Kristaps Porzingis is way ahead of all projections levied on him draft night, especially those coming from the team that selected him fourth overall last June.
New York president of basketball operations Phil Jackson said he believed the 7-foot-3 forward might night make an impact on the team for up to five seasons.
Instead, through 16 games, Porzingis has played his way into contention for 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year honors.
The 20-year-old out of Latvia is averaging 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and has led the Knicks to a rapid turnaround following the worst season in franchise history a year ago.
The Knicks finished the 2014-15 season with a record of 17-65, the worst in the 70-year history of the team, as they were rated as the third worst defensive team while playing the second worst offense in the league.
For the year, the team was outscored by an average of 9.8 points per game.
Through 16 contests this season, the Knicks are one of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference with at least .500 record as Porzingis has made vital impacts on both ends of the floor.
With his shot not falling Wednesday night in Orlando — as he finished with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field — Porzingis started erasing seemingly every shot taken by the Magic.
Orlando guard Victor Oladipo had a dunk attempt early in the fourth quarter pinned against the backboard by Porzingis.
“Just using my length, being there at the rim and trying to bother shots,” Porzingis said. “I really didn’t jump that high, but I made sure that I jump as high as I can because there are a lot of athletic guys. I have to be careful. Guys will try to dunk on me my whole career, it’s not going to stop after one moment.”
By the time the night ended, Porzingis had blocked six shots, marking the second time in the past three games he has totaled at least six in a game, but it wasn’t enough to secure a road victory in Orlando.
The Magic altered its starting lineup, benching Oladipo in favor of Channing Frye in an attempt to give the starting unit size to combat Porzingis.
The tactic worked as Porzingis didn’t score a point until the 8:27 mark in the third quarter. The 23.1 percent he shot on the evening was his worst effort of the season, but in just a short amount of time, he has already established credibility with his teammates.
“I’m not worried about him, defensively he came up big for us,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He’s not going to make every shot and we can live with that.”
Finding consistency in his jump shots has proven to be the largest hurdle for him to clear, as Porzingis is shooting 41 percent from the field on the year.
Early in his career, Porzingis has already shown a penchant for knocking down mid-range shots, as he is converting 50 percent of his attempts from 16-feet away from the rim and inside the 3-point arc.
The combination of his height and effectiveness shooting the ball has the Knicks continually seeking him out for shots.
Porzingis has attempted 188 shots from the field, the exact same amount Dirk Nowitkzi has launched in Dallas.
Orlando demonstrated that once teams key in on him, piling up points will become even more of a challenge.
“Maybe I wasn’t aggressive, I was shooting more on the outside and I should have been more aggressive,” Porzingis said. “That’s part of the game, I took a couple of hard fouls. I’m going to play the same way whether teams play physical or not.”
Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Magic, Porzinigs scored 20 or more points in three of his last four contests, including a career-high 29 points at home against Charlotte and a 24 points effort in Houston on 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
For the year, Porzingis ranks third among all rookies in scoring and 3-point field goals made while ranking second in rebounds and blocks per game.
As he experiences his first ever Thanksgiving, Porzingis is perhaps most grateful for the opportunity he is being given in New York.
“I’m a young player and I’m making a lot of mistakes early in my career,” Porzingis said. “It’s huge for a young player like me to have a coach that trusts a young guy. He knows that I play hard defensively and will do whatever I can to help the team win a game.”