“We have seen two brilliant performances from two 21-year old stars in the league,” esteemed Knicks’ broadcaster Mike Breen gushed about Kristaps Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns as Towns shot free throws during the final minute of New York’s 106-104 road victory over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Porzingis versus Towns more than lived up to the hype, as KP recorded 29 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. KAT countered with a career-high 47 points, a season-high 18, rebounds, and three rejections on 15-22 shooting. Now they shift venues to Madison Square Garden for tonight’s matchup, which will mark the last meeting between the two budding superstars this season.
It’s always a thrill for fans when the two best players from the same draft class go up against each other. It becomes a real story line when they play the same or similar positions. This is going to be a rivalry — probably not a contentious one given their unique friendship off the court — for hopefully many, many years to come.
“The sky’s the limit for them two guys in this league,” Carmelo Anthony told reporters. “Towns, playing the way he’s playing, Kristaps, getting better and better each day, they’ll be around for a long time. They’ll be face of this league in a couple of years.”
With all of the talk about the NBA’s big man renaissance, it’s exciting to see Towns and Porzingis embody the futuristic NBA big man. Either player can post up inside or step behind the 3-point. The two can stroke threes, rebound and block shots. They share franchise-altering skill sets, high basketball IQ’s, and have the added rivalry chip of being drafted within a few of picks of each other.
The two can throw down lobs at the rim just as well as they can drains 3s from outside, making them one of the few players versatile enough to do both. Ian Begley of ESPN.com noted that entering last season, there were 22 rookies in the 3-point era (since 1979-80) who were 7-footers with 100 blocks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those 22 rookies made a total of five 3-pointers. Towns and Porzingis combined for 272 blocks a season ago, but also connected on 111 3-pointers — 106 more than the other group of 7-foot shot-blocking freshman.
“We are two big men that can kind of change the game,” Porzingis said.
After the boos he endured on draft night, the 7-foot-3 Latvian has captured the imagination of Knicks fans in a way no youngster has since the early days of Patrick Ewing. As a rookie, Porzingis became the only player in the history of the NBA to score more than 1000 points, grab 500-plus rebounds, make 75-plus three-pointers, and block more than a 100 shots. He averaged 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 28.4 minutes per game.
You’ll often hear Porzingis compared to Dirk Nowitzki. They’re both tall Europeans with fun names and nice 3-point strokes, so the comparison has merit. But that’s about all they have in common, and Nowitzki even said last season that Porzingis is “way ahead of the curve compared to when I was 20.” For comparisons’ sake, KP is to Dirk as KAT is to Duncan.
Towns has flown far more under the radar, likely because of geography, but the Piscataway, NJ, product tore through the league as a rookie last season in a way that few others have over the past 20 years – perhaps not since LeBron James’ rookie season in 2003-04. He averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, two rebounds and nearly two assists while shooting 54 percent from the field and almost 34 percent from long range.
Towns was Rookie of the Year last season, Porzingis the runner-up. The two NBA sophomores are each just 21 freakin years old. In the long run, it doesn’t matter who’s better now. But the PER 36 for the two this season shows that they are both growing into absolute monsters.
While the two youngsters are arguably the best up-and-coming post players on the court, it’s the way that Porzingis and Towns carry themselves off the court that is equally impressive. For two guys who just turned of legal age to buy alcohol, they act like they’ve been in the Association for over a decade. Now the question becomes, whom would you take for the next ten plus years?
This is like asking, “Do you want the Lamborghini or the Ferrari.” I do believe right now Towns is the better player, but Porzingis wasn’t supposed to be THIS good already, he was believed to need some time to develop. I may be somewhat biased, but I think Porzingis’ effortless range, and the fact that he has another level to reach physically, gives him just a bit of a higher ceiling than Towns.
It’s obviously way too early to pencil either into the Hall of Fame, but the NBA should be in good hands for years to come thanks to these guys.