New York Knicks: Hernangomez And Porzingis Are Frontcourt Of The Future

Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis gave fans a glimpse of the future in the New York Knicks’ narrow  95-90 win over the cross-city rival Brooklyn Nets last night.

The dynamic duo of Kristaps Porzingis, 21 years old, and childhood running mate Willy Hernangomez, 22 years old, is the future frontcourt foundation of the struggling 22-29 New York Knicks.

On Feb. 1, the pair combined for 35 points and 28 rebounds in a desperately needed victory over the cross city rival and league-worst 9-40 Brooklyn Nets.

Porzingis and Hernangomez were electric last night, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Knicks came from behind to snatch a morale-saving victory from the jaws of a gut wrenching defeat.

Hernangomez has been playing brilliantly in limited minutes recently, earning a larger role in Jeff Hornacek’s rotation, who is clamoring for contributions from the depths of the bench.

In six of his last nine games, the Spanish rookie has posted gaudy numbers, with points and rebounding totals of eight and 14, 17 and 11, 14 and 10, eight and 16, 15 and 14, and against the Nets, 16 and 16.

Minutes have been the rookie’s problem this season, although he’s been impressively consistent despite his unpredictable place in the rotation.

Surely after his heroics against Brooklyn, the rookie’s productivity will be impossible for Hornacek to ignore. The comparisons to super-skilled Spanish compatriot Marc Gasol are easy to dismiss as hopeful optimism, a little premature, and more than a little lazy in their acquiescence to the tired stereotype of, “Skilled Spanish big man.”

Lazy as it is, the comparison works. The offensive versatility, the always compelling combination of brute physicality and subtle skill, the willingness, vision and ability to pass the ball. And, perhaps most impressively for a rookie, all the other, non-box-score, feel for the game, basketball IQ, does the little things type platitudes used to describe the general sense of being good at basketball.

All this and more was on display in the last 6:24 of the win over Brooklyn, during which KP and Hernangomez carried the Knicks to victory. The duo’s dominance was all the more notable for the absence of Carmelo Anthony, who watched the fourth quarter from the bench.

The chemistry between Porzingis and Hernangomez was immediately obvious. The Spaniard found his former Liga ACB teammate for a slashing dunk on a gorgeous no-look dish to give the Knicks a one-point lead they never relinquished with 5:49 to play.

Hernangomez then forced a Brooklyn turnover by poking the ball away from Brook Lopez in the post, before racking up another impressive assist with a difficult cross-court pass out of the post to a wide open Justin Holiday in the weak side corner for a three-pointer with 5.09 to play.

That put the Knicks up 82-78.

After another Hernangomez steal on the defensive end, Porzingis returned the favor from a couple of plays previous with an assist to his frontcourt buddy that perfectly encapsulated the chemistry between the two.

Both big men set a double high screen for Sasha Vujacic at the top of the key, with Porzingis popping out to the 3-point line and Hernangomez rolling to the rim. Porzingis caught a pass beyond the arc, from where he’s a major threat.

Lopez accordingly was guarding him closely, leaving the paint wide open for Hernangomez, who had inside position on a physically overmatched Bojan Bogdanovic.

KP was looking for the mismatch, and launched a lob pass to the rim. It was a little strong, and careened off the backboard before Hernangomez somehow tipped the ball in. It was about as difficult as tip-ins get.

With the ball traveling fast and heading down off the backboard, the Spaniard adjusted his tip hand and calmly guided the ball home.

It was an underrated play by the big man, which in real time looked like luck—a little smiling serendipity between two friends who could have been playing pickup back in Sevilla, Spain. But the replay moments later showed in slow motion how difficult a split-second redirection of the ball it was.

After the play, the camera cut to a grinning Carmelo Anthony—the fragile face of the Knicks’ present—applauding off the bench, as the fun and frenetic frontcourt duo carried the Knicks home.

Porzingis, of course, has had countless individual moments in his time as a Knick so far, and Hernangomez recently had his individual flashes of promise. The win over Brooklyn was the first time the young future tandem had played and thrived on the court together.

Hernangomez wasn’t done yet. He tied up Isaiah Whitehead driving to the rim for a jump ball with 3:21 remaining. He faced up against Lopez in the post and drove to the rim with a subtle dribble hesitation before scoring a gorgeous running hook over the outstretched fingertips of Lopez with 2:07 to play.

He grabbed a couple of bruising, 90s Knicks, offensive rebounds before tipping the ball in with Nets draped all over him with 53 seconds left.

Porzingis sealed the game with a friendly shooter’s roll on a 3-pointer.

Knicks win. Bullet dodged. Knicks future frontcourt: born.

Amidst the backdrop of the noisy, predictable, Revenant-style Carmelo Anthony rumor mill. Amidst another wildly disappointing Knicks season to date.

Hernangomez and Porzingis’ performances last night were a welcome shot of youthful adrenaline in the arm of a Knicks fanbase and franchise starving for some certainty—some semblance of a plan, some fun.

It’s worth noting, as well, that Phil Jackson deserves credit for acquiring Hernangomez early in the second round in 2015. It’s looking like a brilliant pick.

It’s also worth noting that the Hernangomez pick, nor the Porzingis pick, absolve Jackson of his shortcomings as team president. The contract for Joakim Noah, his absence at the scene of Derrick Rose’s disappearance in New Orleans, and his constant mind games through cryptic media messages should be scrutinized.

Importantly, though, these shortcomings should not rob Jackson of credit that he is definitely due, particularly in filling out the roster with cheap, productive, and previously unknown or undervalued players.

An analysis of Jackson as an executive falls somewhere in between the extremes of his good and bad moves.

Any optimism stemming from a marginal fourth quarter comeback win over the Brooklyn Nets in January should be taken with a pinch of salt, but the Knicks will take any victories, and embrace any causes for optimism at the moment.

Fans should look forward to a bright future with the charismatic and dynamic duo of Willy Hernangomez and Kristaps Porzingis anchoring the frontcourt.

We might have witnessed the start of something special last night.

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