -- there’s a lot to learn from a guy like him,” the New York Knicks rookie says.
Porzingis has put many of those lessons to use in his first three weeks in the NBA. The skinny 7-foot-3 forward has been aggressive on offense and on the boards: his 8.6 rebounds per game ranks No. 2 among rookies and his 12.8 points per game ranks third.
Many in New York were left with a severe case of Porzingis fever after the rookie’s 29-point, 11-rebound night against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. Porzingis said he gained 15,000 Twitter followers shortly after the game.
“Social media is going crazy,” said Porzingis, who had 74,500 followers as of Friday morning.
But the 20-year-old insists that the added attention won’t change his approach.
“I’m right here, I’m focused,” he said. “… It’s just the beginning for me. I’m going to stay focused and do what Coach asks me to do.”
The Knicks coaching staff will continue to ask Porzingis to rebound and help defend the paint. At 243 pounds, Porzingis knows his limitations in the paint, but he reiterated on Thursday that he won’t be intimidated by anyone.
“I’m not scared. I’m not scared of anybody,” he said. “Like I’ve said, I’m skinny and I’m light and strong guys can still push me around, but I’ll fight back and be aggressive and never back down from anybody. If I want to succeed at this level, I can’t be scared of anybody.”
Porzingis won’t get to face Durant on Friday in Oklahoma City. The Thunder star will miss the game against New York with a hamstring injury.
“He’s one of the guys I look up to and learn from,” Porzingis says.
The fantasy for some Knicks fans involves Durant one day suiting up with Porzingis. Landing Durant seems unlikely at this point but if Porzingis continues to show promise, the Knicks may become a more attractive destination in free agency this summer when Durant tests the market.
People around the NBA believe that New York will at least be one of the teams Durant considers because of his relationship with Knicks coach Derek Fisher. Of course, having a potential star in Porzingis would only help their pitch.