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Porzingis and Towns: Two friends redefining NBA big men

The conversation took place a few weeks ago. Kristaps Porzingis sent a text.Karl-Anthony Townsreceived it. The directive was clear.

"I said to him, 'This is a big year for us. We have to start taking over and taking that next step,' " Porzingis recalled in an interview with ESPN.

And Towns' reply?

"Exactly. Let's do our thing. Let's have a good season," is how Porzingis remembers it.

This text connection between two budding superstars wasn't out of the blue. Towns and Porzingis contact each other fairly regularly. Sometimes, one will reach out after the other has a big game. Other times, they'll chat about the league in general.

"We're real good friends," Towns said. "We just really enjoy each other's presence, and the communication we have is always a lot of fun."

And that text from Porzingis to Towns about starting to take over the league? It seems as if that process is already underway.

Entering last season, there were 22 rookies in the 3-point era (since 1979-80) who were 7-footers with 100 blocks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those 22 rookies made a total of five 3-pointers.

Enter Towns and Porzingis, big men with an imposing inside presence combined with the range of a guard.

Towns and Porzingis, and their 272 combined blocks in 2015-16, also hit 111 3s last season -- 106 more than the other group of 7-foot shot-blocking rookies.

And outside shooting has continued to be a weapon for both in Year 2.

Porzingis' 3-point shooting percentage has increased from 35 percent as a rookie to 40 percent thus far this season. Towns' percentage has spiked 3 percent from last season to this one, and he's attempting 2.5 more 3-point attempts per game. Not surprisingly, both Towns' and Porzingis' per-game scoring has increased this season.

Maybe that's why Porzingis doesn't mince words when asked about the impact he and Towns can have on the NBA.

"We are two big men that can kind of change the game," Porzingis said.

The Towns-Porzingis friendship began in June 2015, as both were in New York preparing for the draft. Porzingis, who grew up in Latvia and played professionally in Spain, didn't know many of the other draftees.

While Porzingis introduced himself at one of the many pre-draft events in the city, he and Towns quickly hit it off.

"From the beginning, he was a nice guy. He's like an outgoing type of person, easy to talk to," Porzingis said of Towns, the reigning Rookie of the Year.

"And we kind of clicked from the beginning."

The feeling was mutual.

"When you're in part of the same draft class, you always have a certain connection that not many other people can have with each other," Towns said.

Porzingis said he asked Towns "thousands of questions" during the draft and the subsequent rookie symposium, including queries about life in the United States, playing big-time college basketball and about growing up near New York City. Towns asked similar questions about growing up in Latvia and playing in Europe.

"We exchanged numbers," Porzingis said, "and we've been talking ever since."

"We said we want to have this rivalry for the next 15 years, hopefully. So it's nice to have a guy like that who is going through the journey at the same time."

Any friendly words between the two might be put on hold this week, as Porzingis' Knicks head to Minnesota to play Towns and the Timberwolves on Wednesday and the two teams return to New York to play at Madison Square Garden on Friday.

"We're both competitive, we're trying to prove who is better and kind of compete against each other; that's a good thing," Porzingis said.

"We're trying to do better for our teams, obviously, but at the same time, it's kind of a little bit of that one-on-one thing between us. So I think it will be fun."

It's also a rare event when two young 7-footers who play such prominent roles face off.

Since the NBA-ABA merger, more than 100 7-footers have played at least 350 minutes in their rookie seasons. Only five of them posted higher usage rates-- a measure of how many possessions end on a player shooting, getting to the free throw line or turning it over -- than Towns and Porzingis, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

All five of those big men are in the Hall of Fame.

It's obviously premature to pencil either Towns or Porzingis into Springfield, Massachusetts. But Porzingis brings up an interesting point when talking about how he and Towns can "change the game."

He cites the recent trend of teams playing small lineups late in games to maximize spacing on the floor, thereby leaving 7-footers on the bench. Porzingis says he believes he and Towns can neutralize that.

"I think we're the type of big men that can be [on the court] late in games," he said. "We can be the guys that, if they put a small lineup [on the floor], we can take advantage of that inside and the other team has to make adjustments and put a bigger guy on us.

"Our ability to stretch the floor, those kinds of things can really affect the game."

Porzingis and Towns are only 21 years old, so it's way too early to project with any accuracy how they'll impact the rest of the NBA. Both players are still in their NBA infancy.

But by all accounts, Porzingis and Towns each work doggedly to reach their potential. And that shared work ethic might bring them to the same gym this summer. Porzingis says he hopes to work out with Towns in the offseason, possibly playing a few games of one-on-one against the No. 1 pick in his draft class. "I think that would be good for both of us," Porzingis said.

Towns seems open to the idea.

"I'm always in New Jersey, so I think it would be very easy for me to get to New York," he said.

They can figure out the details later, but for now, a pair of 5-on-5 showdowns between the Knicks and Wolves will have to do.

Information from ESPN's Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Micah Adams was used in this story.

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