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.”