Kristaps Porzingis: Believe the Hype?

When was the last time Phil Jackson got talent wrong?

Never. Jackson’s career has always been about veteran talent but the one other time Jackson had a lottery pick assignment and had to mine the landscape for franchise changing talent, he went off the board, selecting an unknown high school “project” who, in time, became an All-Star and rivaled Dwight Howard for best NBA center.

Andrew Bynum was a late lottery pick in 2005 and seven years later he was an All-Star. The starting center on back-to-back title teams before his injuries ended his career in 2014, Bynum was mentored by Jackson, who extracted every ounce of skill from the immature Bynum before Bynum went off the rails completely. It was during workouts that Jackson recognized the seven-foot teenager had all the requirements of an offensive big man plus rebounding skills.

And it was during workouts that Jackson saw in Kristaps Porzingis the Dirk Nowitzki model on offense. To simplify it, Porzingis was a 7-3 forward with scoring talent, particularly from the perimeter. Prozingis, though, added another wrinkle. He was a willing rebounder and post player despite his thin frame, willing to take care of the small details that make coaches, and in Jackson’s case, former coaches, fall in love. Porzingis willingly set screens as a basketball detail and rarely was discouraged if at the end of the screen there was no payoff for him.

What we now know that we didn’t on draft night was that Kristaps Porzingis has a ungodly work ethic and a desire to improve. He has the Jackson intangible, what all his star players whose development he was responsible for had: the hunger to be great and the willingness to work for everything.

When Porzingis was loudly booed in Brooklyn on draft night, he took it all in stride which said more about his psyche then his game. Playing in New York requires athletic talent, skill and winners intangibles but the mental toughness to be able to push back the venom that arises from expectations that don’t materialize is a requirement. The Knicks haven’t won a title in almost 40 years. As a base, NYC fathers and sons luxuriate in the collective misery that comes with being a Knicks fans by excoriating everyone in the organization, from ownership on down.

When Porzingis scored 29 points against an above average Hornets team, the response was predictably reflective of the city itself that looks at sports through snapshots and not the big picture. Because of one great statistical game, Prozingis was linked with Knicks Hall of Famers and idealized as the team’s savior. The ridiculousness of it is just a reminder that it’s the Knicks way to overvalue everything.

But in Porzingis, Jackson, is having the last laugh. Porzingis is poised, mature, calm and willing to adapt to team principles, similar to Jackson’s identity as a Knick a long time ago. Kristaps Porzingis does something at least half of the NBA refuses to do: he plays hard.

Furthermore, he entered the NBA with a specific skill set that identifies NBA talents. He has an offensive repertoire of floaters and perimeter shots and pull-ups. In the Hornets game, he pulled out of the repertoire a shake move that had everyone mourning the departure of Hakeem Olajuwon almost twenty years ago. Porzingis already has fans speculating on his future. Specifically,  how good of a career can he have?

Jackson, smug as always, scans the lottery pick field, his arrogant smile lighting up the Manhattan night. The greatest coach in NBA history did it again.

 Lottery Picks 4-8  Points Per Game  Rebounds  Assists  PER
 4. Kristaps Porzingis  12.4  8.4  0.7  17.1
 5. Mario Hezonja  4.9  1.3  0.8  5.3
 6. Willie Cauley-Stein  5.3  5.8  0.3  14.9
 7. Emmanuel Mudiay  12.5  3.9  6.3  9.4
 8. Stanley Johnson  7.8  4.0  1.2  10.1