The Knicks Can't Win a Kristaps Porzingis Trade
But if you removed all other context and simply fast forwarded to 2017 to find that team president Phil Jackson was open to trading Porzingis after just two seasons, all of your worst fears probably would have been realized. In this alternate reality, he would assuredly be a bust, and Jackson would be trying to get anything he could in return.
The problem is that Porzingis has wildly outperformed expectations. And, no, it's not just that he's been better than awful, like a sizable contingent of Knicks' fandom anticipated he would be.
Porzingis has flat out been one of the best young players ever, and it's hard to envision a realistic scenario in which the Knicks win a trade by giving up Porzingis.
Porzingis is just 21 years old and turns 22 on August 2nd. Through his two NBA seasons (138 games), he has averaged 16.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game.
Per 100 possessions (to help adjust for pace and minutes), those marks are 26.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks.
Here is the list of players to accomplish that baseline before their age-22 season and their points, rebounds, and blocks per 100 possessions as well as their effective field goal percentages and win shares per 48 minutes rates.
|Per 100 Possessions Before Age 22||Points||Rebounds||Blocks||eFG%||Win Shares/48|
I mean. Seriously.
What can you honestly get in return that's more promising than that kind of start?
Porzingis doesn't excel only on the offensive side of the floor, either, and it's not just flashy shot blocking that makes him look stout defensively.
Nobody contested more field goals defensively than Porzingis did last season (16.5 per game), and he allowed opponents (who normally shot 46.4%) to convert just 42.2% of field goals against him, one of the 10-best differentials among non-guards who defended at least 10 attempts per game.
What else does he need to do to enter can't-trade territory?
It's honestly probably more helpful to talk more about what Porzingis doesn't do well than what he does do well, but shortcomings are tough to come across.
In 2016-17, Porzingis graded out in the 30th percentile in post-up scoring on a per-possession basis (though he was top-12 in efficiency on post touches rather than just post-up plays). You can knock him for not being a back-to-the-basket player, but you can't say he can't score at the rim. He shot 64.3% from within five feet this year, an above-average rate.
The most glaring stat is that the Knicks were outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions with Porzingis on the floor last season.
Among the other 2,000-plus minute players on the team, that was actually the best mark. They were -5.0 with Carmelo Anthony, -4.9 with Courtney Lee, and -3.9 with Derrick Rose. In fact, no Knick had a positive impact on the team while on the floor.
The point is that you really have to dig deep to find flaws with Porzingis, and even then you have to overlook the fact that he was drafted with the intent to develop over a few years.
None of this so far touches on off-court issues, such as attitude or even injuries if you want to separate them from on-court performance.
There's actually some sentiment that Porzingis, who has missed 26 games in his two NBA seasons, is an injury risk. Injury concerns didn't stop the Knicks from trading for Rose or signing Joakim Noah (for $72.6 million guaranteed, no less) last offseason, so that's a weird place to draw a line with a player as talented as Porzingis is.
Ostensibly the primary red flag is Porzingis' attitude, most notably in the form of Porzingis' decision to skip his exit interview this season. Now, I'm not condoning Porzingis' decision to break with team etiquette or anything, but with the circus that is the Knicks' front office, it's at least understandable to make such a bold statement by skipping out.
In response to the missed meeting, Phil Jackson said that he "[doesn't] think [he's] ever had a player over 25 years of coaching, maybe 30, not coming to an exit meeting."
But Shaquille O'Neal did it twice -- in different ways. In 2003, O'Neal apparently erred and had his meeting rescheduled. In 2004, O'Neal canceled his exit interview and played the following season with the Miami Heat.
This situation looks more in line with 2004, suggesting a trade really is in the cards. If that's the case, what is Porzingis worth?
A Proper Asking Price
It's clear that Jackson is interested in the future of the franchise (the real irony being that Jackson selected Porzingis fourth overall fully expecting to wait a few years for him to reach his potential).
For some clarity on what he'd be expecting in return, Jackson threw out the possibility of flipping Porzingis for two starters and a pick (possibly more).
For a 31-win team, two starters and a top-end rookie could possibly help stop the bleeding in the short-term, but that ignores the fact that Porzingis is under team control through 2019, when he's a restricted free agent, and that the Knicks own the eighth pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent history.
But, hey, when you have the chance to trade a "once-in-a-lifetime" selection (Phil Jackson's words regarding Porzingis) who is on the path to be exactly that for two starters and a pick rather than to regain enough of a semblance of organizational professionalism that your franchise player is willing to have an exit meeting with you, you have to do it -- if you're the Knicks.