In a lifetime full of saying weird things candidly, on record and without reflex, Phil Jackson embraced his image recently.
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With the Knicks fandom happily embracing the team’s first top five lottery pick in 29 years (Kenny “Sky” Walker was chosen fifth overall in 1985) in Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis, Jackson decided to share a few worries about the prospect with longtime chum and writing partner Charley Rosen over at ESPN. In doing so, he brought up the name nobody wants to hear when discussing skinny tall guys: Former No. 3 pick Shawn Bradley:
Jackson projects that Porzingis will add at least 10 pounds of muscle before his first season commences, yet concerns still linger over his prize draft pick. "Like Shawn Bradley, who was nevertheless a pretty good player, KP might almost be too tall for the game. What I mean is that his core strength might never be good enough, and that he might not be able to get low enough to get himself into prime defensive position to body power rebounders or drivers."
This is a reasonable fear, as a sound center of gravity is crucial. Why Jackson would share it with the media is beyond me.
It’s important to note that this shouldn’t be the only takeaway from the piece. Jackson not only raves about Porzingis’ skills, but he also lauded his bent for team play. He details how Clarence Gaines, New York’s lead scout, won Jackson over by showing him game tape of Porzingis playing with his Spanish League team as the squad desperately searched for a win needed to keep the team in the league’s top tier.
“The young man certainly stepped up” in the win, Jackson relayed, and what he saw “made up my mind” as New York approached draft night.
Phil isn’t off-base when worrying about Porzingis’ base. Kristaps only recently turned 20 years of age, he is still growing and is currently listed by the Knicks at 7-1. He’s referred to as “7-3” in Rosen’s feature, an estimation that doesn’t look far from the truth, and he currently weighs out at 220 pounds.
Standing 7-3 would rank him taller than each of the NBA’s starting centers (depending on if you believe Los Angeles’ “7-2” estimation for new Laker Roy Hibbert), 220 pounds is a swingman’s weight (and also the NBA’s average weight) and Kristaps’ game features a litany of small forward and power forward moves.
Are we at a point where we want these sorts of prospects, in a sport that has always fetishized height, to actually be shorter? Would Porzingis’ game be better served in, say, a 6-10 frame?
Dallas Mavericks fans got on me for choosing Shawn Bradley as the team’s best all-time center, but as Jackson noted Bradley in the end turned out to be a pretty solid player who worked for 12 seasons and could have played for a few more. It may turn out that Porzingis’ height and base may slow him in certain aspects of the game. Like Hibbert, he might need help on the defensive glass as other smaller and sturdier types fight for position, and he may have to use verticality to dissuade penetrating guards, rather than bodying up on them as they move into the lane.
Kristaps sure is awfully skinny at this point, but so were just about every other 19-soon-to-be-20 year-olds at the NBA’s Summer League this year. The Knicks probably won’t be putting Porzingis on the same 7000 calorie a day diet that the Philadelphia 76ers decided on with Bradley, but the difference between the size of medical and training staff in Baloncesto Sevilla and MSG should make an impact.
And, again, we need to remind that the bulk of this feature acted as one long love letter to Knicks fans about Kristaps Porzingis.
Phil Jackson praised his quickness, his toughness, his soft shot and his basketball IQ. He pointed out that Porzingis has the footwork to stay in front of guards after switches, and that he can block shots. In all, he seems giddy about his potential.
Why he decided to go on record and muse about potential physical similarities between New York’s latest savior and Shawn Bradley, however, is beyond our realm of comprehension. Most things are.
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