Watch Kristaps Porzingis play — the way he can score in the paint, knock down threes, and get blocked shots — and it’s easy to think he’s the Knicks’ future at center. He’d be a matchup nightmare — he already leads the team in blocks (KP had seven in one game against the Lakers a few weeks back), he can play inside but can also knock down threes. He’d need a rebounding, dirty-work four next to him, but Porzingis at the five running the floor with Derrick Rose/Brandon Jennings, Courtney Lee and company seems a threatening lineup that may be the ultimate direction for New York.
Except, coach Jeff Hornacek doesn’t want to go there.
The Knicks’ coach told Stefan Bondy at the New York Daily News said he wants Porzingis at the four and to use a traditional center next to him.
“That’s an option we’ve gone to sometimes. Sometimes it’s worked, sometimes it hasn’t been great,” the coach said. “So we want the big guys. Sometimes when we take those guys out our protection at the basket isn’t as good. That puts a bigger emphasis on our guys outside to have to stop the penetration. Because KP can block shots in there, but then his man may be doing stuff on the weak side. So I think we’re better in the long run when you have two big guys down there — KP and somebody else defensively.”
“We have three capable centers in Jo and Kyle and Willy played really well in Denver so if we play KP more at the 5 it kind of takes away those minutes,” Hornacek said.
Those three bigs are Joakim Noah, Kyle O’Quinn, and Willy Hernangomez, and Horacek has used all three fairly regularly. Porzingis is basically treated as a stretch four, albeit one who can block shots. He’s gotten run at the five with Jennings and had success, but it such a small sample size it’s hard to read too much into it.
Porzingis at center isn’t going to work against every team and every lineup — he’s going to struggle to defend guys like Andre Drummond, for example — but it can cause a lot more problems for the opposing team most nights than it creates. New York just seems loathe to embrace that, and when you have Noah aging before your eyes, of course, you want to get him as much run as possible. Why not use Porzingis at the five sort of like a death lineup for 10-14 minutes a night? Try it with different combinations.
You can watch Porzingis use his 7’3″ frame to try to block shots from the lilliputian Isaiah Thomas on Christmas Day. That will be entertaining. And with the Celtics, you can see what an offense looks like when the center can space the floor.