With the 2014 NBA Draft fast approaching, scouts and general managers league-wide are working around the clock and all over the globe to ensure they are prepared when their team is on the clock come draft night. Boston Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge recently took a trip to Europe to scout some of the top international prospects in this year’s draft. While many are now familiar with the likes of Dario Saric or Jusuf Nurkic, there is one player who shocked many by declaring for the draft and that is Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis instantly becomes one of the most intriguing prospects in the entire draft and his unique mix of size and skill set will tempt many teams on draft night. He had previously stated he would be returning to Spain for another season in the ACB League with Cajasol; however, something has caused the 19-year-old to change his mind rather suddenly and recent visits from NBA personnel could well the key. Even more interesting for Celtics fans is the fact that Ainge was scouting Porzingis just the day before his announcement.
The Celtics have two picks in the first round of this year’s draft. While a likely top-five selection would almost certainly be selected based on best player available, a second pick at 17 is truly up in the air depending on which direction Ainge takes on planning the franchise going forward. The 2014 draft is strong throughout the first round and there will be a bevy of options left on the board when the Celtics make their second pick. However, despite the overwhelming talent from the NCAA and around the world, there may be none with more upside outside of the lottery than Porzingis, whose mix of size, shooting and rim protection gives him the look of a prospect with rare upside.
Playing in what could be considered the second strongest competition in the world, Porzingis has been impressive in limited opportunities. Playing just 14.6 minutes per game, he has averaged 6.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and a block. It was his dominant performance in last year’s Under 18 European Championship that really put the NBA world on notice. The big man averaged 11.6 points, 10 rebounds and an astounding 4.9 blocks per game, showing an intimidating presence around the rim despite his slender frame.
A true 7-footer with range out to the 3-point line, that mix of outside shooting, rebounding and shot blocking ability makes him a unique prospect in any draft class. If it wasn’t for his slight frame it is likely he would be far higher on draft boards and could still see his stock rise before draft night. He has a tremendous shooting stroke for a man his size and has the athletic ability to finish well above the rim.
Now comes the question, could it have been Danny Ainge that convinced Porzingis to suddenly enter his name into the 2014 class by making him a promise with the 17th pick? While it may seem irrational to lock yourself into a selection this far ahead of the June 26 draft, if Ainge believes Porzingis could fulfil his immense upside it may well be an opportunity to secure a top-end talent with a late selection, a chance that does not come around very often. Not only could Porzingis’ shooting and rim protection help the Celtics, if the young man did in fact wish to stay in Europe for another year, the Celtics could stash him overseas for further development.
Ainge and the Celtics were not the only team in town scouting Kirstaps Porzingis in recent weeks. So, if there was a promise made it could be any number of teams but the timing of Ainge’s visit and Porzingis’ sudden announcement give us enough reason to speculate that something could be in the works. If nothing else, speculation is what will keep us going in what will wind up being more than two months before the last Celtics’ game and the night of the 2014 NBA Draft.