When the Los Angeles Lakers nabbed D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick, it sent shockwaves throughout Barclays Center, because the desperate Knicks fanbase finally got their franchise big man – or so they thought.
But instead of Jahlil Okafor, the fans had to settle for Kristaps Porzingis, who was taken with their No. 4 spot. It was a selection that wasn’t very popular with the rabid fanbase in attendance, but president Phil Jackson noted that the Latvian sensation was the guy he wanted all along, due to his tremendous upside.
“It was an interesting process, and the draft kind of fell the way we thought. We felt it was risk-reward was the greatest in the draft,” said Jackson, adding he’s not interested in winning a popularity contest and fan approval. “The reaction of the crowd is what we were aware of. My thought process is what do I do what’s best for our franchise. He’s a real eye-opener … His upside is tremendous. He shoots it with great ease. He likes to compete.He has great size and length. He fits well in our system.”
Porzingis also thinks of himself as a great fit for the Knicks, and sounded as if he’s itching to quiet the naysayers and show he’s not a run-of-the-mill overseas player.
“For those that don’t know me, and see I’m European and think that I’m soft, I’m different. I really love the game, and I’m looking forward to playing in the best league in the world against the best players in the world,” he said. “It’s my lifelong dream to play for the Knicks, and in this basketball city. Hopefully we do something special.”
Jackson believes he has someone who can be special, and not a project that needs years to develop. The 11-time NBA champion went as far as to compare Porzingis to one of the all-time great European players – a player who helped him win his final two championships.
“Pau [Gasol] came into the league rather thin, at 227 pounds. Their structure of bodies are similar. He [Porzingis] has better range than Pau,” noted Jackson, really talking up the 7-foot-1 shooting sensation. “He’s 19-years old and 7-feet tall. We like to see guys who can catch and shoot and react to defenses. I think he’ll learn.”
Regardless of what Jackson says, it just may take a couple years to really see his investment show dividends. But if Porzingis actually hits the ground running and becomes an impact player, he just may make Knicks fans forget that their bitter rival Philadelphia 76ers usurped the object of their affection – Duke big man Jahlil Okafor at No. 3.
And if he flames out the way of a Frederic Weis, it’ll simply be a typical, yet unfortunate thing to have happened to a starving – and loyal -- fan base.
-Jackson ended his media portion following the Porzingis selection by saying the team might not be done making moves. He was true to his word, as he executed a trade that involved fan-favorite shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. for former Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant. Hardaway will be sent to Atlanta. The three-way deal also involved the Washington Wizards, who originally drafted Grant with their No. 19 selection, as they end up with the Hawks’ No. 15 pick of Kelly Oubre Jr.