“I think there is a strong chance he lands in the top four picks,” one Eastern Conference general manager told SheridanHoops. “The Lakers, Knicks and 76ers are all possible options. He has the length and athleticism of Andrei Kirilenko and stroke and footwork like Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the best prospect in this draft while also having the best upside.”
Porzingis displays the traits executives covet in today’s game. He’s a big man that can block shots, spread the floor beyond the arc and run alongside guards on the fast break in small ball lineups.
With that in mind, Porzingis is out to shed the stereotype behind European big men.
“A lot of people just think that because I’m European and I’m skinny, I’m soft,” Porzingis told SheridanHoops. “But that’s not the case. I’m not soft at all and I don’t like being labeled as soft.”
In Europe, soccer generally reigns as the premier sport, but not for Porzingis.
“Some of the GMs think that because I’m European I may be soft or they say the difference between Europeans and Americans is that we Europeans like basketball and Americans love basketball,” Porzingis told SheridanHoops. “But the thing with me is I love basketball more than anything. I’m in the gym working every day. I’m a very hard worker. I love the game. I study the game all the time. That won’t be a problem because I love the game so much.”
The work Porzingis puts into his craft was evident at Impact Basketball, where his pro day was held. Porzingis had executives drooling over his potential after nailing 3-pointers from beyond the arc from all spots, running the court fluidly and dunking with his head nearly at the rim.
“He’s really good and I think he should be in the conversation at No. 2,” another Eastern Conference general manager told SheridanHoops.
The Los Angeles Lakers select No. 2 overall and have been linked to Jahlil Okafor and D’Angelo Russell predominantly. One league source told SheridanHoops the Lakers believe Okafor has a chance to be a “franchise center.” However, Russell has emerged as a legitimate contender for the No. 2 pick according to our Joe Kotoch in his latest mock draft.
Being drafted second overall by the Lakers would be a surreal experience for Porzingis.
“When I was growing up me and my brother used to get up really early in the morning to watch the NBA Finals when Kobe and Pau were playing together from 2008-10,” Porzingis told SheridanHoops. “I was a big fan of the Lakers at that time and I’m still a fan of the Lakers and Kobe. That was my team.”
Should the Lakers pass on Porzingis, Sam Hinkie and the 76ers remain a viable option to snatch him.
Hinkie, the mad scientist who has taken the phrases “build through the draft” and “tanking” to a new level, recently announced former No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid suffered a setback in his return from a foot injury.
The timing of the release left some executives puzzled. Teams are not obligated to provide injury updates, especially when the update contains bad news. In this case, Hinkie opened the door to possibly selecting Porzingis since Embiid may miss the upcoming season after missing his entire rookie campaign.
So why release the Embiid update if you’re Hinkie? Was it a smokescreen to divert interest from Russell, the true target? Or, was it a way to draw more trade interest in the No. 3 pick?
Speaking of having interest in the third overall pick, the New York Knicks will anxiously be waiting to see if Russell or Okafor somehow slips to them with the fourth pick.
If not, the team will most likely select from the trio of Porzingis, Justise Winslow and Emmanuel Mudiay or trade down.
Knicks general manager Steve Mills saw Porzingis play overseas “a couple of times,” league sources told SheridanHoops.
President Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher also were on hand in Las Vegas to watch Porzingis’ pro day.
Porzingis is seen as an ideal fit for the Triangle offense because he likes pick-and-pop sets and can shoot from any spot on the floor.
Should Porzingis fall to the Orlando Magic with the fifth pick, he will be in serious consideration for the selection along with Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein, league sources tell SheridanHoops.
As I reported on Thursday, Porzingis was in Orlando to meet with team officials. However, he did not have a workout with the Magic and will not participate in any individual workouts for teams before the draft.
As for Cauley-Stein, Orlando is intrigued with his defensive prowess as a shot blocker and rebounder to pair with the offensively talented Nikola Vucevic who struggles as a rim protector.
With so many plausible scenarios on draft day, Porzingis doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
“First of all, I try to go step by step, I want to get drafted and play in the NBA,” Porzingis told SheridanHoops. “Then I’ve got to see where I land, what’s the situation. Of course I’d love to get minutes on the court and prove myself to the coach. I try to go step by step and not think too much into the future and not make any early decisions or have too high expectations for myself.”
After playing professionally overseas for the past three seasons, Porzingis has learned what it takes to be a pro day-to-day and is mature beyond his years.
“He speaks great English and I don’t see it being that difficult of a transition off the court,” one executive told SheridanHoops. “He lived in a major Spanish city by himself.”
Unlike most young foreign players who seem out of touch or misplaced with their American teammates, Porzingis has a swagger to him and knows slang phrases after playing with, and against, American players overseas.
In addition, he grew up as a young child watching many English movies to broaden his knowledge of the language.
His older brother, Janis, has been alongside to guide him through the draft journey and transition to the United States in all aspects.
“Janis is my mentor on and off the court,” Porzingis told SheridanHoops. “We’re together all the time. He gives me advice all the time. He watches all of my games. After the games he calls me and we talk about the game, the details and we watch film together. It’s great having him give advice on the court and how hard I need to work.”
Janis was a 12-year pro overseas in Europe and briefly played for the Latvian national team. Janis has stayed with Kristaps in Las Vegas to help him train.
“I need to work on my post game,” Porzingis told SheridanHoops. “I’ve been working on my shot with my brother Janis. Off the court I need to get in the weight room. I’ve been doing that too.”
No weights will be as heavy as the expectations placed on the potential top-five pick after an impressive showing at his pro day and the Nowitzki comparisons.
Porzingis has the athleticism, shooting ability and pedigree to be a force in the league once he adds strength naturally as he enters his 20’s.
While drawing comparisons to a future Hall of Famer is daunting for a teenager, Porzingis has a chance to become a special player in due time.