- The New York Knicks beat the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday to win for the sixth time in seven games. Kristaps Porzingis once again played hero, scoring two baskets to give the Knicks the lead, all while playing center, a position he rarely plays. If Porzingis and the Knicks keep it up, he may enter the MVP conversation.
Kristaps Porzingis carried the New York Knicks to their sixth win in seven games on Tuesday, beating the Charlotte Hornets, 118-113.
Porzingis scored 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with 5 rebounds and 3 blocks, He also hit the go-ahead three-pointer in the final two minutes and the game-sealing layup with less than 20 seconds to go.
Perhaps most noteworthy of Porzingis’ late-game heroics was the position he was playing: center. Porzingis starts games and plays almost all of his minutes at power forward, the position he’s said he’s most comfortable playing. According to Basketball-Reference, Porzingis has played just 4% of his minutes at center, down from 21% last year.
When Porzingis checked into the fourth quarter with 5:34 remaining, he did so at center, surrounded by three other guards and one forward. That proved to be a game-changing adjustment by Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, as Porzingis got the better of Hornets center Dwight Howard.
Over the final 5:34, the Knicks outscored the Hornets 18-4, thanks in part to a suffocating defense and Porzingis’ heroics. In those five minutes, Porzingis drew two fouls on Howard, one of which led to crucial free throws. After one foul, Porzingis even threw a wink at Howard, knowing he had sold the contact.
Porzingis’ length helped as he defended the rim (rather than playing out on the perimeter) and swatted a shot by Kemba Walker after stellar defense by forward Lance Thomas.
Porzingis is also too versatile for most traditional centers to guard. On a late pick-and-pop, Howard sank back, expecting a drive, while Porzingis nailed the three.
Then, perhaps in an effort to get more speed and versatility on the floor, in the final seconds the Hornets went without a traditional big man. Porzingis abused the smaller Hornets on the game-sealing drive to the hoop.
A new MVP candidate
The Knicks, now 6-4, are tied for third in the Eastern Conference, a surprise to almost all NBA observers. After tthe Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony, many assumed they would tank the season and slowly rebuild around Porzingis. But Porzingis has been so good through 10 games that he’s spoiling those plans.
Over the last seven games, Porzingis has averaged 32 points per game on 54% shooting, 41% from three, with 7.6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. The Knicks are 6-1 in that stretch and have outscored opponents by 57 points with Porzingis on the floor.
If Porzingis and the Knicks keep this up, there may be a new name in the MVP conversation. Porzingis has proven that he can handle being the No. 1 player – now he has to prove he can sustain it. If he does and the Knicks continue to look like a playoff team, it’s arguable that there may not be any player more valuable to his team.