We sometimes fear the unknown in life. It could be a career choice, marriage or maybe even children. I bring this up today because, on a much different level, Knicks fans across this great city were up in arms last Thursday night when the Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft.
After a 17-win regular season, the first full campaign under Phil Jackson, the Knicks decided to draft a 19-year-old 7-footer from Latvia. He is an athlete who sports a 38-inch vertical and has a silky smooth shot with great range. But he is not NBA ready. He is a project that needs to add weight to his slim frame and needs to get stronger in order to deal with the rigors of an NBA season. As Jackson even admitted, Porzingis is a high-risk, high-reward type of player. He could be a star in the league, but he could also be a monumental bust. Was the juice worth the squeeze? That is the question that you need to ask yourself when taking a look at the pick.
The Knicks could have gone the safer route and drafted a more known quantity like Emmanuel Mudiay or Justise Winslow. However, sometimes the correct path is the tougher one to take.
Thursday night was certainly a tough one for Jackson and the Knicks brass after the Porzingis pick. After boos poured down in Brooklyn at the Barclay’s Center when Commissioner Adam Silver announced the selection, Jackson had to explain to reporters and more importantly the fanbase why Porzingis was the correct pick. They are banking on the potential of Porzingis. Hoping that if he develops, then they will get an impact player and the Knicks will have a star for years to come.
Jackson certainly understands the risk of bringing in the unknown to New York City. He feels that Porzingis can handle the pressure, and the city, and ultimately perform. It is just going to take time for him to develop. It may take as long as a couple of years to find out if he was worth the selection. So, why the uneasiness from the Knicks fan? It is that unknown.
We did not watch him play in the Spanish pro league. He was not even on the radar until the last two months when he skyrocketed up draft boards. And this next sentence could lead to some of the angst of the Knicks fans: since 2003, there have been 16 players from Europe taken in the lottery and the results have been awful. Not one of those selections became an All-Star in the NBA. For every Dirk Nowitzki, there are many, many more failures like Darko Milicic, Nikoloz Tskitishvilli and Jan Vesely. They are guys that talent evaluators thought would develop and had the skill-set to play in the league, but ultimately failed. Maybe we end up adding Porzingis to the bust list, but maybe not. Maybe, just maybe Jackson deserves some credit. He could have taken the easy route and taken a safer prospect. Knicks fan would have celebrated if a college prospect that they watched during the NCAA Tournament was selected. They would have cheered the "known."
We all celebrated when Knicks owner Jim Dolan brought Jackson aboard. Finally, some stability in what has been an unstable situation. Maybe we need to be just as patient with Jackson as the Knicks will have to be with Porzingis. And don’t worry if Carmelo Anthony is upset with the pick. He made his bed last summer when he took the money to come back instead of taking less and putting himself in a winning situation in Chicago or Houston. I could not care less if he reportedly feels betrayed by Jackson with the pick of Porzinigs. Anthony fears the unknown, but at least he is getting paid over 21 million dollars per year to feel that way.
When Knicks basketball adviser Clarence Gaines Jr. scouted Porzingis, he told Jackson that drafting him was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” The irony of it all is that instead of fearing the unknown, we should all embrace it. Phil Jackson is an unknown as an NBA executive. Derek Fisher is an unknown as an NBA head coach. They now bring in a 19-year-old from Latvia, who hopes to buck the trend of European busts. The Knicks are filled with unknowns. Don’t boo it, embrace it. It is what now defines the Knicks. Maybe, just maybe, all the unknowns will ultimately help make the Knicks relevant.