By: Rob Botts
A zinger. Defined to us by those whose job it is to define things is as follows: A zinger is “a sharp, funny remark that takes the listener by surprise; isn’t just a snappy comeback or insult, it’s a clever play on words.” Last year, after New York Knicks General Manager and Lord of the Rings himself Mr. Phil Jackson had many, many questionable moves while he presided over one of the worst seasons in Knicks team history since the earth went from flat to round, drafted a player who looked like if Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Bradley had had a baby. And Kristaps Porzingis was his name. Yes, Kristaps Porzingis. We all remember the scene at the NBA draft. As the boos cascaded over Porzingis when he shook hands with league commish Adam Silver, he reminded me of an anorexic Ivan Drago.(“Rocky IV” Russian powerhouse opponent for all the kids out there) “What was Phil doing anyway?” everybody thought. This was a sad punchline to an even sadder joke so many people from all over the NBA landscape thought.
When the Zen Master landed in Gotham, he promised to save the city with his “win now, 5 year plan.” Exactly how did drafting a super young, 7’3”, stretch four Euro into the “win now” plan and not look like a total tear down, rebuild project all of a sudden seem to make sense? All of that is true until it isn’t. Welcome to “isn’t” folks.
When Jackson and Porzingis stood next to each other as the young man was introduced to the New York press corps for the first time, they eerily looked like they could be father and son. So physically similar in stature and gate with years and experience leaving a large gap between them. But, as we are finding out now as this young season is unfolding, they both share a very competitive nature. Who knew?? Phil did. I’m not saying Porzingis is going to be a first ballot hall of famer but he certainly is not the bench warmer we all thought he would be this season. A player with little experience who just wasn’t ready for the bright lights of Madison square garden. A player who needed more time than anything else. A player, as it is turning out, who had us all fooled. Crow tastes pretty gamey. How does your taste?
Phil, the new GM version, has gone from being the punchline, to delivering quite a “zinger” to all of us and most teams that play against Porzingis on a nightly basis. So far this season, the young 7’3” baller is averaging about 13 points, 8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game. Far beyond exceeding all external expectations except maybe the aliens on mars who most likely aren’t watching NBA basketball. Well, maybe the ones currently being housed in Area 52 have the direct TV NBA package.
Staying with Alien theme, lets abduct Porzingis for a bit, throw him under the bright lights and begin the deeper look into one of his most recent outings that really has highlighted the versatility of his on the court success so far. Lets take a recent game against the now Kevin McHale-less Houston Rockets and the bearded one James Harden. Here was his stat line for the 48 minute contest. 24 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks. Yes, 7 blocks. The way he was turning away these shots was very unique as well. A few of these aforementioned shots came at Harden’s expense on his drives to the bucket. But instead of the Zinger himself going after the shot in a straight forward manner like so many theres have, he would block them in a very stealthy way and from different angles. Angles that were almost in the opponent’s blind spot. As Houston Rockets players were driving to the hoop, they did their due diligence and checked their side and review mirrors while turning their heads for anything as well. Then, BOOM! The ball’s flight had been altered and their chance for 2 points, gone with it. We have found out just how quickly Porzingis can get off his feet. He doesn’t have to jump very high but he has quick feet for somebody his size. Then there was his offensive game during that run. It was extremely versatile versus the team from Clutch City. He used duck under shots, long looping hook shots off the window, step back quick release 3 pointers and short pull up shots as well. His game that night was very poised and under control. The type of control used by somebody who is at least 5 years into his career. Not a rookie at 20 years old.
He also appears to be developing quite the chemistry with team star Carmelo Anthony. There have been many sequences this year so far where Melo has had a shot and has given it up to Porzingis for a release. Key sequences where Melo would normally have jacked it up from 30 feet, he is now letting the game flow more naturally. A more, relaxed confidence that he now feels because Porzingis can make buckets. That is quite the seismic shift of opinion from the way he reacted when Kristaps was drafted and how they relate to each other now on the court. Carmelo isn’t the only one who has had a massive change in opinion. You can count the New York Knick fans in as well. The fan base have turned that frown on draft day upside down and are fully behind the young first year baller now.
Phil Jackson has always been a forward thinking individual to his incredible success(many rings) and sometimes to his mild detriment.(that tell all book, ugh.) But Jackson has always had the ability to see the game a few moves ahead of his competition on and off the court. From a basketball perspective, he has really recognized and embraced how the league has really changed into a Euro league style of play. The NBA has a very up tempo flow with “bigs” playing the perimeter game and stretching the game out in a way that we haven’t seen to this extent before. Years ago guys from Europe had a tough time adjusting to the rough and tumble, slow down, half court, mash it up game of the NBA.Things have changed in the recent history of the league. If there was ever a perfect time for Kristaps to come onto the scene and really make an impact it would be now. Phil recognized that and took the right player at the right time as it has turned out.
Just like a good zinger, it needs be delivered at just the right time. Well played Phil. Well played.