Jeff Hornacek is using the experiences of a different New York sports star to quiet concerns over Kristaps Porzingis’ recent shooting struggles.
“Didn’t Aaron Judge kind of go through this?” the Knicks coach said Sunday after practice in Westchester, referencing the massive mid-season slump the A.L. Rookie of the Year slogged through in late July and August.
When a reporter confirmed the hunch, Hornacek added: “So relax, people! He’ll be all right, just like Aaron Judge was.”
After a dominant and historic first half of 2017, Judge regressed substantially after the All-Star break, hitting just .179 from July 14 to Aug. 31. But he caught fire again in September (.311, 15 homers, 32 RBI) and played a key role in the Yankees’ postseason run to Game 7 of the ALCS. Judge finished second to Jose Altuve in the A.L. MVP race.
Porzingis has hit a much smaller bump in his third NBA season, but Hornacek’s comparison is apt. After scoring just 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting in Friday night’s loss to the Raptors in Toronto, Porzingis is shooting 34 percent and averaging 18.3 points over his last three games. The 7-3 Latvian averaged 30.4 points on 51.3 percent from the field during his electric and MVP-caliber first 11 games of the season.
“You’re going to have ups and downs throughout the season, no matter how great a player you are,” Hornacek said. “So I don’t think it’s any big deal. He’ll get it right back.”
While Judge was mired in his August slump, there was considerable speculation about whether a lingering shoulder injury was affecting his play. Similarly, Porzingis is dealing with an ailment of his own – swelling in his shooting elbow – that has coincided with his recent string of poor shooting.
On Sunday, Porzingis maintained that the elbow is not affecting his shot.
“The elbow is not bothering me at all. I don’t want to blame it on the elbow,” Porzingis said. “So I’m just going to get some rest and not overthink about those kind of things.”
The swelling, which has officially been diagnosed as elbow bursitis, is a chronic issue for Porzingis, who says he first encountered the problem at the U-18 European Championships in 2013. After that, Porzingis said the swelling mostly subsided during his time playing in Spain before it returned his rookie season in the NBA. Then at the end of last year, Porzingis said the elbow blew up.
“It was really swollen. It was really, really big,” Porzingis said. “But it was never really bothering me. Now this season, I kind of fell on it a couple times, and it wasn’t bothering me either, but in the Sacramento game (on Nov. 11), I fell kind of on the side of it a little bit, and it was like a new spot. …it was much more sensitive. But now, I’ve been doing treatment, and today I’m almost back to normal. I almost don’t feel it at all anymore.”
According to Porzingis, the Knicks have not opted to perform an X-ray or MRI on the elbow. Porzingis wants to wait until the end of the season to perform any tests or address the swelling with any type of procedure.
“If I’m already getting better, I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Porzingis said. “It never really bothers me. It swells up and then comes back down. After this season, I might have to do some testing finally and really look at it.”
He joked that the “bad” New York traffic has dissuaded him from making the trip to the doctor’s office.
“It will take 45 minutes to get to the hospital on my day off, then 45 minutes back,” Porzingis said. “It’s going to be nothing, and I’m going to be like, ‘Oh, I lost that hour and a half of my sleep.'”