The New York Knicks learned their cornerstone, Kristaps Porzingis, tore the ACL in his left knee during Tuesday’s 103-89 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and will likely be sidelined for at least 10 months after surgery, a huge blow to a franchise that just can’t seem to get itself back on track.
Finding a replacement for Porzingis is going to be difficult. Dubbed a “unicorn” by Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant for his unique size, skill and athleticism, Porzingis is part of the league’s group of gifted big men who space the floor on offense without sacrificing defense. Before his injury, the 7-foot-3 Latvian led the Knicks in points (22.7 per game) while adding 6.6 rebounds and a league-leading 2.4 blocks per game.
“It’s deflating because he’s a big part of what we’re trying to build around,” Coach Jeff Hornacek said in his news conference immediately following the game. “A lot of stuff runs through him.”
Porzingis touched the ball 61 times per game, second on the team to point guard Jarrett Jack, and scored 0.37 points per touch — seventh-highest in the NBA this season among players with at least 50 touches per game. He is typically used down low in the post, where he can create his own shot, similar to how Dirk Nowitzki and Yao Ming made their way in the NBA, scoring almost a point per possession with his back to the basket. He is also a capable spot-up shooter, opening up space for his teammates due to his ability to lurk out past the three-point line (4.8 three-point attempts per game, 39 percent shooting).
You could also argue the team is losing Porzingis at the worst possible time, costing them a playoff spot without the added benefit of getting them a higher draft pick.
Before Porzingis was injured, the Knicks, five games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for the last playoff spot, at least had a chance at a postseason appearance, with the organization perhaps looking at the upcoming trade deadline as an opportunity to bring in reinforcements. With Porzingis hurt, those hopes go up in smoke.
Overall, the Knicks scored 105.5 points per 100 possessions while allowing 105.4 with Porzingis on the court, essentially breaking even on the scoreboard. However, the team was outscored by almost five net points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, making the presence of Porzingis roughly the difference between performing like the 29-25 Denver Nuggets or the 19-36 Brooklyn Nets. The most frequently used lineup with Porzingis, featuring Jack, Tim Hardaway Jr., Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee, outscored opponents by 7.5 net points per 100 possessions this season. Those same four were outscored by 7.5 net points with Porzingis on the bench, a 15-point swing caused by the absence of one integral part.
|2017-18 Knicks||Points scored per 100 possessions||Points allowed per 100 possessions||Net rating|
|With Kristaps Porzingis||105.5||105.4||0.1|
|Without Kristaps Porzingis||102.0||106.9||-4.9|
Those are worse results to be sure, but with only 27 games left on the schedule — a schedule that was already the seventh-easiest in the league this year and the fourth-easiest going forward — there might not be enough time for the Knicks to be terrible long enough that it makes an impact on their draft position.
Using the win rates that fuel our weekly power rankings, which take into account a team’s actual record and what its record should be based on points scored and allowed — also known as its Pythagorean win percentage — New York would have been expected to win 34 games if Porzingis was healthy. With him unavailable, that drops down to 31 or 32 wins at the end of the 2018-19 season. The net result: a difference of one or two draft slots in the upcoming draft.
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