Is Kristaps Porzingis a Legitimate Rookie of the Year Contender?

Knicks fans were unhappy with his selection in the draft, but could Porzingis win the Rookie of the Year award?

On June 25, 2015 Kristaps Porzingis was showered with the typical New York welcoming cry: a relentless torrent of boos.

The then-19-year-old Latvian stayed surprisingly calm in the face of derision, saying it was "on [him] to turn those booing fans into clapping fans."

Stephen A. Smith  reported that superstar Carmelo Anthony felt betrayed by Phil Jackson in making the Porzingis pick, implying that Porzingis was more of a project and the Knicks were in win-now mode.

Without getting into the merits of defending the pick -- specifically the idea that a 17-win team was going to become an instant title contender with any player they picked in that draft -- Porzingis' reputation as a European player preceded him. Fresh off the disappointing Andrea Bargnani experience, and with memories of Frederic Weis still haunting the New York faithful, the idea of banking on another European player seemed foolhardy to some.

But, only eight games into his career, Porzingis is already starting to show he might not be a stereotypical European ball player. The self-professed hip-hop head is quickly becoming a guy hoops fans are looking at not just in the Mecca of Basketball but all over the world.

The Defense

Conventional wisdom on the European player has been that they are weak on defense.

For Porzingis so far, that has not been the case. According to, among rookies, Porzingis has been exceptional defensively against his defensive assignment. The below charts rookies who have faced at least seven shots per game and have played in at least six games this season.

Player Shots Faced Per Game FG% Differential
Karl-Anthony Towns 14.3 -13.1%
Justise Winslow 9.5 -7.2%
Nikola Jokic 7.3 -4.8%
Kristaps Porzingis 9.9 -3.7%
Emmanuel Mudiay 13.0 -2.2%

Players are shooting 3.7% worse against Porzingis than average on nearly 10 shots per game. For a guy who had to overcome the reputation of porous defense, those numbers are pretty good.

Porzingis' on-off splits have been exceptional on the defensive end as well. According to, through eight games, when Porzingis is on the court, the Knicks are much better defensively than when he is off.

Porzingis Splits Defensive Rating Opp. Offensive Rebounding %
On-Court 99.4 23.8
Off-Court 108.3 27.6
Difference -8.9 -2.8

Essentially, while Porzingis is on the court, the other team's scoring and offensive rebounding has been significantly worse. Teams are scoring nearly 9 fewer points per 100 possessions with Porzingis on the floor than they are with him off of it. They are also grabbing fewer offensive rebounding opportunities.

The Knicks are just better on the defensive end when Porzingis is in the game.

While these numbers are a bit skewed -- Porzingis is a starter and the season is still young -- at least we can garner from this that Porzingis has not been an extreme liability defensively. He has had foul trouble and currently leads the league with 32 fouls, but overall, his defense has been solid.

The Offense

Offense was supposed to be Porzingis' bread and butter coming into the league.

On the glass, Porzingis has been exceptional and currently sits second in the league in total offensive rebounds with 28 -- behind only the monster that is Andre Drummond. The Knicks have also been markedly better on the offensive glass with Porzingis on the floor. When Porzingis is on the floor the Knicks are grabbing 34.5% of their offensive rebound opportunities. When Porzingis is on the bench, the Knicks are grabbing just 22.3% of potential offensive rebounds. Porznigis has been much more aggressive on the glass than many fans probably expected.

The problem for Porzingis has really been his shooting, where he was supposed to excel. Porzingis is only shooting 21.7% on three-pointers so far; he shot 31.3% from three-point land last year for Sevilla. He's also only shooting 43.8% on two-point field goals, down from 53.1% last year.

For a guy with what Draft Express called "beautiful shooting mechanics," Porzingis' stroke just has not translated so far to the NBA.

We could expect that to get better with time, just because his jumper was the major selling point on Porzingis. But, interestingly, his jump shot has been the piece he's struggled with the most in his assimilation to the league.

But Can He Compete for Rookie of the Year?

Porzingis could be realistically in the hunt for rookie of the year, if he can turn his shooting and fouling around. Per 36 minutes, Porzingis is comparing favorably to both Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor.

Per-36 Splits Min/Gm Points Rebounds Off Rebounds Fouls
Kristaps Porzingis 23.8 17.8 12.5 5.3 6.1
Karl-Anthony Towns 29.0 19.9 12.9 3.0 4.4
Jahlil Okafor 33.9 21.1 7.3 2.6 3.2

The numbers on a per-36 minute basis are really solid for Porzingis especially when compared to the other two rookie of the year front runners.

If and when Porzingis' shooting gets on track, his points per-36 should shoot up, and if he can get his fouling under control, he should be able to get his minutes up as well. Defensively, Porzingis has not been exposed, which should be a feather in his cap as voters become more aware of a player's impact on the defensive end.

There's definitely an opportunity here for Porzingis to make a serious run at rookie of the year.