Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Kristaps Porzingis
In the Knicks’ 118–112 win over the Lakers on Sunday, Porzingis damn near logged an unconventional triple-double with 26 points (8-for-15 from the field, and 3-of-4 from 3), 12 rebounds, and seven blocks. He became only the third player since 1984 to record at least three 3-pointers and seven blocks in a single game, joining Raef LaFrentz (2000) and Eddie Griffin (2005), two players whose underappreciated skill sets were far ahead of their time.
The Knicks still possess one of the five worst defenses in the league, but Porzingis’s unique brand of rim protection is one of the few factors that keeps the Knicks defense teetering on the edge of catastrophe instead of being engulfed in it entirely. Roy Hibbert may not be the face of modern defense anymore, but he is largely what we think of when we think of rim protection: equal parts verticality and eating space; a hovering Easter Island statue that takes residence in the middle of the lane. Porzingis isn’t quite beholden to those rules. For one, he doesn’t eat up that much space. His still-slender frame means he’s not absorbing that much contact on his best defensive plays. His ability to contort his body in midair, away from his defender, means his arms don’t always have to be in “London Bridge” position. Most of his blocks against the Lakers on Sunday night came as he was drifting past the play, with his arms still splayed out at different angles.
As far as overall impact on the game on both sides of the ball, this was Porzingis’s finest outing of the season, and it all felt within the flow of the game, at times to a fault. Both Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose attempted more shots than Porzingis did (to varying degrees of success), and, to date, Porzingis has attempted 20 or more shots in a game only four times this season. Among all players who average at least 22 minutes per game, Porzingis’s usage rate sits outside of the top 50. Kristaps’s usage against the Lakers was actually lower than his figure on the season. The economy of his production is part of his allure at this point in his career; this is what he can do already, and he hasn’t even fully taken on the mantle yet. Maybe it’s a way to stay out of Phil Jackson’s crosshairs. No one wants to be known as a ball stopper. But fans will eventually want see what Porzingis looks like when he’s fully unleashed. Maybe it’s a bit counterproductive to the culture of good basketball that all teams hope to develop, but fans want to see their stars take on a bit of tyranny once in a while.
Runner-up: Tim Frazier
I’m not sure if it’s because I never adjusted my settings, but the NBA app is borderline useless. The only thing it seems to want to notify me about is triple-doubles, which has essentially turned it into a Russell Westbrook is alive and well push notification generator. This is not useful for a Westbrook zealot. I’m already watching the game, bro. Westbrook’s triple-double streak ended Sunday night at seven games, but it was cool to see that the leaguewide triple-double streak lives on. This time, I got a notification about Tim Frazier. Tim Frazier!
Frazier logged 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists coming off the bench in the Pelicans’ 120–119 overtime victory over the Suns. If, prior to the triple-double alert, you hadn’t been up on the latest Tim Frazier news, I couldn’t blame you. Things aren’t as dire in New Orleans as they were during the Pelicans’ 0–8 start, but it hasn’t been great of late. After a four-game winning streak heading into Thanksgiving, New Orleans has lost seven of its past nine games. Their watchability fluctuates, even with Anthony Davis averaging the most minutes in the league. But amid yet another disappointing Pelicans season, Frazier has managed to be something of a gem for New Orleans. He was the team’s steadying facilitator in Jrue Holiday’s stead, averaging eight assists in his first 15 games of the season.
Frazier’s triple-double wasn’t earned the way Westbrook accumulates his, with extreme physical superiority. He’s 6-foot-1 without much of a top gear, but watching him over the course of the Pelicans’ first 25 games, he’s often in the right place at the right time; that explains his rebounding numbers, which have been good for his position throughout his career. Frazier doesn’t really have the vision and creativity to make the home run pass, either — though, for a team like the Pelicans still fumbling through the rudiments, that isn’t really a problem as much as a relief. Frazier’s triple-double was largely as nondescript as he is as a player; the only remarkable thing about it is that it happened at all. It’s fitting that on a night when the man who normalized triple-doubles fails to keep his streak alive, we’re gifted a normal-ass triple-double from a normal-ass player.
Honorable Mention: T.J. McConnell
And we almost got two of them! The Sixers’ McConnell was one assist shy of logging his first career triple-double in the Sixers’ resounding 97–79 victory over the Pistons. The Sixers are now sitting on six wins, and we haven’t even crossed the midway point of December. In the past two seasons, it took the Sixers until January before they notched their sixth win of the season. This might be too much to take in right now, but what if the Sixers are too good?