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Big brothers are watching Kristaps Porzingis and it's paying off

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Russillo: Is Porzingis just a fad or the key to the Knicks' future? (2:41)

ESPN's Ryen Russillo and Adnan Virk break down their expectations for Knicks PF Kristaps Porzingis and explain why the 20-year-old has had such a hot start to the season. (2:41)

It's around 11 p.m., a couple of hours after Kristaps Porzingis introduces himself to the NBA with a 29-point, 11-rebound effort against Charlotte. The rookie is finished with his postgame duties in the locker room and mandatory media availability. He's free to go.

One of his first stops on the way out of Madison Square Garden is to the arena's family section, where he meets his brother, Janis Porzingis.

He takes a picture to document the moment. Millennials like Porzingis take endless selfies, but this one probably meant a little more to the Knicks rookie than others.

"Janis is the one who pushes [Kristaps] the most," says Scott Roth, who coached Porzingis in the Spanish League last season. "Kris has great respect for his brothers and they are hard on him, but Janis is one of the driving forces."

The list of people Knicks fans should thank for Porzingis is a long one, of course. It starts with Knicks president Phil Jackson as well as Jackson's confidant Clarence Gaines Jr., who implored Jackson to select Porzingis with the Knicks' first-round pick.

But make no mistake, that list starts and ends with a support system built upon Kristaps' brothers Janis and Martins Porzingis, and his mother and father, Ingrida and Talis.

'We're a basketball family'

The Porzingises have been living with Kristaps at his Westchester apartment, easing the 20-year-old's transition to life in the NBA.

"We're 24-7 together," Porzingis says. "Whenever I'm on the road, we're talking about basketball [by phone]. We're watching basketball together. We're a basketball family...They're there to support me, so it's fundamental."

That support has helped Porzingis develop into one of the league's top rookies. He entered play Tuesday averaging 13.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game -- all of which rank in the top three among NBA rookies.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be like my brothers. And here I am." Kristaps Porzingis

His first two months in the league have injected life into a moribund Knicks franchise that has lacked hope for most of the last 20 seasons. The importance of Porzingis doing this with his family at his side should not be understated. Any rookie's rise to stardom often is wrought with pitfalls, let alone playing in the spotlight of New York City and its media. But his family has helped temper the intensity of that spotlight, making his rise to stardom in New York a little more normal.

"Especially my brothers; they're my best friends," Porzingis says. "They always help me whenever I'm down. Whenever I get too high they're there to calm me down. Without my family around, it would be much more difficult."

Early lessons

Janis, 6-foot-7, and Martins, 6-4, both played in Europe, following in their parents' footsteps. Talis, who is 6-4, played semi-professionally in the Soviet Union before becoming a bus driver. Ingrida, who is 6-foot-1, played on national youth teams in Latvia and went on to coach the game.

Janis' career took him to Austria, Belgium, Sweden and Italy, where he played for five seasons. But he remained close with Kristaps, bringing his younger brother along with him for offseason training sessions in the family's hometown of Liepaja, a coastal city in Latvia.

"He was 12 or 13 years old and he was coming with me to practice. He was dying there, of course, but he was there, just trying to pull through," Janis says.

Janis continued to work with his younger brother, and as he got older - he got taller. Much taller. More importantly, however, during the workouts, Janis observed in Kristaps an indefatigable desire to improve.

"It doesn't matter how tired he was, he never stopped really until a certain point when I said we've got to stop because this is ridiculous. This is not good for anybody," Janis says. "But then he would go at it again. I liked [to see] that a lot."

The training sessions weren't limited to the basketball court. Janis and his family enrolled Kristaps in additional English classes to get him acclimated to a language he'd need once he turned pro.

"[Janis] was always thinking 10 steps ahead," Kristaps says. "At that moment, I was like, 'Why do you make me do all this stuff?' But that just showed me how much they were preparing me for what's coming. I had no idea. Now it makes sense."

'Kris plays for them'

Kristaps leaned on his family for support as he embarked on his professional career in Spain. He played for Sevilla for three seasons, starting at age 15. Roth recalls Ingrida staying and taking care of Kristaps "for months at a time."

Indeed, having home-cooked meals has to be comforting to a 15-year-old who just turned pro.

"His family has made him who he is," Roth says. "...I think he's just a kid who saw how hard his mom and dad have worked to take care of the family, and how much they have sacrificed to make sure Kris could reach his potential ... In that regard, I think Kris plays for them and tries his best for them. That's his way of giving back."

If that's the case, the Knicks and their fan base owe a debt of gratitude to the Porzingises.

"[My brothers] always help me whenever I'm down. Whenever I get too high they're there to calm me down. Without my family around, it would be much more difficult." Kristaps Porzingis

The 20-year-old has become the talk of the young NBA season thanks to his early-season success. He is tied with Karl Anthony-Towns for the rookie lead in double-doubles (10), is third in PER (18.84) and third in offensive rebounding (2.2).

The pair face off when the Minnesota Timberwolves visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

Aside from the numbers, the Knicks have been just as pleased with Porzingis' work ethic and mental approach. Porzingis again credits Janis and his family.

"My brother translated [that work ethic] to me," the rookie says of Janis, who now serves as Kristaps' agent along with Andy Miller. "He wants me to be the best player I can be."

Early on, Janis thought the best his brother could be was star at the Euroleague level. He honestly didn't see the NBA draft lottery in Kristaps' future. But when Kristaps turned 17, the athleticism started to emerge and develop, catching up to his size, which represents the unique combination Knicks fans see today.

Janis remembers thinking: "Kristaps is going somewhere else. This kid is going to be good."

Fans and front-office types ask every day: Just how good can Porzingis be? The rookie's strong start has initiated a frenzied search for the perfect comparison for him. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett among others. But Porzingis has always had other role models in mind.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be like my brothers," he says. "And here I am."