Knicks head coach Derek Fisher said he’s not worried about the recent slump of his prized rookie Kristaps Porzingis, nor is he losing sleep about the play of any of the other newbies.
Fresh of a recent West Coast road trip that featured three games in four nights, where the Knicks (11-14) went 1-3, Fisher said the struggles of his neophytes is just life in the NBA – regardless if the player is seasoned or a rookie.
“There are going to be ups and downs during the course of a season no matter how great the player is,” Fisher said, scoffing at the idea that his younger players have already hit that proverbial wall. “You can go to other players around the league, chart their numbers, and you’ll find some stretches where their numbers dramatically dip for whatever reason — fatigue, injury, stress ... The great ones usually come back at some point. I think Kris will be back to his normal levels to what we came to expect soon enough.”
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Fisher added that more than fatigue, players are playing Porzingis differently, now that there’s more tape on him and he’s played some teams more than once.
“People are definitely more aware of the things he was doing that made him effective,” Fisher noted.
New York is 3-7 in its last 10 games, but that’s not an indicator that the rookies are letting down the team and not carrying their weight. Rather, it’s a sign that the team as a whole needs to pick up the slack.
Porzingis was scoreless in the team’s 112-110 win at Portland, and seemed to have heavy legs. But to him, it was just a matter of the Trail Blazers playing him tough and never allowing him to get comfortable. The same held true with his performances in Sacramento and Utah – with the former possessing a very physical frontcourt and the latter being one of the better all-around defensive squads in the league. The Latvian averaged a paltry 5.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 24 percent.
The rookie said he’s just looking forward to getting back in front of the Garden crowd, to give him and the rest of the team a boost.
“I love playing at the Garden, because it’s like a sixth player on the team,” he said of Wednesday night's matchup with top pick Karl-Anthony Towns and the Minnesota Timberwolves. “There’s so much energy in there. Out of nowhere you score a layup and they go crazy.’’
The Knicks’ rookies experienced a tough time out west -- point guard Jerian Grant more than others, as the former Notre Dame star received the dreaded DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) in Portland.
The coach reasoned that getting splinters happens – but added the rookie will need to stay ready, because he’ll never know when his number gets called or how big a role he’ll play on any given night.
That’s just being a professional, Fisher offered.
“I try to stay with what’s working on any given night. It’s more fair to the team than getting stuck with a particular guy because that’s what you normally do. Sometimes it’s worked for us. Sometimes it hasn’t,” Fisher said. “I know as a player, you never wanted to feel like you don’t have an opportunity, because everything was already set. Every player should feel like they should be ready every single night.”
The second-year coach, who’s still feeling his way, pointed to veterans like Derrick Williams, Sasha Vujacic, and Kyle O’Quinn, who’ve also felt Grant’s plight.
“Just stay ready. For your entire career there are going to be theses ups and downs that can break you or make you,” Fisher said. “When the opportunity comes back around, you capitalize, and that shows a level of professionalism and sustainability that as a young player you have to develop. So there isn’t anything he’s doing wrong, it’s just night to night I’m going with what fits best.”
Wednesday could be that time where the rookies bounce back. Porzingis certainly believes so.
“A couple of bad games, it happens to all of us. Not only rookies. I’m just looking forward to the next game,” Porzingis said. “So ups and downs [happens]. Obviously this is my rookie season.”
-The 20-year-old Porzingis played 50 games combined last season in the Spanish League and Eurocup play. In those 50 games, he averaged 21.4 minutes. So far this season, Porzingis is averaging 27.3 minutes, 13.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game during his maiden 25 contests.
-Carmelo Anthony said he understands that the rookie wall could be all in the mind, and that any neophyte will need to find a way to fight through it, as there’s no one proper way to deal with it: “My first day [I felt that wall]. From the minute you step on that court, everything changes from just the way you sleep … you’ve got to figure out a routine that works.”
-The Knicks’ defense has improved drastically from a season ago, as they are currently ranked seventh in field-goal percentage allowed (.431), second in 3-point defense (.308), and 11th in scoring defense (99.2).
-Wednesday’s matchup with the Timberwolves will feature two of the brightest stars in this year’s rookie class. Towns is second in rookie scoring at 14.9 points, ahead of third-place Porzingis (13.6). Towns is the NBA’s best rookie rebounder (9.2) and shot-blocker (2.17), and is second in field-goal percentage (.531). Porzingis, is second in rebounds (8.4) and blocks (1.8), and is ranked seventh in shooting (.441).
-Tuesday is the first day that rookies and free-agent players signed over the summer are eligible to be traded. The Knicks will definitely be in the running for point guard help. Memphis point guard Mike Conley and Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo are two guys that immediately come to mind when they are both eligible for free agency next summer — provided the team doesn’t try and trade for them before the Feb. 18 deadline.
-Another point guard to keep an eye on is the Pistons’ Brandon Jennings. The issue with Jennings, though, is that he’s yet to return from an Achilles tear last season. His contract isn’t too daunting to be moved, though, as he’s in the final year of a three-year, $24 million deal. Detroit already has their point guard of the present and future in Reggie Jackson, who inked a five-year, $80 million deal over the offseason. Jennings is now certainly expendable.
-Knicks general manager Steve Mills was with the team during their recent road trip – likely scouting the competition and seeing who he can add and subtract.