The Rookie of the Year battle in the NBA will be as close as it has been for some time. The general consensus is that the award will be a two-way fight between Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks and Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have both hit the ground running in the NBA.
The impact of Karl-Anthony Towns maybe hasn’t come as a huge surprise as he was the first pick in the draft and displayed his talent in college for the University of Kentucky.
Kristaps Porzingis, however, was a completely different story. The decision by the New York Knicks to draft the Latvian at number four didn’t go down well with some fans, who weren’t afraid to express their anger at the team deciding to draft a relatively unknown player from Europe following a disappointing season where they ended 17-65, the worst record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
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Porzingis was immediately under pressure and facing scrutiny, which wasn’t an ideal way for a rookie to begin his NBA career. Phil Jackson, the president of the New York Knicks, also took his fair share of criticism for drafting Porzingis but was always confident in his choice and, it’s fair to say, it proved to be the right one thus far. The 7-foot-3 Latvian is averaging 14 points, 7.7 rebounds and two blocks per game.
Porzingis, to his credit, took it all in his stride and has let his basketball do the talking, drawing plaudits across the league for his performances and skill-set. Just weeks into the season, NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson tweeted: “Knicks fans should applaud Phil Jackson for getting the steal of the draft”, a huge endorsement from a legend of the game.
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The 20-year-old quickly turned doubters into believers and has fans excited to watch basketball again at Madison Square Garden. Playing in the biggest market in the NBA has also seen him enjoy widespread media attention and popularity off the court.
Figures released of the highest selling jerseys from October 1, 2015, through December 31, 2015, on NBAStore.com, which had Porzingis at number four, ahead of established all-star players such as Kevin Durant and even his teammate Carmelo Anthony.It shows the power of the Big Apple and Porzingis is benefiting from this to build his image, even from a young age.
Karl-Anthony Towns, by comparison, is statistically having a better season than Porzingis. Towns, also 20, has recorded 31 double-doubles this season, the most among all rookies and is averaging 17 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.
Towns plays in one of the smallest markets in the NBA in Minnesota, so hasn’t generated as much media coverage and doesn’t have as many opportunities as his fellow rookie to showcase his skills to a national television audience.
He has quietly been going about his business with little fanfare and minimal media coverage, but his impressive individual performances have made people stand up and take notice.
While Towns is earning praise, Porzingis is earning deals as he is enjoying more marketing opportunities in New York. A recent article in the New York Post stated that “Porzingis’ endorsement potential appears limitless.”
Towns did, however, sign an endorsement deal with major sports brand Nike after being drafted. But this once again proves the power of playing in the NBA’s larger markets, which Porzingis will take full advantage of.
Both players are having fantastic rookie seasons, with Towns currently having the upper hand in terms of stats on the court, but Porzingis seems to be making more waves off of the court.
One clear similarity between both players is evident; they will be the future of their respective franchises.
Coming from the same draft class, many are predicting Towns and Porzingis will develop a friendly rivalry much like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
When the rookies met for the first time in December, Anthony himself said: “That matchup, that’s going to be here for a while.”
The exciting youngsters meet for the final time this season on Saturday in Minnesota in what should be another fascinating encounter between two players who are destined to dominate the NBA for years to come.