Kurt Helin

porzingis

Who is Kristaps Porzingis? Why does everyone want to draft him? We break down his game.

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It’s a player profile that often scares fans come the NBA Draft: A European big man who can shoot the rock, has some skills, is loaded with upside, and prefers to play on the perimeter.

Fans hear that and picture another Andrea Bargnani. On the other hand, scouts will assess those same skills and see potential in an NBA where teams are going smaller and spacing the floor.

Enter the 2015 mystery man, Kristaps Porzingis.

The Latvian big man is the guy shaking up the top of the draft board — he’s got a lot of fans in NBA front offices. They see a guy already more than seven feet tall and incredibly long, who has shooting range out to the NBA three-point line, and who is a fluid athlete.

Porzingis could go to the Sixers at No. 3, Sam Hinkie is considering it (but we hear leaning toward D’Angelo Russell). Then it’s the Knicks at No. 4 and they are willing to trade the pick if a Porzingis fan in another front office has some veterans who can help New York now. If Porzingis is on the board at five, the Magic reportedly will grab him.

Why all the love?

“The appeal of an agile seven-footer who can shoot the ball and possibly be a rim protector is why so many are high on him,” PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog told us. “Add that he is just 19 years old with time already spent getting good minutes in the Spanish ACB, and there is plenty to like.”

But what exactly will the team that drafts him be getting?

To break down his game, I asked two guys who watched a lot ofPorzingis film to give me their thoughts. There is PBT’s Isaacson, plus the fantastic Nate Duncan, host of the Dunc’d On Basketball podcast (a great listen) and creator of the NBA CBA Flashcards.

Any discussion of Porzingis starts with his shooting.

“His shooting is a lot more versatile than for most stretch four types, meaning he’s not just a spot-up shooter,” Duncan told PBT. “He can shoot off pick and pop, or even coming off pin downs to the three-point line. One big question though is just how often that’s going to go in ultimately?  Is he going to be a 35 percent guy from three or a 40 percent guy that you absolutely have to stick to in pick and pop?”

“At worst, he could still be a pretty good spot shooter at the NBA level, though the speed and physical nature of the NBA game could be a bigger adjustment than many seem to believe,” Isaacson added.

Porzingis brings other skills to the table as well — he’s got decent handles and can finish inside very well.

“Other than shooting, the big attribute is his height/wingspan, reported by ESPN’s Chad Ford  as 7’1 and 7’6, respectively,” Duncan said. ” You see that wingspan a ton out on the court, especially when he goes to dunk.  He’s not really athletic in a traditional sense of jumping or even lateral movement at this stage, but those long arms allow him to make a lot of plays that athletic guys can make.  So it’s the combination of the shooting skill and the long arms that people really like.”

The question isn’t can he shoot the ball, the concern for fans is the other end of the court.

His ability to defend at the NBA level is a big question mark heading into this draft,” Isaacson said. “His length is helpful, but he doesn’t have great defensive instincts or strength, and can be slow to react, so he will have a rough time defending out on the perimeter or in the post, at least early on his career.”

I am not sure how good he will be at the power forward position on defense due to what I perceive as his lack of quickness, although in fairness most people see him as more athletic than I do,” Duncan added. “He is good blocking shots when he is in position, but his speed getting over for the block and defensive awareness are a little suspect at this point.  He’s doing to need to improve both of those to play power forward, be able to defend on the perimeter, and still be effective blocking shots.”

Porzingis is going to be a project at the NBA level. Outside of his shooting, his other skills are not fully ready for the big stage. He’s got work to do.

“The three biggest issues are strength, lateral quickness, and awareness,” Duncan said. “I think he’d ultimately be amazing as a center — if he can fill out physically to that level. He certainly has the size and length.  While he has the shooting to play PF on offense, I don’t see him as a guy who is going to drive to the basket or score one-on-one for quite awhile, if ever, due to his quickness. Maybe that can be improved, maybe it can’t, but it will take time.

“Same with his awareness, both on help defense and passing the ball, at which he is remarkably poor given his high usage rate.  Maybe that improves, maybe it doesn’t.”

And there’s an added hurdle to Porzingis’ development.

Even if he were a U.S. player, he would have a lot of development, both physical and skill-wise to do, but to do it while trying to adjust to the NBA-style of game, could add at least another season,” Isaacson said. “With the size and skill he has now, we’re looking at a decent role player, but learning to defend at the NBA level could be a big challenge, and maybe having him go to a team situation where he has that adjustment time will be important. Also, with NBA defenders, he probably won’t be able to do much of what he did in Spain on offense right away.”

