In our initial Jazz big board that dropped on Saturday, one of the things I touched on was the team’s need for more perimeter-minded weapons, particularly dealing with front-court players. Within this series, we’ve touched on a handful of “stretch fours” with Frank Kaminsky, Myles Turner and Kevon Looney. However, there remains a particular lottery-bound player that we haven’t touched on, despite perfectly fitting into that “stretch four” label: European stud Kristaps Porzingis.
Before digging deep into what made Porzingis into the top prospect on my draft board, let’s look at the big elephant in the room: the natural comparison to former Jazz prospect Enes Kanter. When you first look at Kanter and Porzingis, you can see that both players have a few things in common. They’re both Euro players that base a lot of their games on their ability to spread the floor, as well as their potential to score in a multitude of different ways.
However, there are many more differences among the two. While Kanter only played four games against any kind of significant competition before making his way to the Jazz during the 2011 Draft, Porzingis has been refining his skills in different high-caliber leagues for the last few seasons.
In 2014-15 Porzingis started for Sevilla in both the ACB and Eurocup, leagues that feature some former D-League and NBA players combined with some of Europe’s best talent. Porzingis has actually elevated his game against heightened competition, averaging 11.6 points (55% from the field, 46% from 3) during Eurocup play.
That perimeter jumper is undoubtedly the main strength of Porzingis’ overall game. The 7’1 big has amazing shooting mechanics, spotlighted by a high release point and feathery touch. Porzingis is comfortable working around off-ball screens to find his spot, or just through straight spot-ups. That off-ball activity can really make you think that he’s the biggest small forward in the world, as you basically never see a 7-foot player being that active as an off-ball player.
That off-ball work also leads him to getting some easy looks from around the rim, as a lot of front-court players don’t particularly want to keep pace with an opponent that constantly moves around the court. While that could still work in the NBA, Porzingis might have some trouble getting such easy looks, as NBA defenses are more willing to have a defender or two working around the paint than your standard European defense. Another potential issue that could face Porzingis as he makes his transition to the NBA is his relative lack of athleticism. While he’s extremely quick for his size, his lack of athleticism doesn’t make him into a good target for lobs as he doesn’t get much lift whenever he jumps.
However, the area where Porzingis towers over Kanter is defensive potential. Similar to players like Karl Towns or Willie Cauley-Stein, Porzingis is mostly comfortable working around the perimeter and defending against wings. With his long frame and solid lateral quickness, Porzingis does a pretty good job of keeping those players from getting easy looks. While Kanter did occasionally venture out to that area, he didn’t look entirely comfortable, which was an ongoing theme with his work on defense. But with the combination of his size and comfort level from around the perimeter, Porzingis was a pretty solid ball-hawk, averaging 1.5 steals per 40-minutes in both the ACB and Eurocup.
While the potential is definitely there for Porzingis to be a standout defensive player, he still has a long ways to go. The biggest concern is his extremely slim frame; against European competition, there were a number of instances where Porzingis was pushed around to the point where it sometimes became uncomfortable to watch. That combined with an apparent hesitance to draw any kind of contact leads Porzingis to be a below-average rebounder (8.2 total rebounds per 40 minutes).
Although Porzingis is currently between the 7th and 10th spot in most mock drafts, those aforementioned concerns about his slender frame could potentially make him available when the Jazz are on the clock with the 12th pick. On the off-chance he falls to them, Porzingis would make for the absolutely perfect pick for the Jazz.
His work as a perimeter shooter will allow the team to have their bonafide “stretch 4”, which is a position that Porzingis could dominate for the next decade. And playing alongside Gobert or Favors could help mask Porzingis’ defensive flaws until he starts to develop his frame.