Our sixth player in Denver Stiffs draft coverage, might be the biggest mystery in this draft class. Maybe the biggest "boom" or "bust" prospect this year, Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis.
Who is Kristaps Porzingis?
Porzingis is a 19 year old, born on August 2nd in Liepaja, Latvia - the third largest city in the country. He currently plays for Baloncesto Sevilla of the ACB League over in Spain and was named the Eurocup Rising Star this season. Porzingis has the chance to be the highest drafted player from Latvia, passing Andris Biedrins who was taken eleventh in the 2004 NBA draft. The seven footer actually declared for last year's NBA draft, but withdrew his name the day of the event.
The following video is not in English, but shows a bit into the daily life over in Latvia for Porzingis and his family.
Take a look at Porzingis' stats from Baloncesto Sevilla:
1.) Shooting: Porzingis can really shoot the rock, he's definitely one of the better shooters in this class and has unique range for a seven footer. He can shoot it from anywhere, with solid touch from all over the floor, but really is deadly from beyond the arc. Porzingis has very good shooting mechanics, with a fluid shooting motion and has a quick release you don't see most big men possess.
Porzingis is comfortable shooting off screens as well, given his movement skills which is another rarity for a player with his size and could be a unique weapon offensively, for the right team or coach at the next level. His shooting range sticks out to me the most, he can really stretch the floor as a big guy and can hit threes, well beyond the NBA three point line.
2.) Mobility/Quickness: Again adding to his uniqueness, Porzingis has extremely good movement for a guy of his size, mainly because of his quick feet and lateral quickness. He flashes the potential to be a elite pick and roll defender because of this, doing a phenomenal job of quickly hedging and getting back to his man. Porzingis does a good job of closing out on shooters, also showing the ability at times to defend along the perimeter and switch onto guards. Given his incredible length as well as his movement skills, Porzingis can cover a ton of space on the defensive end and has very good range as a defender, adding to his potential.
His quickness also allows him again to shoot off screens offensively, as well as attack off the dribble. While he doesn't have the best handle, the Latvian big is comfortable creating off the bounce, whether shooting or driving to the rim. Porzingis usually can blow by most other big men, allowing him to be a threat scoring off the ball on weakside cuts or off screens. He really runs well in the open floor, showing no problem playing in transition and should have no problem playing in an up-tempo or motion based offense in the NBA.
3.) Length/Defensive Potential: Porzingis is extremely lanky with a very thin frame at 7'0", but has tremendous length. His wingspan is estimated to be from 7'3" to 7'6" and he utilizes this well, when covering the floor or protecting the rim on the defensive end. Even when he gets beat off the dribble or off a hedge on a pick and roll, his length allows him to recover a lot of ground and at least change some shots.
Porzingis only has averaged 1.1 blocks per game this season for Baloncesto, but he has the potential to be a elite shot blocker in the NBA if he improves his awareness defensively and timing as a shot blocker. He already has shown he can protect the rim, but his length added with his quickness allows him to get into passing lanes and also force steals.
Porzingis' length also allows him to finish above the rim, which he does with surprising authority at times. There's a lot of "Ifs" with Porzingis defensively, but given his elite length and movement skills, the potential is there for him to be a a very versatile defensive asset in the NBA.
1.) Strength: Once again Porzingis has a very thin frame at 7'0" and weighs only 220 lbs. I've seen him get pushed around quite a bit in games, getting outmuscled for rebounds and post position frequently. Most of the time, he gets bullied on the low block and could become a liability as a post defender. He doesn't play all that physical, which I think mainly is due to his lack of strength.
On the low block offensively, Porzingis' lack of strength also effects his ability to gain position and finish through contact. Porzingis will definitely have to hit the weight room and put on some pounds to hang with the big's in the NBA. His work ethic in the gym and commitment to changing his body over the next 3-5 years, will be crucial to his overall development and success at the next level.
2.) Rebounding: Probably the most concerning part of Porzingis' game is his lack of rebounding skills for a center. He gets bullied for boards a lot, sometimes just standing in the way on box outs rather than actually boxing out. His hands are also questionable, sometimes even if he gets two hands on the ball he still doesn't secure the rebounds. Porzingis' mainly just has poor fundamentals rebounding, again not really boxing out and mostly just tipping the rebound, instead of grabbing it with two hands.
3.) Defensive Awareness: Porzingis has a ton of potential on the defensive end of the floor, but he has a lot of bad habits as a defender too. His timing as a shot blocker is poor and like most young players, he gets caught watching the ball too much on defense. He lacks discipline, going for shot fakes a lot and getting into foul trouble at times. Porzingis will need time to adjust to the speed of the NBA and could be left out to try, if he goes to the wrong team or environment.
Porzingis is one of the most hotly debated players in this class with some seeming to think he's the next Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol, while others believe he's gonna be a huge "bust" and be the next Shawn Bradley or Andrea Bargnani. I tend to fall in the middle on the Latvian big, I'm not sure he's the next Dirk, but I also don't believe he will be a bad player in the NBA.
I liken him more to Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic, as a 4 or 5 who can stretch the floor, moves well and also has some ability to attack off the dribble. Porzingis is probably a more smooth shooter than Mirotic, as well as a better athlete with more mobility and versatility on the offensive end. He doesn't have quite the feel for the game as the Bulls rookie, but he also is already a better defender, with potential to get even better given he can gain 20-25 lbs over the next few years (also not an easy feat).
Worst case scenario for Porzingis, he probably ends up being picked too high by a team who needs him to produce now and end's up like Andrea Barngnani did with the Toronto Raptors.
How can the Nuggets get Porzingis?
Porzingis might be the biggest wildcard in this draft, as he could go anywhere from 1-10, in my opinion. Even recently, it was reported by NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper that some NBA executives believe that Porzingis could go as high as number two overall come June 25th. For the Nuggets to get Porzingis, they would probably have to trade up into the top five or hope their 15% of a top three pick hits in Tuesday's lottery.
Although, I'm not sure the Nuggets should or would even want to select Porzingis, given they already have two young international centers on the roster in Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, who is expected to sign with the team this summer. In drafting Porzingis, the Nuggets could be creating a logjam at center and a potential problem they really don't need.
I view Porzingis as a top ten prospect in this class, but I have a feeling he may go in the top three in this draft given his unique combination of size and offensive versatility.