A little over a year ago some recruiting services viewed Texas center Myles Turner (6'11, 242 pounds) as the top prospect of the class of 2014. Meanwhile, Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis (7'1, 220 pounds) was shooting up draft boards and considered a first-round selection for the 2014 NBA Draft--including rumors that the Atlanta Hawks among others were pushing for his agent to keep him in the draft. As the Latvian's stock was rising, Turner's began to fall as other prospects emerged and concerns grew about Myles' toughness and coordination. In the summer of 2014, some scouts suggested that Porzingis would be the number one selection if he played college basketball in the states. Whatever the case, both big men have a great deal of ability yet have fallen into the second tier of the top prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft.
Both players are easily linked to Atlanta due to their ability to knock down perimeter shots. With both players ranked in bottom half of top 10, either could end up as the best player available when the Hawks make their selection. Turner adds an ability to protect the rim while Porzingis has the potential to be a better overall defender. Neither player has much of an offensive game in the post, although Turner flashes moderate ability on the block. Here are some general statistics to better understand each prospect:
*Numbers on Porzingis are taken from 2014-15 play in Spanish ACB League
Porzingis is a great athlete with tremendous length, although is exact wingspan is unknown. His shooting range vaulted his stock last season and he his skills have grown rapidly for a player relatively new to major basketball. It is not easy to find players who score in double figures in the Spanish ACB league prior to age 20. The biggest struggle with Porzingis is confirming an ideal position for him in the NBA. While he has the length to play inside, he is weak and has not added much strength over the last year. He is not strong in the high post or in pick-and-roll as he seems to be more comfortable on the extensions of the free throw line and the short corner. That is not necessarily a problem, but does not fit perfectly with most NBA offenses. He does not productively rebound relative to other prospects and his rim protection is mostly average. However, his athleticism and length has to leave scouts wondering if these skills can grow with time. Here is his NBA mock draft scouting profile from Draft Express:
While Porzingis is a tremendous athlete in search of a position and higher skill, Turner is a prospect with awkward skill at a clear position. Turner has proven himself to be a rim protector at the college level while blocking 4.9 shots per 40 minutes. With an ability to knock down free throws, the Longhorn freshman projects strongly as a player who can play late in games without being a liability. These 2 skills alone should make Turner a top-10 selection. While Turner has shown the ability to knock down shots from outside, his stock would be helped if he showed more skill inside. Despite his heavier frame, he has been pushed around quite a bit at the college level and found more success with smaller, lighter players. Here is his scouting profile from DraftExpress:
Turner's value has been harmed by his play for Texas. The Longhorns have another center in Cameron Ridley (once viewed as a first-round player) who has cut into Turner's playing time and slowed his development. Without going into detail--and keeping this article clean--his head coach Rick Barnes is less than stellar at developing players and playing at Texas has not helped his stock. Turner is a classic college big who bullies lesser competition, but struggles against better opponents. in 11 games against top 25 opponents, Turner's scoring average dropped to 9.0 points per game on only 39% from the field. His scoring was only propped up by a remarkable 94% shooting from the free-throw line. He has struggled with foul trouble all season which has been even more of a problem in the toughest games. Turner committed more than 4 fouls In 6 of 11 games versus the top 25. While he has been harmed in development by his decision to go to Texas, it also may help scouts look past some of the developmental flaws. It is easy to do so when Turner is blocking shots and making them as he did against West Virginia in his best performance in Big 12 play:
It is difficult to know if Kristaps Porzingis would be better off if he played college basketball. He may have been better off being able to show his development against similarly-aged opponents, but he also may have been exposed as a player more suited for European basketball. Porzingis is abnormally quick and plays above-average perimeter defense for a player of his age regardless of size. He runs the floor like a much smaller athlete and releases his jumper with a smooth, quick release. He has the potential to be a versatile big man who can both stretch the floor and defend the wing. He also has the potential to never become a viable NBA basketball player. Porzingis has range and a smooth stroke, but he does shoot the ball flat with an occasionally low release. He has terrible instincts when defending away from the basketball with poor vision on both ends of the floor. Defensive rebounding remains a weakness that grows more troublesome as he has failed to improve his averages as he has gotten older. Additionally, his numbers in rim protection have declined since last season. The talent is undeniable and if he shows resilience to both improve his skill and adapt to the NBA game, he certainly could grow into an NBA star as evidenced in some of his better plays from this season:
Porzingis could be a European version of Amare Stoudemire for better or worse. He is a raw, but developing player who plays with confidence and a little bit of flair. Wrapped up in all of the talent is a frustration that he does not block more shots or dominate the glass. Turner has an awkward gait that reminds me of Bill Cartwright who shared a moniker even at the NBA level of being a bit soft. A lot of teams would sign up for Bill Cartwright early in the draft--especially in today's NBA. The fear with Turner is he moves with a non-athletic stride similar to Roy Hibbert, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, or Ralph Sampson. Only one of those players turned out to be a strong pro--and even Hibbert can be a dumpster fire on occasion. However, rim protection from a player who is not an offensive liability is hard to find. Turner could give a team a slightly less athletic Tyson Chandler on the defensive end and an Andrea Bargnani on the other. Both players have been maligned much like Turner early in their careers, but Turner could be special if he shows the best of each on both ends of the floor.
Currently, I have Porzingis rated 7th and Turner rated 8th in the Peachtree Hoops Draft Rankings, but I am leaning toward flipping that upon narrowing my focus on each of them. Turner has two clear NBA skills in his ability to block shots and make shots while Porzingis possesses an array of developing gifts but none that directly translate. Additionally, Turner is a clear NBA center with an ability to slide to power forward if his range develops while Porzingis sort of plays three positions without a clear one. Both players have a long way to go to demonstrate sustainable resilience, but Porzingis gets the nod since he has progressed rapidly over the last 18 months. As I look at each of them, I lean toward selecting Myles Turner if both are on the clock today. If Porzingis shows a commitment to stay in Europe another season--or two--it may help give him the edge. Allowing him to continue to grow without beginning his contract clock could be a huge asset for a team short on cap space and roster spots.
Either of these players have reasonable arguments for selecting them as high as third in the 2015 NBA Draft and either could fall to the 10-12 range under the wrong circumstances--particularly Turner. Myles has the most to gain in the next couple of weeks while also having little to lose as it is hard to see him falling out of the top 12. If both players are on the board when the Hawks are making a selection, there are good reasons for choosing--or not choosing--either player. The choice is close enough that all that is assured is that half of fans will like it and the other half will not.