The biggest mystery of Thursday night’s NBA Draft is Kristaps Porzingis, a 19-year-old 7-footer from Latvia. While there are reasons to be sceptical, there are also good reasons NBA teams have been blown away by his potential.
The biggest fear of using a high draft pick on Porzingis is that NBA teams have a long history of busting on overhyped international players in the draft. Since 2003, there have been 16 international players taken in the lottery (pick Nos. 1-14) and not one has become an All-Star.
However, as ESPN’s NBA Draft expert Chad Ford explained in a podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, there are actually good reasons for teams to fall in love with the young Latvian and he is not as unknown as other European players in the past.
1. He’s not a mystery to NBA teams.
While other international prospects are hyped based on certain physical characteristics or YouTube videos, that is not the case with Porzingis.
“Teams have been watching him [play] in Spain, watching him play in the ACB which is a really good basketball league, and they’re watching him able to play against FC Barcelona and Real Madrid,” said Ford. “We’re not watching grainy video where none of these guys can even play D-I college ball.”
2. He has been playing against top competition in the best league in Europe.
Unlike many international prospects who have never played against good competition because their domestic leagues are bad or they are too young to get playing time, Porzingis has competed at the highest levels in Europe and done well.
“We’re talking about guys [in the ACB league in Spain] who would destroy at Duke or Kentucky if they tried to play them head-to-head,” Ford explained. “And at their age, he and Mario Hezonja (from Croatia), they are producing.”
3. He has been playing in an NBA system.
One of the assistant coaches on Porzingis’ club, Baloncesto Sevilla, is former NBA assistant coach Scott Roth, who was an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks when they drafted Dirk Nowitzki and with the Memphis Grizzlies when they drafted Pau Gasol.
“[Roth] was hired over there in part because Sevilla saw Porzingis as an asset and to put in NBA sets,” said Ford. “He has an understanding of what that transition [to the NBA] looks like, what needs to happen, how to make it happen successfully. Porzingis has been going through that process for the last year of learning NBA terminology, learning NBA sets, learning how things happen at the NBA level.”
4. He’s bigger and stronger than many realise.
Porzingis is skinny, but he is legitimately tall and is getting bigger. According to Ford, Porzingis was given an NBA workout plan a year ago and showed up to the Las Vegas workout and “looked a lot better than he did last year,” noting that it looked like he had put on weight and strength in spite of his skinny frame.
Ford says Porzingis’ body is still not where it needs to be for the NBA but that the progress is promising that the prospect is willing to do the work and will eventually get there.
There is also no doubt about his height. Ford said Porzingis measured at 7-foot-1¼ in socks which would translate to 7-foot-2½ in shoes. He also has a 7-foot-6 wingspan and a good outside shot that will be impossible to block and very hard to defend.
At some level, all prospects are mysteries. But if Porzingis doesn’t make it in the NBA it won’t be because teams took a gigantic gamble on somebody they knew little about.
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