When the New York Knicks hired Phil Jackson to run all basketball operations in 2014, they took a step in the right direction to build a winning organization from the ground-up. The Knicks’ management made this decision knowing that it would take multiple years before they return to a championship contender again, even though they committed roughly $124 million to an impatient and aging star in Carmelo Anthony.
Just a year removed from those events and a historically bad season in the Big Apple, fans were disappointed to end up with only the fourth pick in the 2015 draft. With three unanimous stars in the draft in Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor going as projected in the top three, Phil Jackson and company were left to play cleanup with the rest of the prospects. With pressure from a 31-year old Melo wanting draft a player that would help the Knicks win immediately, the Zen Master went in the complete opposite direction, taking raw big man Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia, who was booed by fans as he walked up to shake Adam Silver’s hand at the podium.
The Latvian import won’t turn 20-years old until August, and has drawn comparisons to different NBA superstars including the likes of Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Bosh, but it’s hard to find an exact comparison due to his unusual blend of skills for a big man. He comes into the league measuring at -1 and after averaging 10.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1 block in 21.7 minutes for Baloncesto Sevilla in Spain.
Graphic via bleacher report
Right now, Porzingis is extremely raw but provides the Knicks with a sky-high upside that has scouts drooling. For his size, his mobility and athleticism are untouchable by any other prospect in this draft. His ridiculous -6 wingspan only adds to his defensive potential as not only a lockdown one-on-one defender but a great rim protector as well. On the offensive end, Porzingis has a soft touch around the rim, using his electrifying athleticism to finish above the defense. During his workouts in Las Vegas this summer, it was discovered that his spot-up jump shot is very reliable with a quick release. Despite his height, his back-to-the-basket game is basically non-existent at this point as he is much more natural with his face-up game. Many draft experts believe Porzingis to be a future 20 and 10 All-Star in just a few years if he adjusts to the rhythm of the NBA at a solid pace.
Now he is widely considered to be extremely raw for a reason and his frame is a large factor in that. He is very thin and needs to gain a significant amount muscle to avoid being pushed around like a ragdoll nightly by the likes of true NBA centers. Porzingis is currently just 19-years of age and is still learning the game. Hence, his defensive positioning, awareness and instincts need work and unfortunately for Melo, big men tend to reach their potential at a much slower rate than other positions in the NBA. His rebounding skills will need work too as given his current tools; he shouldn’t be expected to reach a double-digit rate for another handful of years. All in all, if he continually commits to improving his fundamentals on both ends of the court, he should be in the NBA for a very long time.
Reaching your full potential is never guaranteed, but Kristaps Porzingis seems to have been adopted into an organization that is willingly looking to provide proper development immediately. The physical tools are present and he looks to be an excellent fit in the triangle offense they’ve installed in New York. Let’s hope he can handle the pressure that comes with wearing a Knicks jersey and playing next to Carmelo.
Graphic via draftexpress