Can Knicks Afford To Take A Chance On Boom-Or-Bust Latvian At No. 4?

By John Schmeelk
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The NBA draft is two weeks away, and with the Knicks picking fourth they’ll have a number of options available to them. Until then, we’ll continue to take a look at the 10 players that could come into play for Phil Jackson if he stays put or trades down.

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Kristaps Porzingis: 7-foot-1, 220 pounds, 19 years old (turns 20 in August), Latvia

ACB (top Euro league) stats: 21.7 minutes, 10.7 points, 47% FG, 31% 3PT, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 block

Eurocup stats: 20.0 minutes, 11.6 points, 55.6% FG, 45.9% 3PT, 4.1 rebounts, 1.2 blocks

Some people call Emmanuel Mudiay the boom-or-bust prospect in this draft. They’re wrong. That title belongs to Kristaps Porzingis. Considered to have one of the highest ceilings of anyone in this draft class, he might also have one of the lowest floors of the players predicted to go in the top 10. In five years he could be a 20-point scorer as an athletic stretch-four who also protects the rim, rebounds and scores in transition. Or he can be someone playing out his contract, glued to the bench, because his body and the rest of his game never matured to match expectations. Draft at your own risk.

What we know he can do: Porzingis can shoot the basketball in ways men his size can’t. Even more impressive is the way he runs around screens, and moves away from the ball like a wing player to get open looks on catch-and-shoots. He has a pretty quick release and can shoot over defenders. He moves so well without the ball, other players his size have little chance of getting through the screens to stay with him. He can also shoot off the dribble a bit, but that part of his game is not nearly as strong as his catch-and-shoot ability.

He is long and athletic, making him an effective transition player and capable of catching and throwing down lob passes. He is not strong enough to box out (more on that later), but he does crash the offensive glass well from the outside using his athleticism.

What we think he can do: He can move his feet pretty well defensively, giving him potential as a screen-and-roll defender. There is also hope he will eventually expand his offensive game to include taking players off the dribble. A good post game is a distinct possibility if he can become stronger as well. If he can improve his handle and become a better decision-maker and penetrator, he could be an elite offensive player one day.

Unfortunately, though he has such a high ceiling, it’s going to take a few years. Even in a best-case scenario, his time on the floor as an effective player his first couple years in the league will be extremely limited. He is a project.

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What we worry about: Porzingis is a project because of his body. As Clyde Frazier would say, “This kid’s a string bean.” He’s only 220 pounds at 7-plus feet tall. He is not strong and routinely gets bullied in Euroleague play. With hard work, his body should be able to get where it needs to, but there are no guarantees. If he doesn’t acquire the necessary strength and toughness he’ll never develop a post game, be able to rebound consistently or defend in the post. If that happens he’s a 15-minute-per-game player that has to be protected defensively, and lives behind the three point line. That’s not a top-5 pick.

Off the court: He’s fluent in English, which should make his transition to the NBA a little easier.

Buzz: Teams apparently love his potential but they know the risk of blowback if he busts out.

Floor: Nikoloz Tskitishvili. It could be that bad.

Ceiling: He would be a pretty unique player. People want to compare him to Dirk, but he is more athletic than the German. His shooting could be in the same neighborhood one day, though.

Fit on the Knicks: He would probably barely play right away, making his fit on the current roster irrelevant. If Porzingis blossoms, he would be a weapon for any team in any system as an athletic stretch-four that can defend.

Prediction: Jackson isn’t obsessed about winning right away with Carmelo Anthony, but even he won’t be willing to wait two or three seasons for Porzingis to meet his potential. If the Knicks held a first-round pick next year, maybe it would be a different conversation. A three-year boom-or-bust pick is not something the franchise can afford right now. Apparently some people in the front office are very high on the kid, but I bet Jackson goes in a different direction.

Porzingis is the last player that the Knicks can realistically consider at four. The rest of the guys I’ll review will all be trade-down candidates.

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You can follow me on Twitter @Schmeelk for everything Knicks, the NBA, the Giants and the world of sports.