Kristaps Porzingis at first sounded sheepish when informed on Friday night that former Knicks center Tyson Chandler believes the third-year forward has a “real shot” to become the best player in the NBA.
One day later, Porzingis, whose electrifying 37-point showing in Friday’s blowout win over Chandler and the Suns marked his sixth 30-point performance in eight games this season, definitely seemed to be warming to the idea.
“Those are some big words coming from him. I believe so, too. I believe so, too,” Porzingis said on Saturday. “And that’s something I’m going to work towards.”
Porzingis actually didn’t participate in the team’s practice session due to a sore left ankle suffered against Phoenix, but he expects to be on the Garden court when the Knicks look to improve on their 4-4 record on Sunday night against Indiana.
After Porzingis professed his love for New York and a desire to remain a Knick “for a long time” on the heels of published comments to the contrary by his brother and agent Janis, the home crowd was abuzz throughout the 7-foot-3 Latvian’s performance on Friday.
That never was truer than during the late-game sequence in which he swatted away a shot on one end of the court and finished the play with an emphatic one-handed dunk at the other end.
Asked if he thought that was one of the more exciting moments at the Garden in years, Porzingis smiled and replied, “I mean, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on there outside of basketball. I’m not sure you can say that. But that was one of the loudest I’ve heard Madison Square Garden in a long time from my three years.”
With his rising star averaging 29 points per game, even Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek didn’t dismiss Chandler’s proclamation projecting the 22-year-old Porzingis’ possible future atop the game’s elite.
“Why not? When you’re 7-3 and have the skills that he has and doing it on both sides of the ball, you’re going to be put up as one of the best players in the league,” Hornacek said. “KP has that drive. Not a lot of guys have that drive. If they do, they don’t want to put the effort in to get there. He goes. He’s worked hard in the summer. He’s so young, he’s going to get better and better.”
Of course, there were legitimate questions how Porzingis would handle the role he inherited this season as the Knicks’ primary offensive option after Carmelo Anthony was traded to Oklahoma City just before the start of training camp.
He’s certainly off to an impressive start in answering them.
“We knew he had the talent to do it. When you become that guy and the focus is on you, that was our hope he’d do that,” Hornacek said. “It’s panned out. That’s to his credit. Playing in (the) EuroBasket (tournament over the summer) made a big difference of (Porzingis) being the main guy. He knew could translate it when he comes here.
“He’s enjoying that role, and has the confidence to do it. You’re always surprised when a guy comes out scoring 30 every night, but in a way you’re not surprised.”
In turn, the Knicks have been among the early surprise teams in the NBA in winning four of five following an 0-3 start.
Porzingis hopes they can surprise all the way to their first postseason berth since 2013.
“Win as many games as we can. When half the season is played or more, then we can start thinking about more stuff,” he said. “I said before the season the goal for me would be to make the playoffs and get that playoff taste. That would be a good experience. Right now, we’re just going game by game … But I like so far what I’ve seen.”
What he doesn’t like is the notion that the Knicks’ future would be better served by another trip to the draft lottery, not the playoffs.
“That’s not how I look at it. We want to win as many games as we can,” Porzingis said. “That’s not how I think it’s right. I think we have a good enough team to make the playoffs. I didn’t make the playoffs my first three years. This year if we can do it, it would be a step forward.
“We want to keep building. That step forward will draw more attention to the team and we can keep building, also. (Playing for the lottery) is not what I think is right.”