New York is doing what it can to speed up the learning curve of Kristaps Porzingis.
Minutes after selecting him with the fourth overall pick in last summer’s draft, Knicks team president Phil Jackson indicated he believed it may be up to five years before Porzingis provides an impact on the team.
Four months later, he is slated to start at power forward on opening night.
After suffering through the worst season in franchise history, as the Knicks won 17 games — the fewest they have ever managed — while ranking 28th in defensive rating and 29th in offensive rating.
New York is counting on a healthy Carmelo Anthony and the addition of Porzingis are enough to turn around the franchise.
Through the early portion of the pre-season, the 7-foot-3 forward has been promising on both ends of the floor.
Even though he has played just 19 minutes a night, Porzingis has managed to post the highest shot blocking average on the team, turning back 1.3 shots a night, while ranking third on the team in 3-point shooting percentage, as he has knocked down 42.9 percent of his long range attempts.
Porzingis is averaging 7.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists to go along with his shot blocking and 3-point shooting, enough to secure the power forward job.
The position was perhaps the biggest issue the team had last season, as Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Smith, Quincy Acy, Lou Amundson, Lance Thomas and Cleanthony Early all started games at power forward.
The promise of the Latvian prospect was too much for coach Derek Fisher to keep stashed on the bench.
Porzingis faces numerous challenges during his rookie campaign, especially after spending the past three seasons in Spain.
During his three seasons with Cajasol Sevilla and Baloncesto Sevilla in Liga ACB (the top professional league in Spain) Porzingis played a combined 92 games, just 10 more than an entire regular season.
The team never played on consecutive nights, and the most time he spent on the floor came last season, as he averaged 21.4 minutes per game.
Conditioning has been a primary area of focus this summer, along with gaining strength to play in the NBA. Porzingis has been able to tack on 15 pounds of muscle and is eating 5,000 calories, as he eats steak three times a day.
The goal is for Porzingis to be able to hold is own against defenders in the post while being agile enough to create room and exploit match ups on the perimeter.
Porzingis will start the pre-season finale Thursday against Boston then, barring any setbacks in the six day break before the regular season opener against the Bucks, will be in the starting lineup.
The 20-year-old has missed two pre-season games, both in Madison Square Garden, as he experienced minor knee soreness.
Fisher told reporters that Porzingis won’t face a minutes restriction and believes he will play between 20 and 30 minutes each night. In pre-season play, Porzingis has played the ninth most minutes on the Knicks.
The fantasy basketball universe has already taken note of the expected playing time, as Porzingis is already owned in 45 percent of Yahoo! fantasy leagues and is ranked as the 157th best prospect in the NBA.
The announcement of his inclusion in the starting lineup is enough to warrant a late round selection, as he has the rare ability to produce consistent numbers in 3-point shooting, rebounding and blocks, a nice addition late in drafts.
The combination of his height and shooting ability has earned the comparison to Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, almost a prerequisite for any 7-footer coming over from Europe, but Porzingis may be the most likely to deliver on the promise.
New York has already instilled its faith in the rookie, giving him the starting job immediately into his career.
Porzingis will have to prove the Knicks made the right decision on the court.