The Knicks’ season has long been over, but for rookies Kristaps Porzingis and Jerian Grant, their seasons look like they're just getting started.
New York (30-44) has been out of the Eastern Conference playoff race soon after their shocking 22-22 start, with multiple-game losing streaks temporarily being halted by a win here and there.
They’ve played more cohesive in two of the past three contests, taking two straight in a home-and-home series with the playoff-contending Chicago Bulls – only to be toyed with by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Saturday night. That was to be expected, but at the very least, New York’s rookies are starting to show some signs.
Porzingis has especially come on lately. Against the Bulls, his legs looked spry and he appeared to have finally climbed over the proverbial rookie wall. He was seen charging to the hoop aggressively in both games, challenging Chicago’s shot-blockers, Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol, which attributed to his career-high 29 points in Chicago on March 23. Even against the Cavs, a game the Knicks were never really a serious threat, Porzingis was one of the best players on the floor in tallying 19 points and six rebounds.
Since his season low-point, a lethargic two-point effort on March 16, the Latvian has averaged 20 points, eight rebounds, almost two 3s, and 1.7 blocks per game.
It’s becoming apparent that interim head coach Kurt Rambis is finally starting to trust the rookie more, and allowing him to play through mistakes and malaise.
The biggest indictment of Rambis as the Knicks coach was that he tried to typecast the 7-foot-3 Porzingis into solely using his height and 7-foot-6 wingspan on the blocks. The old-school Rambis seemed to be stuck in his ways and failed to comprehend the booming new-age 3-point era – and Porzingis’s ability to bombard opponents from behind the line.
But with a recent stretch that has seen his minutes and effort rise, Porzingis is in line to regain the once-lost steam that had many touting him as the league’s best rookie.
Grant hasn’t been as proficient from behind the arc, but at least he’s finally being allowed to work through his issues. Knicks fans have been chanting and blogging for Grant to get more of a chance, and he’s beginning to reward their faith.
The former Notre Dame star is shooting 31.8 percent in 3s since the All-Star break, way up from his prior 14.8-percent clip. He’s also averaging seven points per game over the last week, while shooting 42 percent. Both are above his season averages of 4.9 points per game and 38 percent shooting.
The three-point shot has been an emphasis for Grant’s improvement by the coaching staff, and lately the rookie has spent extra time trying to hone that particular skill.
During his college career, Grant noted that he preferred the step-back long-range jumper and fade-away 3s, but that formula hasn’t worked well with the longer 3-point line in the NBA.
“It’s a deeper shot, [and] it’s a little tougher, so it is just trying to get all my momentum going forward so it is an easier shot,” Grant acknowledged prior to the Cavs game. “I just need to keep working on [strengthening his form] and not fading away … It’s nothing really mechanical.”
Hopefully for Knicks fans and the rookies, the coaching staff will finally be more inclined in allowing their neophytes to work through any mechanisms and finish the season on a strong suit.
- Porzingis is the only rookie in league history to have more than 1,000 points, 500-plus rebounds, make 75-plus 3s, and block more than a 100 shots – and counting, with eight games remaining. As stellar as that statistic is, however, is should be factored that the NBA didn’t start counting blocks until the 1974 season, and didn’t adopt the three-point line until 1979.
- Rambis is the franchise’s 10th coach in the last 12 years.