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.”

Memphis picks up first win since restart, beats Oklahoma City

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Dillon Brooks scored 22 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies claimed their first win since the restart with a 121-92 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.

Jonas Valanciunas had 19 points and 11 rebounds and Ja Morant had 19 points and nine assists for the Grizzlies.

Memphis shot 55% and avoided falling into a tie with Portland for eight place in the Western Conference standings. Memphis is one game ahead of Portland, two games ahead of San Antonio, 2.5 ahead of Phoenix, and three games up on New Orleans and Sacramento.

Chris Paul scored 17 points and Luguentz Dort added 16 for the Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City’s leading scorer this season, finished with 10 points on 3 for 13 shooting.

The Thunder looked nothing like the team that rolled past the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. Oklahoma City missed a chance to move into a tie with the Houston Rockets for fourth place in the West.

Oklahoma City led by 18 in the first quarter, but the Grizzlies rallied to take the lead in the second. Memphis led by nine in the final seconds of the first half. Danilo Gallinari hit a 3 for the Thunder with 4.6 seconds left, then Paul stole the inbounds pass and hit a corner 3 to cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 63-60 at halftime.

The Grizzlies outscored the Thunder 32-18 in the third quarter to go up 95-78 at the end of the period.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.