While NBA players dressed up in all sorts of outlandish costumes for Halloween — such as LeBron James as Pennywise — Kristaps Porzingis decided to just spend Tuesday as himself. You know, a unicorn.
Okay, it’s not much of a costume, simply a unicorn mask over some comfortable clothes, but it demonstrates an amusing self-awareness on Porzingis’s part. It’s also a reflection of the way in which he has embraced his status as a unique NBA talent, one who is generating buzz from more than just smitten Knicks fans.
While leading New York to a 3-3 record after an 0-3 start, including a rout of the Cavaliers (an impressive win, even if Cleveland is phoning it in these days), Porzingis is averaging 29.3 points per game, third-best in the NBA and a sharp improvement over last season’s 18.1 average. He’s scored more than 30 points in five of the six games, becoming the first Knicks player to start a season that way.
Of course, Porzingis is taking many more shots per game, 22.7 to last season’s 14.9, but the Knicks wouldn’t want it any other way. The team made a point of trading away its previous centerpiece, Carmelo Anthony, to remove any doubt that this was now Porzingis’s squad, and he is proving not only up to the challenge, but looking very much like New York’s best player since Patrick Ewing.
The most exciting part for Knicks fans is that, just as Ewing embodied the bruising, deliberate style of 1990s NBA basketball, Porzingis appears to have been almost designed in a laboratory to suit the league’s current preference for “pace and space.” He is happy to sprint downcourt for easy baskets, uses his 7-foot-3 frame to provide stellar rim protection at the other end and, of course, can bury three-pointers from well behind the arc.
It was none other than Kevin Durant who bestowed the “unicorn” label on Porzingis. Midway through the Latvian native’s first season, Durant let reporters know he was highly impressed with what he had seen.
“He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the three-point line,” Durant said in January of 2016. “That’s rare. And block shots … that’s, like, a unicorn in this league.
“You’ve got to respect what he’s doing. This being New York City, everything is under a microscope, but he’s progressing at a high rate pretty fast, and he’s gonna be a force.”
Porzingis has indeed been a force, and not just from the three-point line. He has worked hard in the past two offseasons to bulk up his once-scrawny frame, all the better to not get pushed around as he sets up against smaller defenders for midrange shots.
Earlier this month, Porzingis talked about a January 2016 game in which Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who gave away 11 inches but possessed a stocky physique and a talent for defensive tenacity, was able to check the Knicks star. “It was something I had never experienced before,” Porzingis recalled recently (via NBA.com). “[Smart] was getting into my knees, playing hard defense and I wasn’t really ready for it.
“I think now I’m more prepared for it. I know what’s coming. I know every team is going to try to play physical defense against me, and I just have to make sure I’m ready for that contact.”
Now it’s the NBA that looks like it may not be quite ready for a 7-3 player who can handle the ball and shoot from anywhere. Long-suffering Knicks fans are more than ready for a savior of any sort, so they’ll gladly take a unicorn.
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