James Worthy Sees Kristaps Porzingis as 'Combination of Dirk and Durant'

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 13, 2015

USA Today

Las Vegas Summer League is a place for unbridled excitement and enthusiastic reviews of young players who are making their first forays into (kind of) professional competition. In Sin City, hyperbolic evaluations can sometimes run just as rampant as flashing lights, adult beverages and advertisements for seedy establishments. 

Or maybe Kristaps Porzingis is just that good, regardless of the boo birds who came out to play when he was taken off the board at the Barclays Center. 

The New York Knicks' top draft choice made his debut in Vegas on Saturday night, and it only took 18 minutes of action for his style of play to leave a lasting impression on one of the sport's legends. James Worthy, working on a Los Angeles Lakers broadcast, was blown away by the skill set of the 19-year-old Latvian forward. 

"He's a freak of nature. He's a combination of Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant," the Hall of Famer posited, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "It's a good pick for the Knicks."

That last sentence may even have been a bit redundant.

Jun 25, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Kristaps Porzingis (SPN) reacts after being selected as the number four overall pick to the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, a teenager who's a blend of two all-time-great talents is going to be a good pickup, regardless of how high he was snatched off the board.

What did Porzingis do to be held in such high esteem? While helping lead the Knicks to a victory over the San Antonio Spurs, he recorded 12 points, three rebounds and two blocks, shooting 3-of-5 from the field and knocking down six of his seven attempts from the charity stripe. His injured hip was the only thing that truly held him back.

Yes, that's what it took to become an amalgamation of two future first-ballot Hall of Famers. 

As Ben Golliver explained for Sports Illustrated, the rookie big man had a solid debut that "wasn't necessarily spectacular," though he did indeed flash the tools of a versatile stretch 4: 

Although he's not the quickest or beefiest player you'll come across, Porzingis does move with the comfort of a stretch-four on offense. On one possession, he came from the baseline to set a high screen, popped out behind the arc to serve as a release for the ball-handler, faced up a defender, drove left to collapse help defenders, and then kicked out a pass to a shooter at the angle. There were only nine players in the NBA last season listed at 7'1" or taller, and none is equipped to handle such diverse responsibilities in quick succession like Porzingis. 

And that's where Worthy's comparison comes into play. 

Porzingis is still as raw as an uncooked steak, and his performances throughout the 2015-16 campaign will inevitably make the New York faithful feel as if they're riding a roller coaster. But for brief stretches, he can convince those in attendance that he's the second coming of a legendary German power forward, thanks to his shooting ability and body control in the air. Then, he may do a convincing Durant impression on the next possession, putting the ball on the floor and creating space for himself or his teammates. 

It's a highly intriguing mix, and Worthy's statement isn't as outlandish as you may have originally thought. He's not saying Porzingis is a lock to occupy Springfield one day.

After all, scouting players and comparing them to an established legend—or two, in this case—doesn't necessarily imply that their careers will be on par with the legend's. In many situations, it just means they're stylistically similar.

But now, Porzingis has to keep the hype train rolling. The competition is only going to get tougher, since his Knicks debut came against a Spurs squad that featured exactly one player who will be spending significant time in San Antonio during the regular season—Kyle Anderson. 

On top of that, a strong summer league debut is by no means a guarantee for success, even if some league executives thought Porzingis could become the best player in the draft, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"Even when an international player has started strong, as Nikoloz Tskitishvili did for Denver, averaging a Las Vegas Summer League-high 25.7 points in 2004, it hasn't always stuck," Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick wrote after Porzingis' debut. "The forward from the nation of Georgia scored a total of 507 points in four dreadful regular seasons."

There's a lot of space between a Nowitzki/Durant hybrid and Tskitishvili, and it's too soon to tell which route Porzingis will travel down. Chances are, he'll find himself somewhere firmly in the middle, as those two polar extremes represent the ends of a spectrum, not just the only possible outcomes. 

But for now, Knicks fans should continue relishing the lofty comparisons while Porzingis gains his sea legs against players who are weaker, smaller, slower and just worse than the competition he'll be facing in the Association. 

Perhaps another standout showing in Vegas will lead a second Hall of Famer to believe he's LeBron James, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird mixed up together in one lanky frame. 

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.


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