One workout video against exactly no-one has sent Kristaps Porzingis rocketing up draft boards but context is critical according to Emmet Ryan
For most of the past year Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis has been the top European on NBA Draft boards. Last month however he finally slipped below the far more hyped Mario Hezonja. In terms of immediate readiness, this seem sensible. Both were lottery pick quality ballers but Hezonja, currently in the ACB Finals with Barcelona, looked far more capable of playing right away. Then this happened…
That single video has changed the conversation from perhaps Porzingis stays below Hezonja to perhaps Porzingis goes in the top two. Experienced analysts like Fran Fraschilla sent out the usual health warnings about what to believe and who to listen to right now but that’s not the dominant conversation. Instead it’s how high can Porzingis actually go and how much should we be afraid?
The two names that have been bandied about the most are Yi Jianlian, who had a similar boost from a hot workout video, and Porzingis’ fellow Latvian Andris Biedrins. Yi Jianlian was an abject failure in the NBA with his one real highlight being his combining with Yao Ming to deliver one of the most-viewed sporting events ever when they played each other in the 2007/08 season. Biedrins was serviceable for around three seasons at the Golden State Warriors but is best known for the epic collapse of his game that made him a laughing stock through the final four years of his NBA career.
Then there’s the name everyone is afraid to say. Darko. Darko, Darko, Darko, DARKO.
The long history of Darko Milicic from being drafted way too high, bombing with the Pistons, and generally serving as a cautionary tale began with Detroit’s front office being impressed by his workout. Free Darko took its name from him, once basketball was done he tried MMA, and then he fed beer to his tattoos. Darko is the fear, the ultimate concern for any Euro going to the big show.
Read Sam Chadwick’s draft profile of Kristaps Porzingis
Perception however can be over-hyped just as much as a draft prospect. While sites like this cover Europe as a whole, the vast majority of fans are local. A Serbian fan doesn’t really care if a Latvian succeeds in the NBA, even a next door neighbour like a Lithuanian fan could go either way. If Porzingis bombs it will be a disappointment in Latvia but it’s not going to sour the view of front offices on Europe as a whole and it’s not going to bother all that many basketball fans over here.
As for the actual quality of player Porzingis is? Well he’s a well-rounded European big but if a team drafting him thinks they are getting anything other than that, it’s their own fault. Hoping they get more, that’s fine and that’s what you hope for with development, but right now we have got a lot more than one workout video to work off.
Porzingis has played extensively in the second best national league in the sport, behind only the NBA, with Sevilla. While Hezonja benefitted from playing with better players at a higher level, logging minutes in Euroleague, Porzingis got his shot to impress with a side that needed him to matter. In Eurocup, which is the tier behind Euroleague, Porzingis continued to log good minutes and was named the competition’s rising star (best young player). That’s a lot of time of real basketball against real teams who can test the young Latvia.
It doesn’t mean he’s going to be the man but it reflects the assessment from the top of this column. Porzingis has shown he has plenty of facets to his game to make it in the NBA. He may be a star, he may be a role player, he’s a couple of years from showing us really where it’s going to go.