(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
Kristaps Porzingis’ decision to opt out of last year’s draft is turning out to be a good one. The Latvian seven-footer has improved his stock in a big way this season and is currently rated as the fifth best prospect in this year’s draft by Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony. The 19-year-old doesn’t appear to have widened his skill-set but has established more firmly the things he does well, which were up for debate at this time last year because his minutes were limited.
Porzingis projects as a stretch big at the NBA level. While he flashed outside shot making ability a season ago, he’s now a consistent threat from beyond the arc. Porzingis fully extends himself on catch-and-shoot opportunities, elevating off the ground with ease and exhibiting textbook mechanics. His release is noticeably quicker and he’s become more willing to pull trigger, taking 63 three-point attempts in 573 minutes and hitting them at a 42.3 percent clip.
He’s not merely a spot-up catch-and-shoot shooter, however. Porzingis has proven able to hit shots on the move, cutting to the foul line and off the pick-and-pop. He’s a fundamentally sound shooter, using the hop to get good elevation pulling up off the dribble and doing so in balance, giving the impression that he could develop into a threat coming off pindown screens. He’s also shown great touch on a turnaround jump-shot out of the low post.
Porzingis is unable to set deep post position and back opponents down due to the lack of strength in his thin 220-pound frame. Cajasol has gotten him the ball below the foul line rather than on straight post feeds but he hasn’t been a very versatile scorer with his back to the basket at the pro level. Porzingis has shown a willingness to get physical from time to time but that’s not how he plays often, preferring to rely on his jump-shot instead of seeking contact. As a result, he’s averaging just 2.7 fouls shots per 40 minutes.
That is not to say his contributions on offense are limited to his outside shooting. Porzingis is very agile for someone his size. That translates in him running the floor very well in transition and being able to put the ball on the floor to attack closeouts via straight line drives. His handle is decent but he dribbles the ball too high, which makes him susceptible to getting the ball stripped. And despite his ball skills, Porzingis has not flashed many instincts passing on the move.
He’s a willing screener, who looks to set strong position and draw contact, but his frame permits on-ball defenders to navigate around picks with ease. Porzingis has good hands to catch the ball on the move and play above the rim as a target for lobs but doesn’t dive down the lane with a lot of speed and is unable to finish strong in traffic. He is not often in position to crash the offensive glass because of his role spacing the floor but plays with good energy when he’s below the rim fighting for tip balls, able to reach the ball at a high point due to his length.
Energy and length are also how he contributes on the other end. Porzingis doesn’t have great closing speed but puts in the effort for his long arms to be a factor contesting shots from stretch-fours coming off pindown screens or wings spotting-up in the corner. He also clogs passing lanes, picking up steals with regularity. He gets on his stance and looks comfortable defending in space, proving able to bend his knees and set a wide base. Porzingis has the lateral mobility to stay in front of slower players off the bounce but lacks strength to contest dribble penetration through contact.
That lack of strength also hurts him defending the post, where he struggles to hold ground. Other than that, Porzingis is a pretty good rim protector, exhibiting quickness rotating inside in time and the ability to play above the rim as a shot blocker – averaging 2.16 blocks per 40 minutes this season. He improved protecting the glass, looking to box out more diligently this season rather than relying on his athleticism to track the ball off the rim quicker than the opposition. That’s translated to him collecting 20 percent of opponents’ misses when he’s on the floor.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.