Newspaper article International New York Times

Rookie Gives Knicks Much-Needed Hope ; Porzingis Is Impressing with His Dunks and His Commitment to Improve

Newspaper article International New York Times

Rookie Gives Knicks Much-Needed Hope ; Porzingis Is Impressing with His Dunks and His Commitment to Improve

Article excerpt

Beyond his 7-foot-3-inch frame and his ability to hit 3- pointers, beyond his spin moves, Kristaps Porzingis has impressed teammates with his commitment.

Long before it took Kristaps Porzingis all of 12 regular-season games to become a sensation with the Knicks, he plied his trade for Baloncesto Sevilla of Spain's ACB League. As Sevilla's general manager, Jose Luis Galilea became uniquely familiar with Porzingis, and he could sense the player's bright future.

Galilea based his confidence on two observations.

The first was that Porzingis almost always stayed late after practice to develop his skills with Nikola Radicevic, a teammate. Basketball mattered to Porzingis in a way that struck Galilea as unusual, especially for a player who could have coasted on his natural gifts.

Long and athletic, Porzingis was already capable of doing astonishing things on the court. The foundation was there, and then some. But Porzingis wanted more.

"When you feel capable of doing everything -- you can shoot, you can dribble, you can run, you can dunk -- sometimes it's easy to fall into the temptation of saying, 'O.K., I can just do it somehow,"' Galilea said in a recent interview. "But no, he always listened to his coaches, and he always worked. And I thought that was going to be priceless for him."

The second observation that Galilea made had to do with an older woman whom Sevilla employed to do odd jobs for the team. She also acted as a den mother for many of the younger players. Porzingis, who grew up in Latvia, was a teenager far from home, and he appreciated her. So whenever Sevilla went on a trip, Porzingis would return with a gift for her -- a box of chocolates, say, if the team had traveled to Belgium.

"This, coming from a 19-year-old kid, was unbelievable," Galilea said.

Viewed through the prism of what Porzingis, now 20, has done for the Knicks, highlighted by his 29-point scoring burst against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night, stories likes these run the risk of bleeding into hagiography. And sad but true: Porzingis will, in fact, make mistakes in the coming weeks. He will commit turnovers. He will miss shots. And the Knicks will lose more games.

But after so much suffering, and in the wake of last season's hazmat spill, fans can be forgiven for their collective case of Porzingitis. The cheers, the chants -- these are the sounds of hope. If New York has gone overboard for him, it is entirely understandable. The reaction may even be justified because Porzingis does not appear to be some sort of fluke.

"He's so talented," the Knicks' Arron Afflalo said.

Beyond his 7-foot-3-inch frame and his ability to hit 3- pointers, beyond his spin moves and his putback dunks, Porzingis has impressed teammates with his commitment. The dynamics of a locker room can be fickle and fluid, especially when a first-year player gets the loudest ovations and the most attention. …

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