Hopes for a playoff run were not high in New York after the Knicks lost their third straight game to the Atlanta Hawks, the worst team in the Eastern Conference, but they were completely dashed in the next game after All-Star Kristaps Porzingis went down with an injury. Again.
Porzingis tore his ACL in the second quarter of a home game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 6, adding to a season in which he has already missed seven games from injury.
The Knicks, sitting at 23-31 heading into the game in which Porzingis suffered the injury, weren’t having a fantastic season, but they were only a handful of games away from a playoff spot, and they had their first All-Star since David Lee was selected in 2010.
Even more promising was the potential that Porzingis brought to the future of the organization. At only 22 years old, Porzingis was putting up 22.7 points per game and a league-leading 2.4 blocks per game. He was known among fans and the media as “The Unicorn” because of his rare ability to defend the paint and make shots from deep, a combination that is rare for someone of his size.
What’s more important is that he is emerging as the face of New York basketball, just as James Harden is the centerpiece of the Houston Rockets or Russell Westbrook is the star of Oklahoma City Thunder. Nothing energizes fans like having a player on their team that consistently appears in highlights and is a household name.
Porzingis’ popularity especially exploded during the first half of the 2017-18 season, when he led his team to unexpected wins over teams such as the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors and Thunder. Between October and December, his jersey was the fifth best-selling jersey in the NBA. There is no question that Porzingis will have a bright future.
If he can stay healthy.
Since playing 72 games his rookie season, Porzingis will now only average 57 games over the past two seasons, missing games from sprained ankles, back problems, illness, knee irritation and now his ACL.
Without Porzingis, the Knicks are an abysmal 1-10.
It is unlikely they will suddenly improve during the remainder of the season. A lot of the Knicks’ success is clearly reliant on Porzingis’ health and, considering his inability to remain healthy, that is a huge gamble. An inconsistent player is a bad investment, but so is a player who is consistently injured.
Porzingis’ ACL tear also raises questions about whether an emerging star can lead the organization when he routinely misses games. The expected timeline for his return is 10 months, meaning he’ll miss the first handful of games next season.
While it is unclear if Porzingis will stay healthy enough to lead the Knicks to the playoffs next year, there is hope.
A poor finish this year will allow the Knicks a better chance at securing a top-five draft pick to join Porzingis on the court next year. Plus, fellow international sensation Frank Ntilikina can continue to improve upon what has been a promising rookie campaign.
Porzingis, however, is the Knicks’ present and future. And if his health wavers, so will his team.