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Porzingis' lone stat rival? Only a young LeBron can compare

Kristaps Porzingis and LeBron James are in an elite club. They're the only players in NBA history to amass 1,000 rebounds, 150 made 3s and 100 blocks in their first two seasons. The list of players who've compiled 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 250 blocks and 100 made 3-pointers in their first two seasons is even smaller.

It's only Porzingis. That's it. Maybe it's that unique profile -- a never-seen-before blend of height, shooting and shot-blocking -- that has landed Porzingis at No. 22 in ESPN's #NBArank. Does he deserve to be ranked in the top 25 at this point in his career? That's certainly up for debate. Porzingis is surrounded by the likes of Klay Thompson (19), Gordon Hayward (20), Mike Conley (23) and Blake Griffin (24) on the list. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether he deserves to be in the same sentence as those stars. His numbers last season were solid (18.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG) but not spectacular.

Kristaps Porzingis. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
But if the 22-year-old makes the kind of leap that the Knicks are hoping for this season, his ranking might seem more appropriate in a few months. Porzingis made significant increases in field goal percentage and per-game scoring from Year 1 to Year 2, so there's reason to believe he can make a similar jump this season. Can he make the kind of jump that puts him in the league's 95th percentile? That probably depends on his pecking order in the Knicks' offense. Last year, Porzingis ranked third in usage behind Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. It seems, at this point, as if Anthony will be with the Knicks through at least the early part of the season. And as long as Anthony is in New York, Porzingis won't be the Knicks' clear No. 1 scoring option.

That idea might upset some Knicks fans who want to see a slow rebuild around Porzingis and the young core in New York. But there are people around the league who believe that Porzingis could be better off playing with Anthony -- or another No. 1 scorer -- for at least one more season.

Doing so would give him more time to develop before he faces the nightly focus of NBA defenses. It would also shield him from the scrutiny that comes with being the face of the Knicks. If and when Anthony is traded, Porzingis will become the primary target for opposing defenses. Is he ready for that task? Last year, New York went 1-5 when Porzingis was in the lineup and Anthony wasn't. As FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring pointed out earlier this week, the Knicks were a bottom-five offense when Porzingis was on the floor without Anthony.

Porzingis' individual numbers weren't bad when Anthony was out (14.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, 45 percent shooting). But it would be understandable if, based on last season, people wondered whether Porzingis was ready to assume a leading role for the Knicks. The numbers above, though, need some further context:

    1. The Knicks won only 31 games last season, so it's not as if Porzingis was surrounded by elite talent when Anthony was out.

    2. The club was also running the triangle offense -- an approach that many said hindered the team's ability on that end of the floor. It's reasonable to think that Jeff Hornacek's offense this season will give Porzingis some easier looks at the basket. Just as they did last season, Hornacek and the Knicks want to push the pace this season and, per league sources, would like to see Porzingis at center more frequently (he spent roughly 20 percent of his minutes at center last season, per 82games.com).

    3. It looks as if Porzingis has added significant muscle to his frame this offseason, one of his stated goals heading into the summer. So he might be better equipped to hold position in the post and to handle the grueling nature of an 82-game season (Porzingis has missed an average of 13 games per season over the past two years.)

Also worth noting: Porzingis thrived as the No. 1 option for the Latvian national team in the European Championships, scoring 23.6 points in 27 minutes and shooting 53 percent from the field. He led the tournament in blocks per game (1.9) -- though ranked just 20th in rebounding (5.9 per game).

Can Porzingis' Eurobasket success translate to the NBA? That's difficult to predict.

Some players' strong Eurobasket numbers have been a precursor to good NBA campaigns. Goran Dragic finished in the top five in scoring and assists in the 2013 tournament and won the NBA's Most Improved Player award in the following season.

Can Porzingis follow a similar path? It's certainly possible. Can he establish himself as one of the top 25 players in the NBA? That's another intriguing question, and one we'll have an answer to in the coming months.

Author: Ian Begley, ESPN
Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/page/nbarankporzingis/why-kristaps-porzingis-soars-nbarank

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