Photo Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Kristaps Porzingis is finally feeling the pain of having to carry a team on his back.

Finally, the Knicks handed Porzingis the keys to the car this season, and in the beginning, he was swerving through lanes with ease. Nobody could stop the 7’3” marksman as he maimed his opponents by dropping 30+ points in five of his first six games as the new leader of the pack, but as the season wore on, Porzingis’ deadly shot became less accurate.

In his last eight games, Porzingis is only averaging 19.0 points per game (ppg), and he’s shooting only 36% from the field. Some of the poor performances included in the eight-game stretch are the one-point performance against the Celtics on December 21st and the recent 13 and 16-point performances against the Spurs and Wizards respectively.

According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, Porzingis admitted being tired to reporters after the loss to the Wizards on Wednesday:

“I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m so tired right now,’’ Porzingis said. “I have one day to rest my legs and get back and play better and have more energy and try to bring the team’s energy up. We’re in a tough stretch. The mental part doesn’t help at all. When it’s mentally tough, you don’t have it in you.’’

The reason why Porzingis may be tired could be attributed to the loss of Tim Hardaway Jr. Before Hardaway Jr went down with a leg injury, he was contributing 17.8 ppg and was a valuable second option to complement Porzingis. To make up nearly 18 ppg is a tough task for any team, especially when the burden falls on a budding 22-year-old superstar who hasn’t fully matured yet.

Later, Porzingis admitted Hardaway Jr’s month-long absence hasn’t helped matters:

“Obviously having Tim out doesn’t make it easier,’’ Porzingis said. “Hopefully Tim will be back with us soon and take some of that pressure off me and other guys.’’

Porzingis’ recent struggles have led to questions about if he’s a legitimate number one option. Recently, on First Take, Max Kellerman and Stephen A. Smith debated on this topic, and while Kellerman agreed that Porzingis can lead a team to the promised land, Smith disagreed.

There is no question that Porzingis has the skill set to be a dominant player on a team, but if the Knicks are to aspire to someday win a championship, it’s clear that a player of Porzingis’ caliber, preferably in the backcourt, is needed for the Knicks to accomplish that goal.

When Porzingis is the first option on a team, as Smith stated, teams find a way to take out his legs since his shot can’t be blocked. All of this attention drawn to Porzingis may take a toll on his body down the line, but if a dominant backcourt player is teamed up with him, this will alleviate some of the physicality he faces every game and this will allow him to play off of another star to become an even more dominant player.

For Porzingis’ long-term health, the Knicks have to find a way to get a dominant backcourt player to the Big Apple — whether it means acquiring that player through the draft, through trade, or free agency.

In the meantime, the Knicks need to worry about getting Tim Hardaway Jr healthy so Porzingis doesn’t suffer from burnout before the season ends.

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