Mystery Man Kristaps Porzingis Tempts Many in NBA Draft, but Will Any Team Bite?

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterJune 22, 2015

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — As much mystery as there is surrounding Latvian basketball prospect Kristaps Porzingis, the unknown part isn't really tied to an uncommon name or the distant geography.

It's the same old mystery that scouts have forever grappled with: a darkness that doubles in its half-full description as "potential."

Porzingis could become so much more, because as little muscle and polish as he has, he is very much 7'1" with evident skill.

Absolutely, there's darkness all around him: where he'll fill out, how he'll learn, if he can truly compete and thrive at a higher level.

And the fear for NBA executives presently sitting in the dark—and specifically the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 overall—is spending a precious high pick on a nightlight.

Porzingis isn't that, though.   

It was only a matter of time before the talents Porzingis clearly possesses became appreciated in the mainstream, feeding into the excitement of NBA front offices to hit home runs instead of doubles.

The Lakers are the ideal club to be tested by this.

No matter how conservative general manager Mitch Kupchak might seem, the Lakers are unafraid of the bold choice. They are dead set on finding something special rather than something safe.

Clearly, they are in no danger of losing their massive fanbase. And their belief is that they won't be picking this high very often, so this is no short-term investment. If Porzingis is going to have a better career than Jahlil Okafor, then Porzingis should be the choice—no matter if he offers little in Kobe Bryant's expected farewell season besides a reminder that Bryant won two titles with Ukrainian Slava Medvedenko once upon a time. (Slava, now 36, actually attended a Lakers game last season with his wife and daughter.)

The Lakers aren't new to this chase, either.

They viewed Porzingis as perhaps even a likely pick before the lottery balls bounced their way and they moved up to No. 2 instead of one of the lesser slots.

They've been over to Spain to see Porzingis play with Sevilla. Kupchak, Jim Buss, assistant GM Glenn Carraro, scouting director Jesse Buss, assistant scouting director Ryan West and scout Chaz Osborne were among a considerable Lakers contingent to attend Porzingis' recent workout in Las Vegas. The team followed up immediately with a private workout his agent preferred stay clandestine at the Lakers' home facility last Monday night.

All that said, the Lakers are not expected to take Porzingis. There is ongoing consideration for the undeniably impressive D'Angelo Russell, too.

But the two centers, Karl-Anthony Towns and Okafor, have too much size and certainty. Okafor is, all things considered, the right choice for the Lakers.

Whether this ultimately winds up being anything more than due diligence for the Lakers with Porzingis or Russell depends also, in part, on how much the Lakers are anchored in the belief that they have a post-based offense immediately ready with Bryant and Okafor, whose ability to finish inside and pass out of double-teams is already at a high NBA level.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor (right) have long been expected to be the top two picks in this week's NBA draft.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor (right) have long been expected to be the top two picks in this week's NBA draft.Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images

Assuming Towns goes No. 1 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Okafor probably proves too much to pass up for the Lakers—meaning the opportunity will fall to the outside-the-box Philadelphia 76ers at No. 3 to ignore their perimeter positional need and how well Russell would fit and take Porzingis instead.

If the 76ers pass, then the challenge goes to the New York Knicks, who are not exactly in position to be the most patient with their future, considering Carmelo Anthony is 31 and Phil Jackson is very much on the clock with his player-personnel career experiment. Duke swingman Justise Winslow, an NBA-ready defender, is the more obvious pick in so many ways.

Which is why the darkness of being the draft's "man of mystery" is real.

Last year's skinny candidate for the honor, Australian point guard Dante Exum, went fifth overall to the Utah Jazz...and practically went through his rookie season unnoticed.

Exum did play, and he even started the last three months, but he largely went through the paces to learn. He might well evolve into a dynamic defender and capable threat on offense, but the painful part of drafting guys like him is that the mystery probably takes years to solve.

The reality is that the 19-year-old Porzingis is raw, too, but he could play backup minutes right now.

Just look at another of agent Andy Miller's clients, Nerlens Noel, who became a man of mystery from sitting out his first NBA season with an injury. He promptly surprised people by how good he actually was already.

Now is the time to investigate fully the possibilities that Porzingis is special.

That he is like Pau Gasol, a trailblazer so daring and determined to be great that he left home to play pro ball elsewhere, as Porzingis did in leaving Latvia at 15.

That he is like Dirk Nowitzki, with complete face-up comfort, a true shooting stroke from such a high release and, most important, an honest love for the game.

Except "Zinger" is also more athletic than either of those guys!

It's actually true.

That hardly means Porzingis' career will approach Gasol's or Nowitzki's, but the possibilities are fascinating.

Not necessarily irresistible. But fascinating.

Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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