The 2015 NBA Draft is just around the corner and the rumor mill is shifting into overdrive. Finding the truth in the midst of all the misinformation can be like trying to get Nick Young to swim with dolphins, but the one thing we keep hearing from many different sources is that Kristaps Porzingis has the chance to be a very, very good player.
While it's possible that some teams are overstating their interest in order to throw off their competition, the fact that so many sources are saying the same thing is telling. When there is this much smoke there has to be at least a little fire.
Porzingis, who originally hails from Latvia and comes from a basketball family, has been playing professionally overseas for years in spite of being just 19 years old. He hasn't been playing in just any league either, he's employed by Sevilla in the Spanish ACB League, which is considered by many to be the second-best league in the world.
It's easy to see why so many teams are excited about him. He's a legit 7-footer with a silky smooth jumper, three point range, and a wingspan that makes Mr. Fantastic jealous. His ceiling would have him as some type of monstrous Dirk-Pau hybrid with a dab of Kirilenko thrown in for good measure. He has the shooting ability to step out to the three-point line and the length to challenge shots at the rim, providing the kind of versatility that teams love.
Porzingis faces a few challenges though, with the main one being that he isn't the first guy to come into the draft as a tall European who can shoot, and quite a few of his contemporaries have failed in the NBA. The fear of another European bust has led to him being called horrible things like "Bargnani" and "Darko". It will be up to Kristaps to prove these ugly stereotypes wrong.
Fortunately, Porzingis has a few things that the busts of the past never did: athleticism and passion. For a player his size he gets off the floor surprisingly well, and all reports indicate that he eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. It's what he was raised on and what he loves.
It's because of his tantalizing combination of size, skill, and drive that Porzingis is rocketing up draft boards, with some suggesting that he could go as high as 2nd overall to the Lakers. Adding credibility to this notion is the fact that Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak and VP of Basketball Operations Jim Buss traveled to Las Vegas to see him workout before 150 NBA executives, then followed that up by bringing the young Latvian to Los Angeles for a private workout just a few days later.
However, the idea that he could be picked 2nd in the draft just doesn't have the ring of truth to it. He is talented, and he may end up being a very good player but he is all wrong for the Lakers. In spite of all his upside, the risks that come with drafting him outweigh the reward.
While most point to prior international busts to justify their skepticism, it's not smart to dismiss him simply because of other European players who flamed out. That's not only a dangerous generalization but also overlooks the growing number of Euros who have found success in the NBA. Players like Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Jan Vesely aren't reason enough to scare away the Lakers, who took risks when they selected unproven center Andrew Bynum and a teenager named Kobe Bryant.
Other concerns are not so easily swept aside though, with the most ominous one being his thin build. Even in the Spanish league he was frequently bullied in the post by shorter but stronger players. This negatively impacted not only his rebounding (just 4.1 per game in 21 minutes), but also made it difficult for him to be effective in the post. Porzingis scored most of his points off of face ups and by coming off screens for jumpers, taking advantage of being guarded by slow-footed centers and power forwards.
In the NBA he will face athletes who will be able to close out on him faster, and for now teams will have the option of guarding him with small forwards because he lacks the post game to punish them inside. He shoots lights out in one-on-none workouts, and we have seen him bury jumpers in Spain, but those shots will be much for difficult when he has a hand in his face. With the right match ups he can be dangerous, but he's going to need time to learn how to find space in the NBA as well as build up his body so he can handle post play.
His passing can be a concern as well, as his assist rate is low for a player with his talents. With Porzingis' ability to see over the opposition the hope is that he will become better at distributing the ball, but for now he does a poor job of identifying and making the correct pass when defenses shift onto him.
Fit would also be a major hurdle to overcome. With his current bony physique there is little chance Porzingis would be able to handle defending NBA centers, as big, strong athletes like DeAndre Jordan would crash through him like the Kool-Aid Man goes through drywall. So playing center is out of the question (for now). While his game is perimeter-oriented, Porzingis isn't nearly quick enough to chase around small forwards either, which means that he has to be considered a power forward by default.
Unfortunately, the Lakers already have their power forward of the future in Julius Randle. While Randle is still a bit of an unknown, it's clear that asking him to slide to small forward to make room for Porzingis would not be a smart move, especially at a time when "playmaking 4s" are all the rage. Ryan Kelly also happens to do his best work at the four spot (even his mom agrees), and attempts to shift him to small forward last season brought cringe-worthy results.
Adding Porzingis would mean that the Lakers would have three young, developing players who all exclusively play the same position, which is a coach's nightmare. There aren't nearly enough minutes to go around at one position to allow all three to grow. That's also not considering any time Ed Davis or Carlos Boozer could eat up should they return to the team, or any players added in free agency.
To have the Lakers two highest draft picks in the last 33 years play the same position would only create a massive logjam that would not only hinder the development of both players but would also lower their value around the league. This Lakers team lacks assets, and can't afford to devalue any of the ones that they do have by creating an unnecessary minutes crunch.
Of course experts consistently promote the notion that teams should never draft for fit, with the classic cautionary tale being the Portland Trailblazers selection of Sam Bowie when they could have had Michael Jordan. For the most part this is true, fit shouldn't be a factor when drafting. Take the best player available and figure out fit later.
However, selecting Porzingis would be saying a lot more than just that the Lakers think he's going to be a great player. Jahlil Okafor and D'Angelo Russell, Porzingis' main competition, are better fits and as such would have to get the nod if the Lakers viewed either of them as equal to Kristaps.
Consequently, taking Porzingis would send the message that not only is he clearly a star but also that Jahlil Okafor and D'Angelo Russell are not.
That's quite a statement to make, and one that not many front offices around the league would feel comfortable with. At the very least he is a gamble, one that would be more likely to haunt the Lakers than simply taking Okafor or Russell. While Porzingis is certainly intriguing he just isn't the can't-miss prospect that some believe him to be. There is a lot of risk involved with taking him, with his post play, body type, and fit all being major concerns.
All rookies have things to work on, but to dismiss these weaknesses and assume that he will become a Frankensteined Dirk/Pau/Kirilenko combo is just as dangerous as ignoring his strengths and assuming he will bust because of his country of origin.
For the Lakers, this draft provides a shot at adding a major piece towards the rebuilding process. The purple and gold rarely find themselves in a position to take someone so high in the draft, which makes it even more important that they not miss on this one.
Okafor and Russell have their own question marks, but they also have a clearer path to success in LA. The wisest path for the Lakers would be to stick with one of them and not jump on board the Kristaps Porzingis hype train.
Follow Trevor Lane on Twitter @16ringsNBA