Kristaps Porziņģis: The Story of the “Unicorn”

Justice Herrick, Staff Writer

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Kristaps Porziņģis is a basketball player who currently plays for the NBA. He was drafted 4th overall by the New York Knicks and is currently playing for them today. He plays the 4 or 5 on the court. In simpler terms, that’s the Power Forward or the Center. Kristaps has been compared to Pau Gasol, during his career. Kristaps has had an interesting life and pro basketball career.

Kristaps was born on August 2,1995 in Liepāja, Latvia. He was born to Ingrīda Porziņģe and Talis Porzingis. His mother has played on the Latvian youth teams and coached. He also has two brothers named Janis and Martins. Janis is 32 years old and has played professionally in Europe for over a decade. Kristaps says that Janis is his mentor and has worked out with Janis regularly.  Martins tried to play professionally but ended up as a bus driver. His parents had also played basketball so at age 6 he took up the sport. But as early as age 1, he took an interest for the sport. As his mother recalls, “The first memory is when he was 1 years old,” Ingrida said. “His birthday he was asking, give me ball, ball, ball, ball, ball. And we got him a ball and a small basket and put it on the wall and he just started to dunk it straight away.” Ingrida said that Kristaps’ first word wasn’t “mom” or “dad,” it was “ball.” He would play in youth competitions until he was 15 years old.

Beginning in 2010, Kristaps began playing for the Baloncesto Sevilla, a youth Liga ACB team. He was accepted to a tryout because of youth basketball highlight videos. As Kristaps recalls, “I came here with my brother for two or three days, but it was really hot and I couldn’t play at my best because of that. Still, I received a contract in summer 2010 and I signed it” and “I am not going to lie: when I first got here for the tryout, I didn’t like it at all and I thought I would never come back. I went home, thought about it with my brother and agreed that it was a great opportunity for me to learn and play basketball in Spain. I changed my mind and really wanted to go back to Seville.” During the season, Kristaps was diagnosed with Anemia, which made him feel out of breath and an inability to exercise. Nevertheless, he overcame the diagnosis and continued playing basketball. He debuted for the team on January 4, 2012 against rival Barcelona. He recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in his first game. He played in two Nike International Junior Tournaments with his team losing both tournaments. In the 2012 tournament, he averaged 9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. In the 2013 tournament, he averaged 16.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks. He also had a .481 percentage on all 3 point attempts. After this tournament, he was accepted for the adult team, Cajasol Sevilla.

His first game was on January 16, 2013, 10 days after the youth tournament ended. He only played four minutes though. His first basket was on February 20th of that year. He said, after the game, “I was very nervous at the beginning: I wanted to do well and not pick up turnovers. At the same time, I got a lot of confidence with players of my same age. That allowed me to play better with the first team and practice with more confidence.” In his first season, he averaged 2.6 points per game and less than 1 on all other categories. In his second season, he averaged 6.7 points a game, 2.8 rebounds, and .9 blocks. In May of 2014, Kristaps was selected to the ACB All-Young Players Team. In his third season, on October 4, 2014, he made his season debut. During this season, he averaged 6.7 points per game, .9 blocks per game, and 2.8 rebounds per game. On April 15, 2015, Kristaps won the Euro Cup Rising Star Award. He also won the ACB All-Young Players Team again. Kristaps declared himself eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft. The Orlando Magic and the Oklahoma City Thunder were interested. They each were holding the 12th and 21st pick respectively. Many draft analysts believed Kristaps’ was a unfinished product and at best a top 15 pick. He withdrew shortly before draft day. One general manager had this to say about him: “He’s very talented. He wasn’t ready, but we would’ve seriously considered drafting him anyway. If he continues to develop his game, get more minutes and his body develops, I think he could be a top-five pick in 2015. He has that kind of talent.” He returned to Europe for one more year to gain more experience and playing time. In his final season in Europe, Kristaps scored 10.7 points a game, 1 block per game, and 4.8 rebounds.

