Karl-Anthony Towns was the consensus No. 1 pick last year, and he has emerged as the best player from the 2015 NBA draft. The second-best player from that draft, Kristaps Porzingis, went No. 4 to the Knicks.
Why did Porzingis fall past the second-picking Lakers (who saw their mistake firsthand last night) and third-picking 76ers?
Kupchak structured Porzingis’ private Lakers workout as essentially a challenge of his manhood rather than a validation of his gifts.
In so doing, the Lakers lost sight of how truly unique this 7’3″ player could be, with skills at a size already forcing the NBA to adjust to him rather than vice-versa.
The Lakers, though, wanted to test Porzingis’ physicality, and especially his “bigness,” in that workout. They overvalued Porzingis’ need to prove he could play in the low post and wrongly equated his shaky stamina with his overall NBA readiness.
Then-Lakers head coach Byron Scott, whose outdated mindsets have been well documented, even kidded Lakers staffers after watching Porzingis wilt with exhaustion that Scott had better get a contract extension if the club decided to draft Porzingis and wait for him to grow up.
There’s often a degree of truth to jokes. Scott established himself as out of touch, and nobody would be surprised if he were unable to recognize what makes Porzingis special in the modern game. The Lakers also stumbled into all their young talent despite trying to fast-track their rebuild. Perhaps those flawed outlooks contributed to them passing on Porzingis for D'Angelo Russell.
But I think there’s a degree of assigning a narrative to fit the facts here (not a new concept with Porzingis and the Lakers).
Teams should conduct workouts to challenge players. Maybe the Pistons wouldn’t have drafted Darko Milicic if they tested his toughness in workouts rather than just salivated over his strengths, and there are numerous other examples.
The 76ers were as forward-thinking as any team in the league, and they passed on Porzingis for Jahlil Okafor.
And the Knicks – who drafted Porzingis – could be described as just as backward as the Lakers. At least their president, Phil Jackson, keeps making himself look that way. It sounds as if their Porzingis workout was similarly strenuous. Ding:
Yet Jackson, despite his age and the pressure to win now with Carmelo Anthony, had his mind open enough to endure the draft-night boos and choose Porzingis. Jackson did it even though Porzingis hurt his leg early in his private workout at the Knicks’ practice facility three days before the draft and couldn’t even continue…with Anthony among those watching with frustration.
The simple truth: Not the Lakers, not the 76ers, not the Knicks, not Scott, not Anthony knew how good Porzingis would be. Drafting is hard. Maybe the Lakers’ process prevented them from realizing Porzingis’ ability. But the 76ers missed it, too. And Jackson reportedly considered trading the No. 4 pick on draft night.
Credit Jackson with getting the pick right, but also consider plenty of hindsight is necessary to ding the Lakers for passing on Porzingis.