With the draft just 10 days away, Porzingis’ stock has taken a dramatic rise that has put him in the conversation to be among the first three players selected, with some even debating if it may be worth it to take him first overall ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns.
While Porzingis is a lottery lock with great potential, after seeing him a great deal these past two years, I can tell you he is being overvalued right now.
This season for Spanish club Baloncesto Sevilla, Porzingis made big strides in his game – improving his skills, his body and his confidence – on his way to being named the European rising star of this year’s Eurocup. While Sevilla had a rough season in the Spanish ACB League, it played well enough in the Eurocup to qualify for the round of 32 (the competition’s second stage), where Porzingis got extremely valuable experience for someone still shy of his 20th birthday.
For a 7-1 player, Porzingis possesses incredible mobility with great legs. Not only is he an excellent catch-and-shoot player, he can set a screen for a high pick-and-roll and end up finishing with a sweet alley-oop dunk. Porzingis gets out very quickly in transition, where he is a quality finisher, and does a great job coming from outside for offensive rebounds. There is no question that Porzingis should be a lottery prospect in this draft, but the hype surrounding him over the past few days since his ballyhooed Las Vegas workout is way over the top.
ASM, the agency spearheaded by Andy Miller, made a brilliant move running its own workout and inviting every NBA team, rather than having Porzingis work out individually for teams. With full control over the environment, ASM put Porzingis in the perfect situation to showcase his strengths, and he hit the ball out of the park, leaving both NBA staffers and media drooling over his potential. Unfortunately for the Pistons, Bucks and Nuggets – who used lottery picks on Darko Milicic, Yi Jianlian and Nikoloz Tskitishvili, respectively, mostly on the merit of how they looked in workouts – a predraft workout is almost irrelevant when looking at the potential of a player.
The reality is that Porzingis was a 20-minute per game player for a Spanish team that failed to make the playoffs and did not have an American at his position. American coach Scott Roth, a former NBA player who had multiple stints as an NBA assistant, was fired in January and essentially paid the price for giving Porzingis a bigger role instead of building a team that could reach the postseason.
Last season, Dario Saric played on a Cibona team that was struggling financially and didn’t have the strongest roster. But Saric was able to put the team on his back and singlehandedly lead it to great heights. If you have the type of length and mobility of Porzingis, what excuse do you have for grabbing three rebounds or fewer in 19 of 50 games this season, especially when you are second on your team in minutes?
ESPN draft expert Chad Ford said that if Porzingis were in college this past season, “I have no doubt – and a number of scouts have said this – we’d be talking about him as a potential No. 1.”
To be honest, I would say absolutely the opposite. If Porzingis played in college and had lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, maybe he would be going back to school because he didn’t think he would be a lottery pick. I don’t buy the idea that he would have been as dominant as Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky were in college this season. I would even go one step further and say that if Hezonja played for Sevilla instead of Porzingis, Sevilla would have made the playoffs and Hezonja would’ve been on the All-ACB First Team.
A lot of American journalists like to label European players as unknown because they don’t watch international basketball. The average reader doesn’t, either. But in 2015, every NBA team has access to every European league game, and with Google Translate, you can follow everything going on with every top prospect in every country. NBA teams have had every chance to see Porzingis many times, and anyone tasked with making a draft decision has been watching Porzingis for a while.
So how could a workout just two weeks before the draft greatly impact the stock of a player that teams have had many opportunities to see over the past years?
The answer is the herd mentality. If you put enough basketball personnel in one room to see a player in an ideal, controlled environment and he impresses, teams not only are more interested because of his potential, but also because they saw that other teams were impressed. For what it’s worth, the biggest winner of the workout was ASM, because their pre-draft strategy for Porzingis was brilliant. I’m sure other players and agents will take notice.
Porzingis certainly is no draft bust like Milicic or Tskitishvili, but he doesn’t seem to be Dirk Nowitzki, either. Whichever team drafts him likely will be very happy, but at this point it doesn’t look like a good idea to pick Porzingis ahead of Towns, Okafor, D’Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, Justise Winslow, Willie Cauley-Stein or even Hezonja.
AJ Mitnick is an American living in Israel and working as an assistant coach in the Israeli Basketball Winner League. Mitnick is the assistant coach of Bnei Herzliya, following three seasons with Maccabi Rishon-Lezion. Follow him on Twitter.