But for the team that drafts him, there are reasons to be optimistic about him reaching that incredibly high ceiling for his game.

“By all accounts, Porzingis is a very hard worker, so I’m not concerned about his effort to try and improve as quickly as possible, but I think those expecting a player who will make a quick impact could be disappointed,” Isaacson said. “By the end of his first season, he could be a guy who can stretch the floor as a spot shooter or pick-and-pop guy, but it’s probably another two seasons after that before he is up to speed as a more versatile offensive player and defender. Even if it takes that long, that will still make him just 22-23 years old.”

Overall, I understand why a lot of people love him, as the combo of shooting ability and that crazy wingspan and shot blocking potential is nearly unique,” Duncan said.  “I think he’ll definitely be a valuable player, but he needs to make massive gains in those three areas I highlighted to be a star level guy.”

George Karl gives tepid endorsement of DeMarcus Cousins, says it’s about committment

Atlanta Hawks v Sacramento Kings
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George Karl stepped out on the golf course Tuesday in Sacramento, part of a youth program with which he is involved, but you can bet nobody wanted to talk to the Kings’ coach about his short game.

The questions about him and DeMarcus Cousins came quickly, the video of his answers is available at the Sacramento Bee’s website. You really should watch it.

Of course, Karl denied there was anything to all the reports.

“I think it’s just a lot of crazy, crazy fibs and lies. You know, it’s just a situation where we won 29 games last year and for us as a basketball organization, we want to get better. I mean, Cuz is our best player, we know that. We want him committed and dedicated to being in Sacramento and playing and leading us to our first playoffs in Sacramento in six, seven, eight, nine years.”

It’s nine years.

Now is where the interview gets fun because the reporter was direct and asked Karl if he was interested in trading Cousins — and there should have been some tap dancing music for Karl’s answer.

“My interest right now is commitment, trust and building a team that’s excited about being in Sacramento, excited and committed to being a good basketball team and representing the city of Sacramento.”

So… does that include Cousins?

“If he comes committed, I’m 120 percent into making him the best basketball player he could ever be.”

Is there some question about Cousin’s commitment?

“The 30 games I coached him, I mean, we were all frustrated with losing. I was only here for 30 games, and so the frustration I’m sure was double that for Cuz and all the players who were here for the whole season.”

Notice what’s missing in all this? “No, I don’t want to trade DeMarcus Cousins.”

And the drama continues in Sacramento. The only thing that could make this more interesting is adding JaVale McGee to the mix.

 

 

Because things are not crazy enough, Kings reportedly interested in JaVale McGee

Denver Nuggets Media Day
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Denver wanted JaVale McGee off their roster so badly last season they attached a first rounder to his trade package just to move him. Of course, Philadelphia jumped in to get that pick, but the Sixers were not going to inject McGee into their young locker room, so they bought him out. McGee could sign anywhere he wanted yet he couldn’t reach a deal with anyone.

So who wants him now? How about the Sacramento Kings.

The team already in the middle of the DeMarcus Cousins struggle — the owner loves Cousins and wants to build around him, the coach George Karl is trying to push him out the door — may be in the running to bring in McGee. Because things aren’t crazy enough. From Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Obviously this is another sign of George Karl trying to remake the Kings’ roster to his liking. McGee was one of his guys when he coached Denver to 57 wins a few years back. It’s part of the ongoing power struggle in Sacramento.

Not that on the court getting McGee is terrible idea — last time he played for Karl he scored an efficient 9.1 points a game, mostly off the bench — it’s simply the questions of cost, and if you think your locker room can handle his big personality.

For all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, McGee remains an athletic big man who can be solid in a limited role. He can block shots, and he runs the floor well, getting points in transition. Off the bench behind Cousins he has value. But he needs to get paid like a backup center.

But is he really what the Kings need?

Phil Jackson hints he’s going to make a pick at No. 4, not trade it. But who?

Celebrities Attend Philadelphia 76ers Vs New York Knicks Game - April 05, 2015
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What is Phil Jackson going to do with the Knicks’ No. 4 pick if Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and D’Angelo Russell are off the board when it’s his turn Thursday night?

The conventional wisdom is he would trade it, find a team that coveted Kristaps Porzingis and was willing to swap picks and give up a reliable veteran to move up. 

Don’t bet on it.

Sounds more like Jackson is going to use that pick unless someone steps up with a better offer and blows his doors off. Jackson met with the New York media on Tuesday, and here’s what he said, via Marc Berman at the New York Post.

“We’re listening,’’ Jackson said. “We’re not soliciting so much, but we are listening.’’

