The honeymoon is over, but Knicks’ unicorn still needs time to grow


Every now and again, it’s good to take a look at Kristaps Porzingis’ bio, which reminds you that he was born on Aug. 2, 1995.

When Patrick Ewing, to name one, was 22 years and 188 days old — Porzingis’ exact age heading into Tuesday night’s Knicks game with the Bucks — it was Feb. 9, 1985, and Ewing scored nine points and added 10 blocked shots in Georgetown’s 78-68 win over Boston College at the Boston Garden.

His coach at the time, John Thompson, said, “The grind of the long season caught up to Patrick a little tonight.” It was Georgetown’s 18th game of the season.

OK, so it’s hardly a news flash that basketball now and basketball then are completely different entities. Players arrive younger and are expected to evolve faster in 2018, and nothing is going to halt that essential truth. And so more is expected earlier in a player’s calendar.

And when you happen to have an entire city’s basketball interests wrapped up in your development, even at 22 years and 188 days?

“I think that has to be taken into consideration,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said a few hours before tip-off Tuesday, speaking of his baby-faced franchise player whose baby face isn’t all that surprising given the date on his birth certificate. “I’m not saying that as any kind of excuse. Just as an explanation.”

It is also easy to forget Porzingis was averaging 22.9 points per game and led the NBA in blocks heading into Tuesday night, because as Porzingis and New York have emerged from their extended mutual honeymoon, it has become sport to focus on the things Porzingis can’t do. He isn’t as strong a rebounder as an athletic 7-foot-3 player should be. He doesn’t pass the ball well. His stamina remains a question mark.

From unicorn to object of scorn. It happens pretty quickly.

“We do take a lot of things for granted with younger players today,” Hornacek said. “Back when I was playing, most of us played four years in college and we were 22, 23 years old before we ever played our first [NBA] game. When you’re 22, you’re still figuring a lot of things out, and not just basketball. As you get older, certain things come easier.”

He smiled.

“There are still lots of guys who become stars a little later on,” Hornacek said. “How long did it take Steph Curry?”

Step Curry averaged 18.6 points a game in his second season with the Warriors.

It’s a fair question. Curry didn’t only have three years (and 104 games) of college ball at Davidson under his belt by the time he arrived in the NBA, he was also a less-than-imposing figure physically who had his own issues staying healthy and kept spraining his ankles.

When Curry was 22 years and 188 days old, he was in the middle of training camp for his third season at Golden State, a year in which he was limited to 24 games and his team finished 23-43. It didn’t happen overnight for him, either.

Part of Porzingis’ problem, of course, is that he accelerated his own timeline by being so precocious so early, by showing such skill as a rookie, by sprinting out of the gate so quickly this season, those early Garden chants of “MVP!” didn’t seem nearly as forced as they would become.

He has had growing pains this year, same as his first two seasons. He has missed games with injury. He has shown a willingness to clear his throat and have his voice be heard, though not always to great effect. And we’ve reached the point where the Garden doesn’t swoon over every little thing he does well, and no longer silently looks the other way when he errs.

He isn’t getting the Melo treatment. Not yet, anyway.

But the honeymoon is over. His probation period is done. Knicks fans want him to be what he’s going to be, immediately. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way. Sometimes kids need time to develop into men, and good players need time to become great. The waiting for that isn’t easy. But, then, it never is.



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