Why did Phil Jackson Draft Kristaps Porzingis?
In March of 2014, Phil Jackson was introduced as the President of the New York Knicks. This may sound like a stretch, but since Jackson has reunited with his Knicks, he almost lost his credibility after winning 13 NBA Championships.
In the defense of disgruntled Knicks fans, Jackson has made some questionable decisions since he became Head Honcho: trading Tyson Chandler for a lengthier contract in Jose Calderon, running the triangle offense in a league that thrives in the pick and roll, and his incomprehensible use of social media.
None of these borderline comical events were able to match up to the horror of the 2015 NBA Draft. Many fans, including myself, were looking forward to the Knicks drafting either floor general Emmanuel Mudiay or lockdown defender Justise Winslow. Both players were considered a safe choice for the Knickerbockers because they are projected to make an instant impact in the league.
Instead, Phil Jackson chose this guy:
I was infuriated with the pick because I had the mindset that the Knicks went through their worst season in the history of their franchise only to invest in a lankier Andrea Bargnani.
I did, however, forget about one key factor. Phil Jackson knows more about basketball than me.
At 7’3", Porzingis has limitless range, and he is deceivingly quick for his size. With that being said, I had two major doubts regarding his ability to play in the big leauges.
Doubt #1: "Porzingis looked good in his workouts, but when he goes full contact against professional athletes, he shouldn’t be anywhere near as effective."
There still might be something to this argument, but so far in summer league, Porzingis has been a matchup nightmare for every defender. It’s his quick feet that make him so dangerous. He’s too fast for defenders who can overpower him, and too long for defenders who have superior feet. Not to mention he has a ridiculously accurate shot.
Clyde pointed out that Porzingis plays too unselfishly in the post and needs to be more aggressive when it comes to scoring. That’s not the worst problem to have considering the Knicks history of good shooters who refuse to share the rock. Porzingis’ confidence will improve as the season progresses.
Doubt #2: "I don’t care that he’s 7’3", because he's so skinny that he will get destroyed on defense when he has to guard Zach Randolph or Demarcus Cousins."
My biggest red flag for the 19-year-old Latvian was his weight, at only 230lbs. However, watching his first three summer league games changed my outlook. Literally every NBA player Porzingis goes up against is stronger than he is, so it was interesting to see both his physical and mental toughness.
Porzingis had a taste of legitimate NBA talent after matching up against 6’11" 275-pound Jahlil Okafor, the top offensive big man in the draft. Porzingis ended up blocking Okafor on three separate plays.
Porzingis’ ability to absorb Okafor’s contact, and move his feet in order to get in the right position is unheard of for a guy with his length (besides Anthony Davis, but he’s not human). Porzingis will be able to cover a ridiculous amount of ground, which is extremely necessary the way modern NBA offenses create more and more space.
Phil Jackson is rolling the dice whether we support it or not. The guy is right more times than not, so at least the Knicks have that going for them. The Zen Master is certainly not out of the doghouse yet. Porzingis has been playing limited minutes due to a hip injury, but hopefully that restriction is more precautionary than anything. Hip problems involving a 19-year-old is not a great sign, and wearing a Knicks jersey will most certainly amplify his injury probability. Still, you can’t predict a player's health in the future, and if you could, the 76ers would probably have not traded for Andrew Bynum and/or draft Joel Embiid.
What I enjoy the most about Porzingis is that he’s not soft, he just happens to be weak compared to everyone else on the court. Even with knowledge of that disadvantage, he doesn’t shy away from contact, and once he packs on the pounds, he will be on a completely different level than what we see today.