Earlier this summer, we saw Devin Booker sign a five-year extension worth $158 million with the Phoenix Suns as the key cog in the desert. Sooner or later, All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis are due for a raise as they will be restricted free agents next summer.
Like The Ringer questioned Booker, are KAT and Porzingis franchise cornerstones for the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks?
For starters, the two bigs arrived in the NBA’s limelight during the 2015 NBA Draft. They have both morphed themselves into transcendent All-Star talents. The final comparison is that they are both considered “unicorns.”
Unicorns are big men that can do it all. They have the traditional skills of a big with uncanny qualities like a guard. KAT, Porzingis, Marc Gasol, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Al Horford are just a few of those guys that fit the bill.
KAT came into the NBA as the top overall pick in 2015. His offensive prowess was well-documented while his defensive skills were a bit raw. Nevertheless, he was projected to be every bit as good as DeMarcus Cousins.
For Porzingis, he was a bit of an enigma despite being drafted fourth overall in the same draft. He had shown skills offensively, but scouts worried that his height (7’3″) would hinder him against smaller, more athletic players in America. To separate the two players even more, Porzingis was booed by Knick fans while KAT was welcomed with open arms by Wolves fans.
KAT has dominated statiscally across the board compared to Porzingis, but that is because he’s played more games (60 more). In addition, Towns has hardly faced any obstacles in getting the pumpkin, averaging 21.6 and 11.7 boards through his first three seasons. Sure, Jimmy Butler might have caused him to lose some shot attempts last season, but his numbers stayed relatively similar to his career totals.
On the contrary, Porzingis had to take a backseat to Carmelo Anthony his first two seasons. When the Knicks moved on from the “Melo-Drama”, we saw a significant increase in the Latvian’s numbers. Porzingis averaged a career-high 22.7 points per game with a PER of 20.7. Unfortunately, his season was cut short with a season-ending injury pre-All-Star break.
Now, you’re probably saying one guy plays in a loaded Western Conference while the other is struggling in the Eastern Conference. That’s a fair case, but let’s go beyond the numbers.
KAT is not what you think he is, a franchise player.
There have been too many rumblings that KAT and fellow All-Star Jimmy Butler don’t mesh well. Butler is older and closer to the end of his prime so I’m betting that Minnesota is hoping he will settle into a subsidiary role or else (he might walk or get traded).
The Timberwolves have no reason not to pay KAT. He gives off the vibe as someone that isn’t overly concerned with winning. Why else would he not jell with a guy that knows the ins-and-outs of Tom Thibodeau’s scheme? He wants to be the number one option, but doesn’t seem to have the tough skin you need when the going gets tough.
In the playoffs against the top-seeded Houston Rockets, KAT folded. He shrank in the moment. He camped out at the three-point line jacking up threes. He took 12 shots a game and shot 46.7 percent from the floor.
Sure, you could blame Thibs for Towns’ shortcomings as that is the easy and popular thing to do. A franchise star is going to demand the ball. KAT is very much like a more fluid LaMarcus Aldridge. In other words, he is a great second option.
KAT has averaged 20 and 10 and, statistically, is on pace to make the Hall of Fame if he keeps this up for 10 to 15 years. However, you could make the case that he hasn’t improved one bit since his rookie season. He can do everything offensively, but is still raw, lethargic, and uninterested on defense. He can change that narrative this season.
On the other hand, Porzingis is every bit of a franchise player.
KP has the respect of his teammates as you never hear guys on the New York Knicks questioning him or reports of friction with teammates. Night in and night out, the seven-footer leaves no doubt as to how good he is. Lastly, he just has the “it” factor.
Porzingis once got Allen Iverson to gush over him after a game and he grew up a Kobe Bryant fan. You can see that “Mamba Mentality” in him as he wants to annihilate the man in front of him.
Did I mention he is 7’3” and pulls up effortlessly like he is a guard?
Porzingis has to get better defensively as well, but the difference is I think he will be open to what his new coach David Fizdale has to offer. In addition, he has to and will lead the Knicks to a playoff berth if he plays majority of the year. Lastly, he needs to grab some more rebounds as 7.1 for his career won’t cut it.
KAT is that Prius that you know will get you from point A to point B while Porzingis is that Audi that surprises you each and every time you get in it.