It's puzzling how many overlook Kristaps Porzingis when the NBA drools over big men who can shoot the three and protect the rim. Veterans rarely have that combination of skills, yet the 19-year-old Porzingis has already flashed the potential to do both at a high level.
The Latvian isn't discussed in the same breath as American prospects Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor because international players are out of sight, out of mind. But if he were a one-and-done college player like his contemporaries, Porzingis might be in the conversation as the first pick, though his top-10 status is admirable.
This is what those who dismiss Porzingis are missing.
Porzingis is a versatile shooter
At 7'1, Porzingis features an unblockable jump shot with advanced mechanics. Through 45 games this season with Seville, he is draining 37 percent of his three-pointers. He's at his best spotting up, and as he improves as a screener, he could become a deadly threat in the pick-and-pop with his limitless range.
But Porzingis is unique because of his excellent footwork coming off screens, which is an ability that most big men can't dream of having. Seville head coach Scott Roth frequently runs him through a maze of picks on after-timeout calls, which is something innovative NBA coaches could use to turn Porzingis into a lethal shooting weapon.
He isn't a one-trick pony
Porzingis is lanky with a body that resembles an inflatable tube man, but his play is anything but soft. Even though he occasionally does avoid contact inside the paint, it's possible that he's just playing to his strengths. A soft player wouldn't do this.
Porzingis' versatility gets him to the basket in various ways off screens, cuts, driving on closeouts and in transition. He finishes not with the stereotypical European finesse, but rather with uncompromising authority.
It's crucial that he works on tightening his dribble as well as his timing on dives out of the pick-and-roll, but he has already improved over the last year. Many big men hate to defend outside the paint and Porzingis thrives around the arc, which could make him a nightmare for opponents to contain.
Porzingis' offensive rebounding chances are limited since he spends a lot of time occupying the perimeter, but he shows strong instincts when tracking misses and timing his leap for tip-ins or put-back slams.
There is room for growth on offense
Porzingis' post game was nonexistent last season, but European basketball legend Audie Norris has worked with him to improve his skills on the block. Under Norris' guidance, he has developed a hook over his left shoulder, a promising turnaround jumper and a pretty mid-range bank shot off the glass.
However, Porzingis has a long way to go to ever be an effective post scorer, since the beasts of the NBA will easily move his frail frame off his desired spot on the block. Still, teenagers entering the league with an unreliable low post game is the norm, not the exception.
The more troubling fear is his passing. Though he isn't a black hole on offense, he's not an accurate passer and he hasn't developed the vision to read the floor on the fly, as evidenced by his poor assist percentage. He must improve in this area against long help defenders.
He's a raw, but promising defender
Porzingis is appealing as a two-way player primarily due to is his shot blocking ability. He does an excellent job of using his long wingspan to protect the rim, averaging nearly two blocks per 36 minutes this season.
Porzingis did have trouble with help rotations, but he was the bright spot on Seville's poor defensive unit, so some of his mistakes must be forgiven considering the environment.
Still, Porzingis must improve on his fundamentals. He has teased the ability to lock down pick-and-rolls with his mobility and long arms, but he has a long way to go.
Porzingis got done dirty by a simple change-of-pace hesitation dribble on that play. Imagine Kyrie Irving going full speed at him. He has a unique mix of defensive tools, but he has yet to learn how to take advantage of them. Too often he gets caught defending on his heels, though he has done a better job staying low with a wide stance.
Teams can also take advantage of Porzingis in the low post. Players inferior to NBA big men bully him on the block, so the physicality could be too much for him early in his career. This is also true for his defensive rebounding. He misses box outs and gets pushed around when he does initiate contact.
But his tools are so promising. Even though he currently has a weak frame, his wide shoulders could support another 20 pounds of muscle. Once that happens, he'll automatically be a more competitive low-post defender and rebounder.
The more prominent concern is his on-court awareness, which is nearly impossible to project since it's so dependent upon the situation he's drafted into. But if he does manage to learn the game from an intelligent coaching staff, then Porzingis has the potential to be shutdown defender.
NBA teams must handle Porzingis with care
Porzingis' unique attributes should allow him to adapt to many types of systems, but patience will be required in all of them. The ideal environment will allow him to be a complementary offensive player who scores off screens and spot ups early in his career. A high-tempo team that places an emphasis on spreading the floor with their big men would give Porzingis the platform to flourish. The 76ers play at a fast tempo, while Sacramento and Detroit have coaches who love shooting big men.
He often gets compared to Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol because they're all Europeans, but Porzingis isn't limited defensively like they were when they entered the league. A more accurate best-case-scenario comparison could be Chris Bosh with better shooting and a less effective post game. But it's difficult to find an overall comparable player, which says a lot about Porzingis' unusual mix of attributes.
But reaching his sky-high potential is never a guarantee, because it usually takes an unhealthy obsession with the game of basketball to become a true great. At just 19 years old, he will improve, but teams should research his personality profile to measure his drive to reach his upside.
Kristaps Porzingis' recent development suggests he has put immense time in off the court and he has made enough explosive plays to imply he has a thirst for the moment. But only time will tell if he is a relentless worker like Nowitzki, Gasol and Bosh. If he is, then Kristaps Porzingis could end up being the steal of the 2015 NBA Draft.
For more scouting reports like this, purchase my 2015 NBA Draft Guide, which will be out in June.