The New York Knicks might have lost their first two games of the new season, but Kristaps Porzingis is off to a blazing-hot start.
In the season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 7’3”, 240-pound star put up 31 points on 11-of-25 shooting along with 12 rebounds, an assist and a block over 38 minutes.
He followed that performance up by dropping 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting along with five boards, two dimes, a block and a steal over 35 minutes against the Detroit Pistons.
Judging by his usage over the first two contests, the 22-year-old Latvian is likely in store for a career-best campaign with an obvious chance to blow his averages of 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game from last season out of the water.
Porzingis is truly a unicorn in today’s NBA. Not only is he the tallest active player in the league, but he spends most of his time on the perimeter offensively, where he can knock down threes with the touch of a guard. However, he has been susceptible to increased fatigue over the course of each of his first two seasons.
In an effort to find out why his production progressively faded over his first two seasons, he traveled to Spain this summer to undergo an in-depth physical exam.
"I was like a rabbit," he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. "I was doing all kinds of stuff. Running all day. They were killing me, putting things on (my chest), taking blood.”
After the exam, the result was conclusive: Porzingis was simply pushing himself too hard in practice and in workouts and didn’t have enough energy left during games.
“It’s going to be key for me this season — not overtraining,’’ Porzingis said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. “Not coming in super early in the morning after a game to get a workout in. That doesn’t help my weight either. I keep losing weight. Those things add up and by the end of the season, I’m drained.’’
“The doctor said it,’’ he added. “My resistance is good. I don’t need to be running ten miles a day. I have to keep lifting weights to keep strength and getting enough rest as possible.”
Oddly enough, Porzingis’ production was solid towards the end of last season, as he averaged 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in 33.4 minutes per game in the month of March. But, he missed the team’s final five games with back spasms and struggled (up to his standards) in the months of January and February, where he averaged 13.9 points and 4.3 rebounds over 29.0 minutes and 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds over 29.1 minutes respectively.
Despite the findings, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek was a bit surprised, but he vowed to make keeping his star fresh a major priority.
"Well, I don't have our trainers and doctors telling us that," Hornacek noted, per Bondy. "But we have to be alert to days before the game. He is a big guy and we need him out there for the games. But you can get better in practice. When you get going in the season, it's going to be awful hard to have big practices the day before the game. It's going to be every other day and stuff like that. He'll get plenty of rest on those days.”
Despite his past, Porzingis believes he's now a new man.
"Even with this long summer with the national team, I feel great and fresh and able to recover faster after games. It's going to be key for me this season. Not overtraining," he said, via Bondy.
As for maintaining his 32.0 point-per-game scoring average? That's not a problem.
“I believe so,’’ he said, per Berman. “That’s what I’m going to try to do. Thirty a game, that’s tough. But I want to be productive. I want to shoot high percentages. That way I’ll help the team win. But it’s not about scoring 30 every night. It’s about getting wins. Whatever it takes to win. That’s the mindset.”
So, while it may be a depressing year for Knicks fans as the team rebuilds, at least they might get a look at Porzingis with the ball in his hands all season long.
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