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It’s worth keeping an eye on. Now that we’ve got the resources, the capabilities, the history in place; hell … the brains, little in the NBA isn’t worth discussing. Toss in the fact that you’ve got a player affectionately referred to by both boss and admirers alike as “a unicorn,” and a New York City stage, and you’ve got a noticeable query.
New York Knick big man Kristaps Porzingis is 7-3, he’s still growing into that massive frame of his, and the position-less Knicks stud only turned 21 last August. He’s struggled at times this season to keep up to game action and missed Saturday’s loss to Houston and Monday’s loss to Orlando with right Achilles soreness. Porzingis averages a stellar 20.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per contest.
For a franchise that watched Bill Cartwright’s legs fall apart prior to noticing that Patrick Ewing’s omnipresent knee pads were apparently constructed of the heaviest lead made available, it’s only natural to wonder if Kristaps Porzingis – at 34.8 minutes per game in 2016-17 after a 28.4 minutes per game rookie season – is taking too much of the brunt as the win-now Knicks work under 31-year old Carmelo Anthony and his coterie of 2012 NBA All-Stars.
The New York Post’s Marc Berman talked to an interesting NBA scout recently, who dismissed the 16-18 Knicks for pushing their second-year player too deep into games:
“He’s just turned 21,’’ said the NBA scout, who has worked for multiple teams. “They’re draining Kristaps, putting more minutes on him than anyone. Physically he grew in the offseason. It’s a tremendous amount of strain on new material — ligaments, tendons, knee joints for a big guy. It’s unbelievable stress on his body.’’
Like, New York Post-level “weird.”
“There’s not too many cases when an international player becomes your franchise guy,’’ the scout said. “The best example is Pau Gasol. Dallas is the only one who came closest with Dirk Nowitzki. Marc Gasol is a rare exception, but Pau was a complement to Kobe Bryant. International players are more athletically and mentally geared to be more complementary to the American-produced star.”
Well then! Nothing like a bit of strange culture-baiting to start off the New Year! No word from the scout on what type of hometown makes for the best NBA point guard, or if lack of paternal guidance (or, don’t forget, too much paternal guidance) can get in the way of being coachable.
Firing from across the city, the New York Daily News’ Frank Isola decided to brush off any concerns regarding Kristaps’ minutes.
Isola started by letting Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek have the initial word:
“I don’t know if you’ve sat through these timeouts,” he said. “These timeouts are like five minutes long. I don’t think they should be tired. You should be able to play 35 minutes a game with the amount of timeouts and the length of timeouts.”
Porzingis is averaging a team-high 34.8 minutes. He’s also 21 years old. Does reducing his playing time to, say, 30 minutes a night guarantee a long and prosperous NBA career?
The idea is to play your best players the most minutes, not less. It’s a crazy concept indeed.
While everyone points to the San Antonio Spurs and Gregg Popovich as the pioneers in resting players, they conveniently fail to mention that Tim Duncan, as a 21-year-old rookie, played 39.1 minutes a night. By the time Duncan was 25 he was averaging 40.6 minutes per game.
Duncan, who retired last season at the ripe old age of 39, didn’t average fewer than 30 minutes a game until he was 34 years old.
This is all true, and Isola is making sense per usual when he deduces that “there’s a difference between “Handle with Care” and “Fragile.”
Of course, even though he worked at age 21 for most of his rookie year, Tim Duncan was peeling off of four orthodox seasons at Wake Forest prior to his professional turn. Porzingis only took in major minutes and consistent play during his time in Spain during 2014-15, just before coming stateside. He isn’t that far removed from a time where limited minutes on lesser teams, resulting in single-digit scoring nights, were the norm.
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In 2015, just before the Knicks made him an NBA pro, Kristaps was the ‘Latvian Rising Star of the Year’ in his final season before entering the NBA. Tim Duncan was coming off of two consensus All-American team rankings just before the Spurs selected him, including a three-season run as the NCAA’s defensive player of the year, and recognition as the Player of the Year during his senior season.
Nobody is arguing the merits of Duncan vs. Porzingis as ballplayers. We’re just looking at the routine, and the workload. In this instance, Kevin Garnett might be the better template to work with. As if a proper template could ever exist.
Garnett grew in height following his third season in the NBA, which is remarkable for a preps-to-pros prospect that actually entered the league older than most of his Class of 1995 contemporaries at age 19. A starter midway through his second season, Garnett echoed Porzingis’ (and every other pro athlete’s) insistence on playing as much as possible, as KP reminded recently:
“I want to play as many minutes as I can.”
KG didn’t dive out of the high 30s (and, in two cases, the 40s) in minutes per game until moving to become a Boston Celtic at age 31. From there, like Duncan, his minutes were minded in ways that didn’t remind of the treatment of big men in eras past. Still, he had to wait until he was in his 30s.
Both Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett made history in kicking it as respected pros from the Clinton Administration through whatever the heck 2016 represented. Neither of their respective teams in San Antonio or Minnesota wanted them to hand in retirement papers last summer.
Still, that doesn’t quite provide a template. For as daffy as the New York Post’s scout sounds …
“I was thinking NYK stands for Not Yet Knowing.’’
… that doesn’t mean we still don’t need to watch for these things. Especially as Kristaps’ inside-outside game can’t reasonably be compared to Duncan, Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Ewing, or either of the Gasol brothers.
In spite of the storm and stress outside of Madison Square Garden, New York is playing as well as can be reasonably expected. The addition of Derrick Rose in a contract year has worked as a serious point guard upgrade, though while the presence of 2013-era Joakim Noah would be perfect for Porzingis’ burgeoning game, the current model doesn’t offer as many options, sadly.
Still, the relatively pain-free year allows us to worry a bit when Porzingis averages over 37 minutes per game (a mark that would put him in the running for league lead) for a healthy chunk of games played from mid-November until December, and when he hits a wall during the current road trip – sitting vs. Houston and Orlando (and possibly Milwaukee on Wednesday) after averaging nearly 40 a game in two losses to New Orleans and Atlanta.
Losses that saw KP put up big numbers (22.5 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 blocks) on so-so 15-37 shooting while the Knick offense suffered in his presence.
The New York Knicks aren’t screwing up terribly by overplaying Kristaps Porzingis, but his minutes should be a concern even if the second-year star barely breathes on 35 minutes a contest.
The answer, like New York’s record, is somewhere in the middle.
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