By Sandy Mui
Published: February 22nd, 2017
This past weekend, the NBA hosted its annual All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Among the All-Star festivities were the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge and Taco Bell Skills Challenge, two events where New York Knicks’ sophomore Kristaps Porzingis displayed unworldly talent.
In a 150-141 victory for Team World over Team USA, Porzingis scored 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds. His evening was highlighted by what he’s most known for: emphatic slams, shots from way behind the arc, and cheesy smiles on every successful play.
Even in a solid showing alongside other young talent in the NBA, the Latvian big man was perhaps most surprising in the Skills Challenge. Porzingis beat out the best players the league has to offer in skills like dribbling, passing, and shooting. In the final round, he seamlessly worked his way through the obstacle course, hitting every component perfectly, and shockingly eliminating Utah Jazz superstar Gordon Hayward.
Despite clearly not getting much of a break during All-Star Weekend, Porzingis’ accomplishments should serve as a huge confidence boost for him, considering the fact that his play has been rather disappointing as of late.
Amidst all the Knicks’ glaring drama this season, fans have hoped that Porzingis’ development would serve as a silver lining. The “Unicorn,” a nickname given to Porzingis by Kevin Durant, came off an impressive rookie campaign, in which he averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. And while his production is up in his sophomore year, his numbers are far below expectations.
Porzingis started off the season strong, posting 20.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks through his first 20 games, helping the Knicks propel to a 11-10 record. However, as the year progressed, the 21-year-old battled one struggle after another, ranging from injuries to simply growing pains as a young player in the NBA. Recently, Complex released its list of the nine most disappointing NBA players, which included Porzingis, and cited his issues with foul trouble as a major reason.
Porzingis averages more fouls than anyone in the NBA and consequently, he’s already fouled out five times this season. Even when he hasn’t fouled out, he’s accumulated five fouls in nine games. These 14 games are nearly one-fourth of the Knicks’ season thus far, and that’s alarming, seeing that Porzingis has not played in every contest. The Knicks need him to be their second superstar behind Carmelo Anthony, and he just hasn’t been able to provide that caliber of play.
In the new year, Porzingis missed seven games, and his production took a dip. Over the past month he’s tallying only about 15 points per game, which is almost four points below his season average. Additionally, his foul troubles have only worsened—he’s averaging 4.2 fouls per game.
No one is unhappier with Porzingis’s struggles than the man himself. Prior to the Rising Stars Challenge, he told Newsday that it’s been difficult to find his rhythm in the Knicks’ offense after dealing with a left Achilles tendon issue and a recent stomach illness.
“I’ve been up and down a little bit,” Porzingis said. “I haven’t been consistent. I’m just trying to get back in my rhythm, trying to play the right way.”
Hopefully, his performance during All-Star Weekend will help him snap out of his slump and discover his rhythm again. Porzingis’ accolades during the break serve as a reminder to him, the Knicks, and fans about the kind of player he can be when he’s playing at his best. He is undoubtedly talented, and he didn’t need to win the Skills Challenge or post a double-double in the Rising Stars Challenge to show everyone that.
Porzingis is a key part to the Knicks’ success, and every remaining game will be important for him and the team. Though they sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks may still be in the playoff picture, just four games behind the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons. There’s no better time for New York to get its dazzling “Unicorn” back.