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June 17, 2015

What I like, what I don’t like: Kristaps Porzingis

The Latvian big man isn't a mystery, but how his game translates to the NBA might be

Kristaps Porzingis is the type of player that decision makers lose sleep over, which is to say that Kristaps Porzingis might be the most interesting prospect in the 2015 draft class. You know the old saying, the one that goes something like, “He’s the type of player that earns you another contract or gets you fired.” Well, this is that guy.

Boom or bust. Dirk or Darko. When watching and reading about Porzingis’ strengths, it’s easy to get really excited. When watching and reading about Porzingis’ weaknesses, it’s easy to get really worried. That said, it only takes one GM to fall in love with the Latvian 7-footer, whether it’s Mitch Kupchak, Sam Hinkie, or another one that wants to trade up for the second or third pick in the draft to take Porzingis (if they have the serious capital required to do so).

If Jonathan Givony’s speculation is correct, there’s a chance we would’ve been more focused on Sevilla than Anadolu Efes if Porzingis stayed in last year’s draft. Instead, he decided to stay in Spain another year, a move that has paid off at least in terms of improving his draft stock. Unless a major injury occurs a la Joel Embiid, it would be surprising if the 19-year-old forward weren’t taken in the first six or seven picks. 

Hinkie reportedly likes Porzingis, but then again, Hinkie reportedly likes a lot of players in this draft. Any reports about what he’s thinking are only a guess. That said, just as the he did with Emmanuel Mudiay in China, the Sixers GM has definitely done his due diligence with Porzingis.

What I like

•    The potential to be an elite stretch 4 offensively, which is like a cheat code for perfect floor spacing. Splitting his time between the Spanish ACB and the Eurocup, Porzingis shot 42/117 (36 percent) from deep. While not a dead-eye marksman yet, a 7-foot-1 player with a perfect high release and no wasted motion is something you have to project as an evaluator. Porzingis is already an above average shooter for someone his size, but there’s a real chance he could be elite in time. You also have to weigh how much playing on an overmatched team in maybe the best domestic league outside of the NBA affected the quality of looks he received.

•    Perhaps most impressive about Porzingis’ shooting is that he’s not the type of stretch 4 who needs his feet cemented into the ground to get a good look. Sevilla ran offense for Porzingis off flare screens and pin-downs, and he actually looked good doing it. You don’t have to be Ray Allen or Reggie Miller if power forwards are forced to chase you around screens off the ball. As of March (when DX’s video scouting report came out), he was averaging 1.16 points per possession of screens. Keep that type of production up and someone like Brett Brown would have so many more ways to force opposing defenses into extremely tough decisions.

•    Along the lines of being able to run off of screens, Porzingis’ athleticism shows up in a few different ways. In the pick-and-roll, he’s a threat to pop out beyond the arc or roll to the rim and throw down a lob with authority. On defense, he has the tools to be a plus, versatile defender in the pick-and-roll that can help and recover or switch and guard smaller players in a pinch. Porzingis also averaged about one block and one steal in about 21 minutes per play both domestically and in Europe. He’s not perfect fundamentally yet, but more importantly, the tools are there.

Kristaps Likes

What I don’t like

•    On offense, you have to project the jumper. On both offense and defense, you have to project whether or not his body fills out. He’s very skinny, and the lack of bulk hurts him on the block on both sides of the floor as well as on the defensive glass. Watch a stronger player post him up and it jumps off the screen, like Jason Peters destroying some poor defensive end on a run block. It’s almost like there should be one of those blurbs you see in comic books that say, “POW!” Even with the NBA largely moving away from post play, this is the type of weakness that is really worrisome. Look at the damage the Cavs have done on the offensive glass in this postseason.

•    A couple of weeks ago, Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote about the idea of the “playmaking 4” overtaking the concept of the stretch 4:

Shooting is nice, but it’s not enough anymore as defenses get smarter, faster, and more flexible working within the loosened rules. Spot-up guys have to be able to catch the ball, pump-fake a defender rushing out at them, drive into the lane, and make some sort of play. If they can’t manage that, a possession dies with them.

While that might be good news for Dario Saric, it raises questions about Porzingis’ game. I’m pretty confident he can pump-fake and put the ball on the floor, but what happens when the next split-second decision has to be a pass? He averaged less than one assist per game in both leagues and reportedly doesn’t look comfortable setting his teammates up.

Kristaps Dislikes

What about the Sixers?

I do believe the reports that Hinkie likes Porzingis and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in play at the third pick. Then again, maybe there’s a way he can acquire him while trading back and acquiring more assets. There’s also a chance that the Sixers like Porzingis, but not as much as another team willing to give up a big haul in exchange for the right to pick him third. Preferably, that team would be in the top six or seven picks or dangling a legitimate star. I’m prepared for anything on draft night.

There’s also the possibility that the front office simply likes another guy more at the third pick. The Sixers aren’t going to draft for fit, but as far as fit goes, it’s hard to do much better than a frontline of Porzingis and Joel Embiid-If-He’s-Healthy.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann