You’ve heard the story time after time; scouts and basketball “experts” extolling the virtues of an extremely tall player from a former Soviet Republic or African Nation. The kid has all the moves and makes all the shots. He is guaranteed to be the next coming of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Tim Duncan.
Or even worse – Frederick Weis. You remember the seven-foot-two first round pick of the Knicks? Despite being the 15th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, Weis failed to play one second in a NBA game. His career highlight came in the 2000 Olympics when Vince Carter showed him the difference between a “project” and a “player”. A poster is worth many words.
Can’t happen you say – things are different now. We have YouTube, video streaming, social media, and live tryouts/combines. There is no way a “can’t-miss” prospect can miss.
Which is why those same experts say the Orlando Magic HAVE to draft Porzingis if he’s still available at number five.
Thankfully, Magic GM Rob Hennigan and his staff appear to have a rebuilding plan already underway, which arguably sets them apart from those picking ahead of them next Thursday (Timberwolves, Lakers, 76ers, Knicks). 10 of the 15 players currently on the Magic’s roster were drafted in the last four years. The idea of “grab the best player available” is a strategy usually reserved for desperate teams with rebuilding plans better known as “Hopefully we’re better and I still have a job in five years”. The Magic are not a desperate team, no matter what you read in the funny papers. It’s why using the fifth overall pick for a sometime down-the-road, not-ready-for-prime-time “project” seems desperate. And ridiculous.
Which brings us back to Porzingis. He’s 19 years-old and likely still has growing and filling out to do before his body fully matures. For those of who need a picture – Porzingis is currently six inches shorter and only 20 pounds heavier than Bol was at the “height” of his playing career (pictured here with teammate Muggsy Bogues). The “Zinger” (what the cool kids call Porzingis) is a work-in-progress, seemingly best suited for a team with no plans to compete for a few years (i.e. Knicks, 76ers). And not wanting to wish the big kid any harm, he may not be done experiencing any of the number of ailments big people suffer as their bodies reach maturity. Things like feet, ankles, knees, and hips tend to wear out faster and slow big people down sooner and more debilitating than us closer-to-the-earth types.
Ask the 76ers about Joel Embiid, their seven-foot first round pick in 2014 who may still be a year away from playing in his first NBA game. While you’re at it, ask the 76ers if there are any hard feelings about their seven-foot former star bowler Andrew Bynum, who likely played his last NBA game before his 26th birthday. One last name for you – Greg Oden.
Let’s assume for a moment that the Magic are committed to upgrading their current big-man contingent (Dewayne Dedmon, Channing Frye, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic). There are choices in the 2015 NBA Draft to do just that, and they don’t involve rarely-seen, shiny new media toys from Latvia or Croatia.
Obviously, the choices aren’t as sexy – because everyone (even you) has SEEN THEM PLAY early and often in this thing called NCAA Basketball and/or March Madness.
The top choice on that big-man list likely still to be on the board at five is Willy Cauley-Stein. Two years more mature and already playing at a level of basketball the “Zinger” won’t come close to for a few years. There’s no “hoping” or “guessing”, the NBA team that drafts him already knows what to expect from him. So far (knock on hardwood) Cauley-Stein appears physically sound.
Make no mistake, Porzingis is a top-level prospect/project. The Magic may be better served to draft a top-level PLAYER, especially since this may be the last Magic lottery pick for years to come.