Asked the percentage of striking a deal on Thursday’s Draft Night to turn the fourth pick into multiple assets, Jackson said, “Short percentage. Small percentage.’’

So who does he take? Don’t bet on Porzingis — the seven-footer may have upside, but he’s years away from fully showing it. The Knicks don’t have that kind of time (and are not a franchise exactly know for player development). Plus, Jackson noted that Porzingis cramped up and couldn’t finish the workout the Knicks put him through.

There’s been buzz that the Knicks are looking at Wisconsin’s star big Frank Kaminsky. Jackson may be enamored because Kaminsky’s skill set fits the triangle — he is comfortable playing on the block or out on the perimeter. 

“We’re looking for mature kids who have a reasonable understanding of their skills and have had some success in the past because of it,’’ Jackson said.

Sources have indicated Jackson is looking at this draft for a player who can help immediately. When asked directly if older players are good or bad, Jackson said, “It seems to be a negative at this particular time in the history of the NBA, but it’s really a positive for a lot of teams looking to have a player to move into the lineup right away. He doesn’t have to be nurtured and trained.’’

I’m with PBT’s draft expert Ed Isaacson (as discussed on the PBT Podcast) — if Russell is off the board, the Knicks should take Justise Winslow, the small forward out of Duke. He would instantly be the best defender on New York’s roster, he’s got the kind of skills the Knicks need on the wing with the triangle, and the biggest knock is he needs to improve his shooting, yet he shot 41 percent from three last season. I think he’s a future All-Star in the NBA.

NBC’s Joe Posnanski: What Dell, Stephen Curry mean to Charlotte

Golden State Warriors Victory Parade And Rally
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The NBA All-Star Game is coming to Charlotte in February 2017.

That summer, Stephen Curry will be a free agent.

If you thought there was pressure on LeBron James to return to Cleveland — or on Kevin Durant to return to Washington D.C. in the summer of 2016 — wait until you see the questions rain down on Curry in 2017 at the All-Star Game.

Curry’s father Dell was one of the first heroes of the Charlotte Hornets (along with Muggsy Bogues), and Dell is still beloved in that city.

It’s where Stephen Curry grew up, developed that ridiculous quick release and shooting range out to the South Carolina border.

Over at NBC’s SportsWorld site, the incomparable Joe Posnanski delves deep into the Currys and Charlotte.

In his 10 years in Charlotte, (Dell) Curry became the quintessential Hornet. To this day, in team history he has played the most games, scored the most points, made the most field goals, taken the most shots (by almost 3,000), committed the most fouls. And he and his wife Sonya were always around town, too, doing charity stuff, appearing at fundraisers, holding basketball camps. Owning a Curry jersey in Charlotte in those days was practically a city ordinance.

And his oldest son, Steph, came of age in Charlotte right in the middle of the Dell Curry Era…

“He was just this little, small-type kid,” (Steph’s) high school coach, Shonn Brown, would say. “You could see he could already shoot the ball and he understood the game.”

“Tiny,” says Brian Field, who at the time was an assistant coach for Providence Day, one of Charlotte Christian’s rivals. “I mean, he was good — he was one of the better players. But he was so small. He was winging it from the hip because there was no other way for him to get the ball to the rim.”

This is the enduring memory of the young Steph Curry: An almost impossibly small and slight kid firing shots from his side. “He could hoist it up there pretty good,” Brown says. “He had really good accuracy making shots. It was something to see, him making shots from all over the place when he’s just firing it up there with all his might. Well, what would you expect? His father was a shooter.”

It is from there the legend of Curry came — he could play, but not enough to impress Virginia Tech or any of the powerhouse college hoop programs that litter North Carolina. But things were changing. Curry was already working hard on his handles; then he changed that low, slinging shot into the work of art we know today.

And then came the shot change. Steph Curry had developed his side-slinging shot to the point where it was the best high school shot in the city. But in Steph’s junior year, Dell Curry pulled his son aside and told him that he had to move up the release point, that his shot would be too easy to block at the next level. At the time, Dell was an assistant coach at Charlotte Christian, and he told Brown that he was going to guide Steph through the shot transformation. Changing that shot was, in many ways, the toughest thing Steph Curry has done in basketball.

“I made some suggestions,” Brown says. “But then I thought, ‘Why am I getting into this?’ Let the shooter take over. He’s an NBA veteran and a great shooter, and that’s his son. They got after it, I can tell you that. They shot everywhere — at school, at home, at the downtown arena, everywhere.”

Do yourself a favor, go read the entire story — Posnanski is to sports writing what Curry’s shot is to the NBA. It’s more art than practical craft. He tells a great story.

And there are few stories as fun as Stephen Curry’s rise.