ORLANDO, Fla. — Now that he’s met him and seen him shoot up close, new Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek is even more psyched about Kristaps Porzingis.
The 7-foot-3 Latvian phenom flew in Friday to meet Hornacek for the first time and work out with the coaches. The decision was made long ago he would not play for the Latvian Olympic Team in July’s qualifier or for the Knicks’ summer-league entry. The coach and player had dinner Saturday night. Porzingis was slated to be part of the Joakim Noah recruitment meeting but arrived too late because of travel delays.
“We worked out with him [Sunday],” Hornacek said. “From a distance playing against him [last season as Phoenix coach] one time, I knew he was a decent shooter, but he’s a really good shooter. Looking at him in the gym, his stroke and how he does it and the abilities the guys are working with him on — driving to the basket, post-up game — he’s going to be a great player.”
Porzingis has spent the offseason in Latvia, so he wasn’t around for Hornacek’s press conference. One of the best aspects of Porzingis is he’s very sociable, popular with his teammates and something of a basketball historian.
“He’s a great kid,” Hornacek said. “Very knowledgeable. Brings up names of old-school guys, he knows who they are. He’s followed basketball, had his eyes on basketball for a long, long time. At age 5, he was really going at it. He’s personable, can talk to him easily. I think he’s a great teammate. I talked to a lot of guys — all love him. We have some older guys. Hopefully for younger guys, he can be that leader.’’
On Saturday, Porzingis said he’s put on five pounds since the season ended, but the current goal is not to rush into a big weight gain like last summer. The training staff is strengthening his core first so he can handle the added weight.
Porzingis gained 11 pounds from the time he was drafted to his first training camp but lost a lot of it as the season dragged on. Porzingis said his weight goal for next season is 245 pounds, but that’s not a must.
“Especially in the lower body, that’s what we’ve been focusing on,’’ Porzingis said. “Last offseason, we focused on getting bigger and muscle. Beginning of the season, I felt I was heavy. This time, start from the legs, lower body, the core and make sure that is strong to hold up more weight and build from there.”