The idea of Kristaps Porzingis playing center has always stimulated drooling from scouts and analytics nerds. At his height, with his skillset, it seems a natural fit in today’s NBA — an opportunity for the Knicks to overwhelm the opposition with size, athleticism and spacing.
“His position of the future,” says an Eastern Conference scout.
Only one problem. Porzingis would rather play power forward. And it has everything to do with defense.
“I think it’s better for us,” Porzingis said Wednesday. “Me at the 4, especially if I’m playing against a non-shooting 4, I can do a lot. When I’m playing against the 5, I’m fighting with the big a lot of times and I’m wasting a lot of energy. Obviously, offensively I have an advantage at center, but I’m just more comfortable playing at the 4.”
This is not really a new stance from Porzingis, but his time in the NBA has only reinforced the preference. He has been more vocal about his displeasure with banging in the paint with the likes of Timofey Mozgov and Dwight Howard. And in a related note, playing power forward can help preserve the health of a player who has already proven susceptible to injury.
Kristaps Porzingis plays center a bit during the Knicks’ preseason opener against the Nets.
The Knicks feel the same way about Porzingis, which is why they signed Joakim Noah to a lucrative contract, touted Willy Hernangomez as a core piece and acquired Enes Kanter from OKC. They will carry four centers on the roster, and all of them are puny next to Porzingis.
“Fours are usually smaller, and I can shoot over them easier,” Porzingis said. “If it’s a non-shooter at power forward, then I can be under the rim on defense and protecting the rim and that’s what I love.
“I’m just more used to playing at the 4.”
There are match ups where Porzingis towers over the opposing starting power forward by eight inches. The problem is that he hasn’t developed a post-game to take full advantage.
Kristaps Porzingis puts up a shot against Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Jeff Hornacek has experimented with playing Porzingis at center, largely without success. He gave it another try in Tuesday’s preseason game against the Nets, a 115-107 defeat that did nothing to dispel the notion that the Knicks will be terrible defensively.
Trailing by 11 in the third quarter, Hornacek used Porzingis at center next to Courtney Lee and Doug McDermott. The four-minute test finished with the Knicks getting outscored, 11-8.
“I hadn’t planned on it, but the way the game was going I said, ‘Let’s just give KP a couple minutes at the five and go small,’” Hornacek said. “We hadn’t practiced that.”
Porzingis is open to moving to center, but he’d prefer not to. It’s hard to envision the Knicks making that change for anything longer than a few minutes.
“If we need to go small, then I have to change a little bit my mindset when I have to go every time and there are four guys on the perimeter. So I have to be able to adjust to different situations,” he said.