Entering the 2015 NBA Draft, Porziņģis was seen as an top 5 pick by many people. Many scouts, general managers, and other figures had opinions on Kristaps before the draft. “…they became enamored with his rare combination of size, athleticism, ability to protect the rim and shooting range.” Also, “He’s an athletic, super-skilled 7-footer who can do everything well,” one GM said. “I was watching him warm up and had flashbacks to when I saw Pau Gasol take the floor for the first time in Spain, only this kid is much more athletic than Gasol but plays with that same fluidity. I’ve been asking my team since then: Are you sure he’s not the No. 1 guy? Are these guys in college really better than him?” Also a long time scout said, “He’s my favorite player in this draft. I keep telling my staff: This one is not like other international players. He’s the real deal. He’s special in all the ways a player can be special. He just needs to get stronger. That’s it. He’s going to be a big-time pro.” Many, before the draft, feared that Kristaps would become another famous draft bust. He responded by saying, “I don’t like being labeled soft,” Porzingis told Yahoo Sports. “I’m very hungry. I love the game. I’ve got to prove to coaches and GMs that I’m not soft just because I’m from Europe. They need to see that I’m not just some skinny white guy, that I’m going to be there fighting. They’ll need to see that I’m a worker who’s going to play hard, and play tough …” and “There are guys who have had incredible NBA careers – like Dirk [Nowitzki] and the Gasols [Pau and Marc] – and there are guys who haven’t. They’ll say, this guy is a bust. He’ll be Tskitishvili, this Georgian guy. Bargnani, Darko … That’s why I am talking, because I want the fear to go away with me. I want people to get to know me. I don’t want to be the mystery man from Europe. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski said, “Porzingis has an innate awareness about the way the American public sees a young, long European teenager. He comes to the NBA with the full understanding that popular basketball culture declares him guilty until proven innocent of the basketball crimes of Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Andrea Bargnani. He’s considered a stiff, a bust, a blown lottery pick until he doesn’t become one.” In the draft, he was chosen 4th overall by the New York Knicks. Immediately the pick was booed, fans believing they drafted a blown lottery pick. Kristaps became the highest drafted Latvian and Baltic player ever taken. In the second round, they selected Willy Hernangmez, a teammate of Kristaps’ from Sevilla. Many fans booed his selection but vowed that he would change their opinions quickly.

On July 30, 2015, Kristaps signed his first contract with the team. He decided to live with his mom and dad while playing for the Knicks. Porzingis, who said,”he does not drink, is living in a cocoon in White Plains with his parents from Latvia and his two brothers.” and continued to say, “My family’s around to make sure I’m doing the right thing and staying out of trouble and focused on basketball. For me, it’s great to have family around.’’ In his rookie debut, the Knickerbockers played the Milwaukee Bucks. He recorded 16 points and 5 rebounds. In his first 18 games, he was third in all rookies in scoring and second in rebounds and blocked shots. Kristaps won Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, December, and January. After a strong half the season, Kristaps was selected to the Rising Stars challenge during the All Star break. Playing for Team World, he scored 30 points and 5 rebounds. After a rookie season to remember, Kristaps averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game. Kristaps finished second in Rookie of the Year voting just behind Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns. He was also selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

Karl-Anthony Towns Minnesota Timberwolves
Kristaps Porziņģis New York Knicks
Devin Booker Phoenix Suns
Nikola Jokic Denver Nuggets
Jahil Okafor Philadelphia 76ers

Above was everyone selected to the All-Rookie First Team in the 2015-2016 season. Kristaps was also selected as the Latvian Rising Star of the Year. This award is for any sport not just basketball. Continuing into his second season as a pro, Kristaps wanted to improve on his stats. On November 16, 2016, Kristaps scored a career high 35 points in a 105-102 win against the Detroit Pistons. Currently, still in his second season, he is averaging 18.4 points per game, 2.0 blocks per game, and 7.2 rebounds per game. Hopefully, this kid keeps on playing good basketball and helps the Knicks turn it around.

Kristaps has many nicknames but the most popular one is “Unicorn”. The nickname originates from a comment made by superstar Kevin Durant, who currently plays for the Golden State Warriors. He said, “He can shoot, he can make the right plays, he can defend, he’s a 7-footer that can shoot all the way out to the 3-point line…” “That’s rare. And block shots—that’s like a unicorn in this league. “When they made the pick, I texted [Knicks head coach Derek Fisher] immediately and said ‘I like this kid, he can play.’ A lot of people were down on him, but he can play. He’s a skilled guy and I think we’ve gotten away from enjoying skilled players in this league. We get so many players that are athletic and big and strong, but he’s a skilled player.” Kristaps has fully embraced the nickname and many advertising companies use the nickname to describe him.

Kristaps Porziņģis is a rare European basketball player who can do all things effectively in the league. Due to his upbringing, he has had a successful professional basketball career so far. Many people have supported him after the draft and many are calling the Knicks to rebuild around him. He can be considered a savior in New York to bring this team a title. Hopefully someday, he can bring the Knicks its first championship since 1973!



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Kristaps Porziņģis: The Story of the “Unicorn”