Detroit Pistons fans prefer not to reflect on Darko Milicic, the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Milwaukee Bucks faithful would probably shy away from discussing the benefits of drafting Yi Jianlian with the sixth pick in 2007. And Washington Wizards fans weren't exactly pleased with the results of No. 6 pick in 2011, Jan Vesely.
Milicic, Jianlian and Vesely fell quite short of expectations, and mentioning them to any of the aforementioned franchises forces disappointing thoughts of "what could have been." In 2003, the Pistons could have drafted Carmelo Anthony instead. The Bucks overlooked Joakim Noah, and Washington missed out on Klay Thompson.
It’s those major whiffs on foreign-born players that bring about painful memories for fans, and ones that general managers look to avoid completely for fear of losing their jobs.
This year is no different with Kristaps Porzingis, a bouncy dead-eye shooter capable of protecting the rim with a 7-foot frame. Not to mention experience in Europe’s top basketball league, ACB with Spanish club Sevilla, something even the likes of consensus No. 1 pick and Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns or Duke’s Jahlil Okafor can claim.
He’s only 19 years old by way of Latvia, and Porzingis actually entered last year’s draft but pulled out before the deadline even though he was viewed as a first-round lock. One year later and he’s the one player in Thursday's draft some GMs have likened to a game-changer who could be the sleeper pick of this class.
A U.S.-born former European teammate likened Porzingis’ skill set to Kevin Durant, and some of the loftier comparisons also include foreign stars Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.
Those are some highly accomplished players who prompt high expectations, many of which ESPN’s Chad Ford broke down in his profile of Porzingis during his singular private workout in front of NBA front offices in Las Vegas. The belief is that if Porzingis happened to be born in the U.S., he’d be in contention with Okafor and Towns to go No. 1 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Except no GM wants to hitch his tenure and reputation to a relatively unknown commodity.
It’s more than a fair approach to the draft. Stick with and pick a player that you can hang your hat on, rather than take a major risk.
The buzz is growing around Porzingis, and the chances are increasing that he doesn’t fall outside of the top 10 when the draft takes place Thursday night at Barclays Center in New York.
Let’s try and predict exactly where he could land in our latest mock draft.
Mock Draft 3.0
1.Minnesota Timberwolves - Karl-Anthony Towns, F, Kentucky
Unchanged from the previous mock. Even if he doesn’t pan out to be a star, Towns will be a consistent starter in the league due to his size and strength on the boards as well as his ability to defend and block shots.
2.L.A. Lakers - Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke
Had Mudiay here last time, and he’s still the best guard prospect in this draft, but Okafor gives L.A. the inside scoring presence it missed immediately after Gasol left.
3.Philadelphia 76ers – Emmanuel Mudiay, PG, China
A powerful slashing guard who’s jump shot should improve unlike Michael Carter Williams. Mudiay’s the right talent to pair with big men Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. But Porzingis could be in play here as well.
4.New York Knicks – D’Angelo Russell, PG, Ohio State
If the goal is to win right now with Carmelo Anthony, then adding a point guard who can shoot three and can get creative on the fast break or in the half-court is a no-brainer for the Knicks. That’s Russell, who won’t take shots away from Anthony.
5.Orlando Magic – Justise Winslow, F, Duke
Winslow will form a nice scoring trio with Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton, while helping out on defense on the perimeter and the frontcourt.
6.Sacramento Kings - Mario Hezonja, SG, Croatia
Might seem like a reach, but Hezonja’s a lights out shooter with playmaking abilities. The Kings need players who can space the floor for DeMarcus Cousins and then get out of his way.
7.Denver Nuggets –Kristaps Porzingis, PF, Latvia
Denver’s actively shopping this pick, but if Porzingis is here it's reasonable they keep it. He and Danilo Galinari, with Ty Lawson at the point, could be a headache to guard. He also provides some interior defense, but needs to add upper-body strength.
8.Detroit Pistons – Devin Booker, SG, Kentucky
Booker moves up three spots because Hezonja and Porzingis are gone. A very smart player with a quick release on his long-range jumper. Booker shouldn't fall outside the top 12.
9.Charlotte Hornets – Jerian Grant, PG, Notre Dame
Up five spots because of his experience in college, and excellent scoring abilities. Grant will need to hustle but at 6-foot-5 with a slightly longer wingspan he should be able to defend both guard positions. From the start Grant helps Kemba Walker on the offensive end. Hornets also have a history of taking proven college players. But Booker's a possibility if he's here.
10.Miami Heat – Stanley Johnson, SF, Arizona
If Dwyane Wade’s contract issues are over, then it seems more likely that Luol Deng will bolt from Miami. Enter Johnson, who has the athleticism to score and rebound like Deng. His defense will need to come along, but Johnson already has the NBA body to adapt rather quickly.
11.Indiana Pacers – Willie Cauley-Stein, PF, Kentucky
Texas’ Myles Turner could go here or to Charlotte, but Cauley-Stein’s a player whose already found his niche. He’ll defend and block shots and dunk within three feet of the basket. Turner’s a bit of a project. The Pacers haven’t really needed center Roy Hibbert to score much in order to win, just defend and rebound. So why change up that formula?
12.Utah Jazz – Cameron Payne, PG, Murray State
Another sleeper and his first time on our board, Payne’s ceiling is as high as Damian Lillard. The Jazz need scoring and Trey Burke isn’t getting it done. Payne also has a 6-foot-7 wingspan in a 6-foot-2 frame, which should make the league’s best defense even better.
13.Phoenix Suns – Trey Lyles, PF, Kentucky
The Morris Twins are solid pieces, but complementary ones. Lyles, paired with center Alex Len, has the talent to contribute on both sides of the floor and lead the Suns frontcourt for years. His ceiling is much higher than the Morris’, so Phoenix could take a chance on the 19-year-old here.
14.Oklahoma City Thunder – Bobby Portis, PF, Arkansas Another squad in need of an interior threat, Portis can do all the scoring down low that Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka can’t. He’s not an incredible athlete, and kind of lumbers up the floor, but Portis’ potential sneaks him into the lottery.