Why drafting a 19-year-old Latvian who some fans already hate was a smart move for the Knicks

With Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Jahlil Okafor all off the board, the New York Knicks had no perfect option with the No. 4 pick in the NBA Draft.

The players available generally fell into two categories:

1. High-upside guys who have a lot of raw talent but will take years to develop (Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja, Emmanuel Mudiay)

2. Low-ceiling guys who are unlikely to be All-Stars but can have an impact right away (Justise Winslow, Willie Cauley-Stein)

If you’re ok with picking a guy who might not have much of an impact in 2015-16, then you might as well pick from the crop of high-upside guys and try to find a superstar. And if you’re going to pick a high-upside guy, you might as well pick the player with the highest upside of all.

Porzingis is a 19-year-old forward from Latvia who has been playing for Sevilla in Spain’s ACB, which is widely regarded as the second-best league in the world. His combination of size and skills is rare. There just aren’t a lot of 7-foot-1 forwards who can shoot, handle the ball, and protect the rim. 

Porzingis torching the nets pic.twitter.com/wh7jiZ4RZz
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 12, 2015


He’s also very much a project. He’s skinny and no one really knows how he’s going to get by defensively. While there’s plenty of evidence that suggests he’s not like the Euro busts of past drafts, converting raw potential into on-court production is a tricky process, and he’s still a huge risk.

“We thought the risk-rewards were the greatest with this guy perhaps in the whole lottery,” team president Phil Jackson said after the draft.

Given the lack of success from foreign-born lottery picks over the last decade (since 2003 there have been 16 foreign-born lottery picks and none have become All-Stars), Knicks fans were understandably angry at the pick:

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