With the 2015 NBA Draft just over a week away, the picture remains a bit hazy as to where each of the top prospects will eventually land. However, while most folks who’ve been following the process are familiar with names such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, and D’Angelo Russell, there’s another player who’s been garnering quite a bit of attention as of late. His name is Kristaps Porzingis; a 19-year-old international superstar who’s out to prove he deserves to be mentioned along with the best of them.
It’s not every day that one comes across 7-foot-1 European with a guard’s handle, a fluid jumper from three, and an instinct to protect the rim. But that’s the package that is “The Latvian Zinger.” In his article, “Making the case for being the No. 1 pick: Kristaps Porzingis,” (subscription required) ESPN’s Chad Ford lays out the scene as Porzingis takes the floor at the IMPACT gym in Las Vegas to workout for NBA executives. As Ford describes it, while the former member of Sevilla — in the Spanish ACB League — was drilling shot after shot, “No one wanted to move. No one wanted to scare him away.” After all, its rare to come across a player that, as Ford puts is, “looks and plays like a cross between Dirk Nowitzki, Andrei Kirilenko and yes, Kevin Durant.” In fact, it never happens.
But for all the rave reviews that Porzingis has been receiving, there’s still one knock against him that he can’t seem to escape. And it’s the very thing that could keep NBA front offices from taking a chance on the young prodigy. It wasn’t too long ago that being an international talent was a positive thing. Now it’s what creates the most hesitation. Porzingis is well aware of this stigma — and he’s out to show that he’s nothing like the failed projects that came before him.
If you were to ask Porzingis’s Sevilla coach Scott Roth to describe the biggest difference between his former pupil those past international stars who couldn’t cut it in the NBA, his answer would be simple: passion and work ethic.
“Most of the international guys that busted didn’t love the game,” Roth said. “They failed because of a lack of passion and work ethic. It was convenient for them to come over and make a lot of money. Zinger’s more in the Dirk mode, in that you can’t get him out of the gym. He’s also more in the Gasol mode, because he’s so skilled.”
This isn’t just a coaching talking up his player. It’s a fact. While speaking with Yahoo Sports, Porzingis acknowledged that what he’s most looking forward to about being in the NBA, is round the clock gym access. “The biggest thing for me – the thing that I think most about – is that you can get into the gym whenever you want here,” he said. “They give you a card, or a key, and in the middle of the night, if you want to work out, you just go to the gym and get your work in – and I think that’s amazing.”
This doesn’t sound like a prospect who’s willing to simply rest on his laurels. He doesn’t want to be considered soft or stiff or weak. Porzingis is far from a finished product. But he knows that. He knows that he’ll need to put in the work if he hopes to compete at the highest level in the world. Yet he’s still very much an intriguing talent. Not only are the Philadelphia 76ers reportedly ‘extremely high‘ on him, but the Los Angeles Lakers — who hold the No. 2 overall pick — brought him in for a private workout on Monday.
It’s unfair to lump Porzingis in with the flops that came before him. But the National Basketball Association is, first and foremost, a business. It’s one thing to take a risk on a player and it not work out. But it’s far worse to take a chance on an international player and have the decision blow up in your face. If Porzingis turns out to be the next Darko Milicic, then someone’s probably looking for a new job. However, if he becomes the next Nowitzki, then that same person is probably looking at a corner office.
There’s guarantee that Kristaps Porzingis will end up being a star in the NBA. Then again, he just might.