As the 2014-15 NBA season came to a close, Knick fans were once again disappointed with the dismal performance by their team.
A 17-65 record meant no playoff appearance for the second straight year and last place in the Eastern Conference.
Looking forward, the only hope that glimmered for Knick fans was a chance at the first overall pick in the 2015 draft.
But as history goes, luck was not on the Knicks' side as they were slotted with the fourth overall pick in the NBA lottery, limiting their chances in acquiring a top-shelf player.
With the top two draft choices, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, likely selected before the Knicks selection, it seemed the Knicks were destined to draft a good, but not great player.
Little did Knick fans know the trick that team president and NBA coaching legend Phil Jackson had up his sleeve. Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot-3-inch 220 lb 20-year-old, tucked away in the small Northern European country of Latvia, was Jackson’s hidden secret.
In an interview with Sirius XM NBA Radio, Jackson said of Porzingis, “There's the magical element to this young man that has caught the admiration, I think, of the fan base here in New York City and people around the country that do follow the Knicks.”
Cultivating the New York fan base isn’t something that is easy to do, but Porzingis has done just that in a few months. The lanky power forward has turned some of his biggest doubters into his biggest supporters.
In late June at Barclays’ Center in Brooklyn, where Porzingis was drafted, a young Knick fan was caught on the ESPN broadcast with tears streaming down his face because of the “no-name” foreigner the Knicks selected.
Just a few months later, in mid-December, that same kid was spotted wearing a Porzingis jersey and the two were able to take a picture together at Madison Square Garden.
What makes Porzingis a fan favorite was his instant impact defensively on the court. The dominating defender's blocked shots and ferocious dunks go viral almost every night he plays, making it easy for him to connect with the younger fan base on social media.
“Porzingis is the only reason I follow the Knicks; he makes them enjoyable to watch because he is a playmaker on the court,” said Ramapo senior Steve Spanopoulos.
The quick turnaround from last year is due in large part to Porzingis’ gritty effort. After the first two months of the season, he ranked second among all rookies in blocked shots (1.9) and rebounds per game (9.3).
Through 47 games the Knicks hold a 22-25 record, and are just two games back of the Pacers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. That is a far cry away from last year when they were 9-38 after 47 games.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, teammate Carmelo Anthony said, “The kid [Porzingis] has an aura about him.”
That aura seems to have inspired his teammates as Porzingis is now the focal point of the team, taking that role from the veteran Anthony.
The Knicks will face an uphill battle trying to make the playoffs with 35 games left, but rest assured they will be in contention until the end as long as Porzingis stays on the court.