He was a late addition to the 2014 NBA draft crop, but Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis could make a huge impact in the Association.
As recently as April 22, Sportando reported that the 18-year-old 7-footer would not enter this year's draft. Just a few days later, the youngster took a 180-degree turn:
Surprising development: Latvian 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis (1995) has entered his name in the 2014 draft. 1st round prospect for sure.— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 28, 2014
After a strong showing in the 2013 U18 European Championships and a solid winter for Cajasol of the Spanish ACB League, Porzingis decided it was time to make the big jump. He played just 14 minutes per game for Cajasol but scored 6.1 points on 52 percent shooting.
What tools and skills does he bring to the NBA, and what will his role and upside look like?
Physical Tools: The Good and the Bad
The most eye-popping attribute Porzingis owns is length.
In addition to standing seven feet tall, he has a tremendous wingspan. It hasn't been officially recorded, but it appears to be seven-plus feet easily. The long reach allows him to cover a ton of space both horizontally and vertically, and this comes in handy on both ends of the floor.
This expansive presence allows him to score above the fray, especially in transition and when he executes properly. He converts alley-oops that are highly difficult for most players. Porzingis' length also helps him shoot over most defenders, corral rebounds and alter shots.
Athletically, he won't be elite in the NBA, but he's got plenty of bounce for a 7-footer. He's also agile and demonstrates superb body control in midair. Porzingis' foot speed and lateral quickness are also above average for a 7-footer, as he lopes from point to point with ease.
Meanwhile, his slender frame is a work in progress. Listed at 215 pounds by Eurobasket, Porzingis doesn't own the kind of bulk or strength required to impose his will in the NBA. He needs to put on 25-30 more pounds of upper and lower body muscle to maximize his interior opportunities.
The good news is that he seems to be working on it:
Offensive Role: Versatile Stretch 4
Given his size and promising skill set at such a young age, Porzingis has a great chance to be a prolific inside-outside weapon.
As we noted before, he's long enough and agile enough to elevate with a high release point near the basket. However, he's not a highly effective low-post player due to his slight physique, so most of his interior points come off drives or transition.
He can't really muscle his way into position, back guys down or finish through contact in half-court scenarios. That being said, the potential is there for him to become a respectable threat on the block once he gets stronger and refines his repertoire of pivot moves and short bankers.
Porzingis' coach Aito Garcia Reneses has coached several future NBA standouts during their ACB days, including Pau Gasol, Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio. He sees the young Latvian's potential and knows there's a higher level Porzingis hasn't reached:
"He is technically gifted but is he is yet not finishing plays as well as he should," Reneses told Dimitris Kontos of FIBAEurope.com. "Others with less skills than him finish better because they make the most of the two good moves they have. He's got eight good moves."
Porzingis not only has the touch to step out and hit mid-range shots, he can also go all the way to three-point land. He shot just 33 percent from beyond the arc during 2013-14, but the eye test shows he's got legitimate stretch 4 potential.
Robert White of Prospect Next breaks down why NBA teams shouldn't worry about his numbers: "Porzingis projects as an interesting shooter. He is currently not hitting at a great percent, but has a very smooth technique and a quick release that suggests he can grow into a very good catch and shoot option from distance. Even his misses look good."
Let's remember, he's only 18. There's time for him to get stronger, upgrade his ball-handling and become a consistent outside shooter.
If Porzingis addresses his weaknesses and becomes a multidimensional power forward, he'll be a starting-caliber stretch 4, possibly even a double-double candidate. Don't be shocked if he notches 15-plus per game in his prime.
Defensive Role: Mobile Rim Protector
One of the most exciting aspects of Porzingis' game is his shot-blocking ability. During his dominant run at the U18 tournament, he swatted 4.9 shots per game, including nine in the championship loss against Spain.
His knack for redirecting opponents' attempts begins with his length and ability to play above the rim. But there's much more to his defense than that.
Porzingis exhibits exemplary alertness as a weak-side helper, often tracking down slashers from 15-20 feet away. With a couple long strides and a well-timed leap, he erases truckloads of would-be layups.
Draft Express video analyst Mike Schmitz explained that he shows great footwork and mobility when defending ball-screen plays. Schmitz observed Porzingis "uses quick feet to hard hedge on the perimeter and recover quickly."
In one-on-one scenarios, he offers a mixed bag.
Against face-up slashers on the perimeter and mid-post, he does a nice job of containing the attack and steering foes away from the bucket. He might have trouble against the quickest power forwards in the NBA, but for the most part he's mobile enough to get the job done.
On the post-up block, he's not as adept during isolation defense. Porzingis sporadically gives up position and gets pushed around against ACB challengers, so you know he's going to get bullied early in his career by stronger NBA post players.
Rebounding awareness is another area he must clean up. White noticed that the youngster has yet to display all the good habits of an effective board-getter, as he relies heavily on his size to corral boards: "Porzingis doesn't appear to be more than an average rebounder, but uses his length and athleticism to his advantage."
Despite his current shortcomings, Porzingis' defensive ceiling is extremely lofty. The biggest reason for optimism is that he shows concerted effort on that end of the floor. When his energy and wingspan are eventually supported by sharp mental execution, he's going to be a highly valuable frontcourt stopper.
It's not clear whether Porzingis will be a draft-and-stash prospect, but either way he's an appealing international asset.
He's not an ultra-risky pick even though he's a European enigma. Most of his weaknesses are correctable, and his length and shooting are a worthwhile investment.
Porzingis will undoubtedly draw interest from mid-first-round clubs due to his youth and stretch 4 potential. It would be surprising to see him fall past the late-first range because 7-footers who can shoot are precious commodities.
It may be too early to slap the "star" label on him. But let's just say he's got outstanding defensive upside, and he could become one of the top three or four offensive options on his NBA club.
He won't wait too long before hearing his name called on June 26.
Dan O'Brien covers the NBA Draft for Bleacher Report.