Knicks rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis has been compared to a handful of future Hall of Famers, from Dirk Nowitzki to Pau Gasol. But for the budding star, he said the one guy he likens himself to the most is the star of New York’s upcoming opponent.
Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s franchise player, is the one guy that Porzingis said he identifies with the most, and is looking forward to facing the All-Star forward for the first time, Tuesday night at the Garden.
The Knicks (22-24) are on a two-game losing streak, and it won’t get any easier when the Thunder (33-13) roll into town in a foul mood -- especially since they’re coming off a 116-106 loss at the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday in a game that was pushed back three hours due to the massive blizzard that struck New York City over the weekend.
The Thunder didn’t get a chance to hold a practice, shootaround, or walk-through prior to the contest, which means the Knicks are going to get a feisty and pent-up opponent. Tuesday’s task becomes even more difficult considering the Knicks earned a 93-90 upset win at Oklahoma City on Nov. 20.
In that game, Porzingis was still learning the ropes and played sparingly when he notched seven points, six rebounds, and a block in just 26 minutes of action. But Porzingis is now the second-best player on the Knicks (averaging 14 points, 7.8 rebounds, and two blocks) and has seen his confidence grow with each game. He’s a different player now.
It should be noted that Durant didn’t play in that game, meaning the juicy storyline is set to finally see these two go head to head. Durant, an All-Star starter who’s averaging 26.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and shooting 51 percent from the field, will likely be matched up with the Latvian sensation on more than a few occasions.
And when that matchup happens, one thing’s for sure, Porzingis won’t be star-struck. Clippers head coach Doc Rivers can attest to the rookie’s focus and mettle, as he touted Porzingis following Los Angeles’ 116-88 dismantling of the Knicks at the Garden, Friday night.
“He’s going to be great. He’s a skilled player. When you have skill at that early of an age and size and that IQ … he’s a special player,” Rivers said, noting the toughness. “I think what everyone underestimated with him is he’s a tough kid. He has toughness. That’s not fake. It’s just who he is … If people would have seen that [prior to the draft] he probably would have gone a lot higher.”
Porzingis began honing his special skills by watching countless hours of tape on Durant. Those highlights, Porzingis noted, is where he picked up the nuances on how to succeed as a scorer with a slight frame, because at 7-foot-3 and 240 pounds, the rookie knew once he got to the NBA, he’d need to learn how to create space for himself and avoid getting banged around by larger defenders.
“It’s the way he draws fouls, how he drives to the basket, and how aggressive he is offensively -- there’s a lot to learn from a guy like him,” Porzingis said when asked about the comparisons.
Judging by their per-36 numbers, the two aren’t separated by much. Porzingis gets more rebounds (10.2 to 7.9) and blocks (2.5 to 1.2), while Durant attempts more field goals (18.1 to 15.3). Durant also shoots a higher percentage at the foul line (89.6 percent to 85.4), but the splits are striking.
Porzingis took it in stride when notified of the statistical comparison, and added that he knows his limitations in the paint. But at the same time, his tone then turned competitive and reiterated that he “won’t be intimidated by anyone” and is looking forward to battling the Thunder’s impressive frontcourt – one that not only includes Durant (6-foot-10), but physical bigs like Serge Ibaka (6-foot-10), Steven Adams (7-feet), and Enes Kanter (6-foot-11).
- Carmelo Anthony passed Gary Payton for 30th place on the all-time scoring list.
- Anthony is also dealing with a sore left knee, and is listed as questionable, but doesn’t think it’s serious, and is planning on playing tomorrow. He also added it has nothing to do with his Feb. 2015 surgery on the same knee.
- Porzingis is not on the same level as Durant just yet, on the floor, but at least he has bragging rights in marketing. The top 10 most popular NBA jersey sales (from Oct. to Dec. 2015) features Porzingis at fourth – behind Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant, but ahead of Durant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Jimmy Butler.