Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis: I have to avoid 'stupid fouls'

CLEVELAND — This season will be full of learning experiences for Kristaps Porzingis.

Lesson No. 1 arrived late Wednesday night in Cleveland.

The New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers were tied 75-75 when Porzingis picked up his fifth foul and headed to the bench. He returned four minutes later, but it was way too late.

New York had fallen behind by nine, the outcome essentially decided.

“I’ve got to be available in those moments,” Porzingis said after the Knicks’ 96-86 loss to the Cavs.

The rookie’s foul trouble wasn’t the only reason New York (2-3) lost a winnable game Wednesday.

(The Knicks hit just 33 percent of their shots in the second half and were outscored 24-0 on the fast break.)

But Porzingis’ development is one of the most important aspects of this Knicks season. And he seems to understand that.

“I just have to be smarter and not commit some stupid fouls that don’t matter that much,” he said late Wednesday.

To be fair, Porzingis also had several brilliant moments Wednesday.

He finished with 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting and had two blocks (one on LeBron James), two steals and four rebounds. The rookie’s night included another strong putback dunk — this one over Kevin Love.

“He’s figuring some things out pretty quickly,” Fisher said.

He certainly is. The 20-year-old’s averaging 12.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in his first five games.

But there’s another, less encouraging, number that sticks out: 6.8.

That’s the number of fouls Porzingis has committed per 36 minutes. It’s the highest rate in the NBA among players who average at least 20 minutes, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily anything he’s doing wrong,” Fisher said. “He’s just learning how to play defense to start the season against some of the best players in the league.”

Fisher makes a good point. Porzingis has faced Greg Monroe, Tim Duncan, Nene, Paul Millsap and Love to start the season. Those are tough assignments for any player, let alone a 20-year-old playing in his first NBA games.

He’s also still getting used to the speed of NBA guards.

“[They’re] much more agile with the ball,” he said. “It’s really hard to contain them.”

It will be interesting to see how Porzingis adjusts his defense in the coming weeks. In his first preseason game, the rookie pulled down only two rebounds in 21 minutes and said afterward it was unacceptable. Two nights later, he had 10 rebounds in the same amount of court time. He now leads all rookies in offensive rebounds per game (2.8).

Can he make the same adjustment when it comes to fouling opponents?

One veteran Knick thinks so.

“It’s just experience — knowing what you can do, what you can’t do. KP will get that,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He’ll learn with more experience.”

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