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Why Trading Porzingis For Irving Would Be A Mistake For The Knicks

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Porzingis-Irving trade rumors have been revived recently, but does it make any sense from the Knicks’ perspective?

While most of the big moves and hyped signings have already been made in this eventful NBA offseason, one question remains unanswered as fans look forward to training camp: where will Kyrie Irving end up?

Most likely, he will start the season with the Cavaliers, but one trade partner that has been bandied about repeatedly is the New York Knicks. While some fans would welcome his flashy play in Madison Square Garden, would it make sense to put together a lavish package for the Cavaliers’ guard?

Simply put: no.

Recent reports suggest that Cleveland considers Kristaps Porzingis a franchise cornerstone as they prepare for a second post-LeBron era. However, this price, which would almost certainly include other players and/or picks, should be too high for the Knicks.

There are plenty of reasons for and against making this trade, but perhaps the biggest reason for the Knicks to reject the Cavs’ offer is the defensive capabilities of both players.

Undoubtedly, Kyrie Irving is one of the most talented guards in the NBA today, but his excellent scoring ability overshadows the fact that he is a decided negative on the defensive end. In 2016-17, Irving posted a career-worst -2.3 defensive box plus/minus, and he allowed opponents to shoot 49.9% from the field, the highest DFG% amongst All-Star caliber guards in the NBA last season.

By comparison, Kristaps Porzingis has emerged as one of the better young defenders in the league. Porzingis allowed his opponents to shoot 42.2% from the field, which was the lowest among starting forwards last season (with >16 attempts). While these stats are a bit specific, it shows that KP, if he can continue to develop, has the makings of an excellent rim protector moving forward.

Even beyond defense, Porzingis provides the type of versatility that most fans would say is necessary in the modern NBA. He can score with his back to the basket (although he needs to improve in the post), and has a very polished jumper for a big man. If Carmelo Anthony is moved (or if his role is diminished this season), KP will get a chance to grow as a scorer and a number one option for New York.


To show off his versatility, Porzingis is the only rookie in NBA history to score more than 1,000 points, collect 500 rebounds, make 75 three-pointers, and block 100 shots. Even when he is not scoring well, Porzingis can affect the game in a meaningful way, while Irving has a reputation of being one-dimensional in his score-first approach.  

Beside scoring and athleticism, Irving does not contribute much more to a team, let alone as a cornerstone. He has shown a willingness to pass, but the playmaking duties in Cleveland are primarily left to LeBron James. In 2016-17, the Cleveland Cavaliers actually had a higher assist percentage when Irving was off the court (57.8 to 56.2). As for his desire to be “the man,” the Cavaliers were -120 in over 600 minutes with Kyrie on the court and LeBron James off last season. While Irving is certainly an excellent scorer and ball-handler, a Porzingis-Irving swap makes little sense for New York’s search for a franchise player.


Another concern for the Knicks picking up Kyrie is potential health risks with the Cleveland guard. Throughout his career, Irving has missed significant time with a number of left knee maladies including surgery, tendinitis, and a broken kneecap. While not Derrick Rose territory, Irving has sustained more significant injuries than Porzingis, which raises potential warning flags. Despite his slight frame, Porzingis has only missed time with a few nagging problems that haven’t required surgery or significant time off.  

Most recent rumors swirling around a Cleveland-New York deal also involve another name: Joakim Noah. If the Knicks were to deal their cornerstone for Kyrie, Cleveland would need to take on Noah’s bloated three-year, $55 million contract. While Noah has been a disastrous signing for New York, it seems that Scott Perry, the man brought in this summer to handle GM duties, will only move KP if he can also clean Noah off their payroll.   

While it may be trite, the adage that “defense wins championships” should not be lost in this debate. When the Knicks consider their rebuilding plans, the player they should anoint as their cornerstone should be someone who can do a little of everything, rather than excel in just one area. If that is the case and unless the Knicks can get back a king’s ransom, New York should build around Porzingis, not Irving.

If one of the Knicks’ most important goals in this offseason was to distance themselves from the Phil Jackson era, they should commit to a rebuild and develop their talent rather than chasing a big name. Porzingis will not be a restricted free agent for two years, so the Knick intelligentsia need to recognize that they have a great young player still under team control for the foreseeable future. If Steve Mills was honest with his statements when he was elevated to team president, now is the time to show it by fully endorsing Porzingis as the Knicks’ cornerstone moving forward.

Edited by Joe Sparacio, Emily Berman, Coleman Gray.

With what pick was Kristaps Porzingis selected in the 2015 NBA Draft?
Created 8/15/17
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