The latest in a long line of sweet-shooting European big men, Kristaps Porzingis oozes NBA potential as well as some of the feared warning signs that have limited international players in the past. Despite being given lottery assurances, he pulled out of the 2014 NBA draft at the last minute and has re-entered this year after a strong season in Spain and some additional international experience.
Porzingis is an athletic 7'1, 220 lb. Latvian who is still growing; he's also one of the youngest players in the draft. While his size would project him as a power forward, there is uncertainty about where he’ll actually play in the NBA. At the moment, he’s considered a tweener. Although he is clearly outside of the top-four draft talents (Towns, Mudiay, Russell, and Okafor), he could be selected anywhere from 5-10 on draft night.
Offensively, Kristaps has a tantalizing set of skills that has seen him compared to Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, et al. He is a great perimeter shooter with a gorgeous jumper (39 percent from three-point range this year), leveraging his length and quick release to get his shot off from anywhere. A face up specialist, he has good footwork and touch in the midrange. In addition, Kristaps uses his mobility and speed effectively. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the hoop, but is also a punishing finisher in transition due to his athleticism.
Although he’s a great shooter, Porzingis has absolutely no back-to-the-basket game. His body is still undeveloped and frail; as a result, he shies away from contact and doesn't draw nearly as many fouls as he should with his skill set. He needs to add a lot of muscle to withstand the nightly pounding required of a frontcourt player in the NBA. Kristaps is also a killer ball stopper – he averaged a paltry .4 assists per game this year and is something of a blackhole on offense.
Defensively, he’s on his way to being an effective player. His length, speed, and lateral mobility make him a potential nightmare a few years down the road. He will be able to guard multiple positions and hedge pick-and-rolls. As a help defender, he’s become a great asset on the weakside and has incredible shot blocking instincts, averaging nearly two combined assists/blocks this year. In terms of limitations, he’s not a great individual man-to-man defender and can be easily overpowered on the low block. This is another area that will improve as he develops his body and adds bulk to his lanky frame.
Looking at the total package, it’s easy to see why the Porzingis comparisons are all over the place. With his limitless ceiling, he could well end up as the next Dirk or Pau Gasol. He could also be the next Andrea Bargnani, with all the baggage that implies
Regardless, he’s a bad fit for the Lakers as long as Byron Scott is the coach and Julius Randle stands as the power forward of the future. Kristaps would be great on a Mike D’Antoni team, but wouldn't mesh with Scott’s old school mentality. With his distrust of three-point shooting and dislike for soft basketball players, it’s hard to imagine Byron embracing the long-term development required by Porzingis. Unless the Lakers decide to take a different direction in their team-building, they should look elsewhere on draft day.