Kristaps Porzingis: Jeff Hornacek is 'exactly what we need'

LIEPAJA, LATVIA -- Just like nearly everyone else following the New York Knicks' coaching search, Kristaps Porzingis was surprised when he first heard the club decided to hire Jeff Hornacek.

"There were a lot of names, coming up -- David Blatt, [Frank] Vogel. Hornacek just came out of the nowhere," Porzingis said in an interview with ESPN this week from his youth camp in Liepaja, Latvia. "I think it's a really good decision from [team president] Phil [Jackson] and [GM] Steve [Mills]."

Yes, Hornacek received approval from one of the most important members of the Knicks franchise this week. Porzingis told ESPN that he's looking forward to working with his new head coach.

"I think he's a very smart coach. He knows how to use his players and that's exactly what we need," Porzingis said. "And we'll see if we can get some more players this offseason. But I think we have enough talent and having [Carmelo Anthony] makes everybody better. So if we know how to go from there, using Melo, myself and involving everybody, using everybody's strengths and putting it all together, then we'll be a different team. We'll be able to succeed."

Hornacek has said in several recent interviews that he plans to use Porzingis all over the court, depending on who's defending the 7-foot-3 forward/center.

The new coach envisions playing Porzingis on the perimeter against bigger defenders, which would allow him to use his athleticism to drive and would also pull a post defender out of the paint. Against smaller defenders, Hornacek has said he'd like to use Porzingis in the post to take advantage of the mismatch.

"That's exactly what I have to be, the kind of player I have to be," Porzingis said. "[If] a big is on me, use my advantage from the outside, face him up. Smaller [defender], that's one of the things that I've really got to work on. When a really small, aggressive guard is on me, [I have to] be able to get that advantage down low."

Porzingis hasn't met Hornacek in person yet; the young star has been in Latvia training with his older brother Janis, following a program devised by the Knicks.

Porzingis plans to return to New York later this month and connect with Hornacek. In the meantime, player and head coach have communicated via text message.

"I didn't want [him] to be thinking that I'm at home just resting," Porzingis said. "I'm actually working, doing some individual work. That's what I wanted to let him know; I'm working hard back home and I'm going to be in New York at the end of June."

Porzingis hosted some of the top young players in Latvia this week for workouts and instruction in his first youth camp. The players were tutored by several professional coaches, including Knicks assistant Josh Longstaff.

Porzingis' teammates Kyle O'Quinn, Sasha Vujacic and Kevin Seraphin also attended. All four participated in scrimmages in the evening, which included players from Porzingis' former ACB club, Sevilla.

Porzingis also unveiled an outdoor court in Liepaja. He said his brothers, Janis and Martins, worked to make sure the court was ready in time for summer. Building the court has been a goal of Porzingis' since last spring, prior to the NBA draft.

"It was like a dream come true for me," he said prior to the ceremony, which was attended by a large contingent of local residents.

In addition preparing for his camp and completing the court, Porzingis has been focused on weight training and skills development. He has focused on strengthening his lower body and improving his ballhandling and his first step, among other things. He worked with Longstaff on several drills over the past week, including those focused on driving from the perimeter.

Once he returns to New York, Porzingis says he's looking forward to meeting with Hornacek and talking to the coach about his "basketball ideas."

Hornacek will be Porzingis' third coach. Derek Fisher was fired midway through Porzingis' rookie season and Jackson decided against hiring interim Kurt Rambis for the full-time job.

Porzingis, 20, knows the Knicks need stability on the bench to have sustained success. And he's optimistic that they've found that stable presence in their most recent hire.

"I think Hornacek can be that coach for us," he said. "Of course, you need a long-term coach to be able to win. He needs to know the players, the personalities, [players'] strengths on the court, off the court, everything. We need some time to build something and I think he can be the guy."