The New York Knicks haven't won an NBA championship since 1973 and it doesn't look like that will change this year. Despite the drought of glory days, there hasn't been a shortage of memorable names.
This season, first-year Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis has taken a bite out of the Big Apple, utilizing his 7-foot-3 frame to shoot over defenders at will.
The No.4 overall pick in this past year's draft, Porzingis has shown a Kevin Durant-esque touch from the perimeter – earning praise from Durant himself.
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“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 told reporters, including Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman about Porzingis' game. “That’s rare. And block shots … that’s, like, a unicorn in this league.”
Despite Porzingis' 13.9 points and 7.7 rebounds this season, the Knicks are in the midst of a losing season.
The team owns a 23-32 record, good for third place in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic division. A midseason change at head coach - with the firing of Derek Fisher - has the team reeling.
Star of NYC
It's a different scenario – but with some similarities - to when Linsanity unexpectedly took over New York City.
After a mostly uneventful NBA debut with the Golden State Warriors during the 2010-11 season, Jeremy Lin - Cali-born to parents of dual U.S. and Taiwanese nationality - signed with the Knicks during the lockout-shortened 2011-112 campaign.
At times, the Harvard product's basketball future was shrouded in doubt. Lin told USA Today that if the Knicks cut him, he would consider returning to the D-League, playing in Europe, or take a non-basketball job.
However, a myriad of lucky breaks placed Lin in the Knicks' blue and orange, dribbling up and down the hallowed Madison Square Garden (MSG) hardwood. But Lin wasn't just dribbling, he was dominating.
At face value, Lin's 14.6 points and 6.2 assists during his brief 35 games (25 starts) in New York are nothing special. Factoring in his competition to attain a starters role – including injured veteran Baron Davis and Toney Douglas – giving Lin a chance to play was labeled as a “desperation” move.
He only played 55 total minutes in the team's first 22 pages, per the Philadelphia Daily News.
The Knicks were quickly rewarded for their desperation, however, as Lin provided a spark that wasn't experienced in MSG since Larry Johnson's stadium-shaking four-point play.
By the All-Star break, Lin's impact became the latest fad in sports as he posted an average of 22.5 points and 8.7 assists in 12 starts – leading the Knicks to a 9-3 record in that time.
Superstars like Kobe Bryant were amazed at Lin's improved skillset, the defending champion Miami Heat argued over how to defend the Asian-American sensation. A player who went undrafted less than two years prior was arguably the most popular entity in basketball.
Much like Porzingis now, Lin experienced a coaching change himself when the Knicks replaced Mike D'Antoni with Mike Woodson after the All-Star break. But Lin only ended up playing under Woodson for a short period.
Lin suffered a small meniscus tear in late March 2012, opting to undergo surgery. There was hope that Lin could return by the end of the regular season, or possibly the playoffs, but the surgery ended his season.
Without Lin, the Knicks continued to their first playoff appearance since 2003-04, finishing the year with a 36-30 record – good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks met the Miami Heat in the first round, losing the series in five games.
Before the Knicks' season ended, Lin had nothing but high praise for the team that took a chance on him.
"I'm definitely comfortable here," Lin said to ESPN.
"I love New York, I love the fans. They gave me a chance, they believed in me. That's why I'm here today, so I owe a lot to this organization."
The New York Times referred to Lin as the Knicks' “most popular player in a decade,” but there was still doubt about his abilities.
All of his success came over a 25-game stretch and some believed he was a glorified bench player. Just as quickly as New York embraced Lin, he was out the door as the Knicks did not match a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet from the Houston Rockets – the same team that cut him before the birth of Linsanity.
In the four years since leaving, Lin has failed to recapture that special vibe and outside of his first full season in Houston, he has been relegated to bench duty.
Rise and rise
Porzingis and Lin's skills couldn't be more different. One, a talented shooter with the dream height of an NBA star.
The other, an average-sized point guard who relies on streaky shooting and sneaky passing. A lot of people have compared “Porzingis-Mania” to “Linsanity,” but more due to their sudden impact, rather than their similar style of play.
It was recently announced by the NBA that Porzingis' jersey is the fourth best seller in the league; behind Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant.
However, FOX Sports reported last month that Porzingis' jersey sales still don't match how quickly Lin merchandise flew off the shelves. It was an anomaly, it was unexpected, and the production certainly didn't match the name.
With Porzingis, he has quickly turned NYC into believers, the same people who booed him on draft night are now hailing him as savior.
But that may just a bit more credence to it, as Porzingis was a top draft pick when Lin wasn't even drafted.
The Knicks' fanbase was so hungry for playoff glory, they overrated a glorified bench player with innate turnover abilities into a superstar over a 25 start sample.
Team president Phil Jackson has stated that Porzingis is “untouchable” in regards to trade rumors.
Many see the 20-year-old as a cornerstone and somebody the Knicks will build around for years to come.
The Knicks have struggled to find a point guard to match Lin's productivity since his departure, but Porzingis' budding stardom will only grow to a height that's comparable to his own.
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