Call him Mr. November.
The Knicks have a lot of issues, but none more concerning than what to make about Kristaps Porzingis’ third straight post-Christmas decline.
The entire franchise is built upon Porzingis becoming a superstar for the ages, contending for greatest-Knick-ever status. And while he should become a perennial All-Star, the franchise needs him to be more than Pau Gasol — or Paul Millsap.
The Knicks (19-23) are losing now not because Porzingis doesn’t have enough help. They’re losing because he isn’t doing enough.
The 7-foot-3 Latvian has not played like an All-Star since December, hitting another wall. His recent “so tired’’ remark in Washington will be cited until the 22-year-old snaps out of this post-November funk.
Porzingis’ core strength, stamina and genetic makeup are relevant issues, with a third straight fade after brilliant play in October and November. During his rookie year, it was revealed he had been diagnosed with anemia during his Spanish League days. Porzingis took iron to combat the ensuing fatigue and still does.
In fact, when his publicists unveiled his new endorsement with “Zing Bars” in November during 30-point-a-night MVP-level start, the press release stated Porzingis’ fanaticism on eating healthy stems from battling anemia at age 15.
In his first year, Porzingis hit the rookie wall in February but that was certainly understandable as he had yet to endure an offseason pounding weights.
Last season, coach Jeff Hornacek’s overuse caused Porzingis to develop Achilles tendinitis, never to play the same that year.
The 2017-18 season started with such a bang — perhaps sharper than opponents after an August and September training and starring in the European Championships for Latvia. That could be taking its toll physical and mentally — all that basketball that began with Latvia’s training camp in late July.
Since December, Porzingis is shooting just 39.4 percent to bring his shooting percentage down to a middling 43.2 percent, his scoring average to 23.6. Symbolically or not, Carmelo Anthony, in his final season as Knick, shot 43.3 percent — a number that was unpleasing to Hornacek.
Porzingis and Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 pick of the same draft in 2015, are often compared. Towns looked so much more a complete player Friday in Minnesota, it was scary. Towns was one assist away from a triple-double. Porzingis is averaging 1.3 assists per game.
Which brings to mind Porzingis saying before his sophomore campaign that posting a quadruple-double was a goal. There was none of that cocky banter after the Knicks dropped to a season-worst four games under .500 on Friday. A portrait of congeniality, Porzingis was dejected. On the court, too.
He’s been slow to anticipate the pressure. Physical guards have him off balance. He’s getting frustrated guards are cheating off point guards Jarrett Jack and the frigid Frank Ntilikina.
Europeans carry a reputation among NBA coaches of playing with more guile and teamwork. Porzingis hasn’t looked like a basketball Einstein since December. Porzingis admitted he has “to be smarter’’ in bracing for double coverage.
Scott Roth, who coached Porzingis and Willy Herangomez in Spain, made a revealing remark during the All-Star break last year.
“People are more surprised by Willy, but I’ve always said Willy was an overall better basketball player at the age Kristaps was, as far as feel for the game and how he moves and passes,’’ Roth told me.
Maybe this is partly Hornacek’s fault. Maybe he needs to get Porzingis in more favorable spots, closer to the rim. Maybe the coach has to reduce his minutes for increased efficiency. Porzingis played a career-high 44 minutes against Chicago, followed by 36 in Minneapolis.
Maybe Tim Hardaway Jr.’s return will be beneficial — as Hornacek predicts — because Porzingis still is money on catch-and-shoot 3s. Maybe Trey Burke helps. Maybe Hornacek has to hire a big-man coach.
Maybe Mr. November will never become Mr. June in New York.