Phil Jackson says he warned Lakers not to pass on Kristaps Porzingis
For many in the NBA last year, Kristaps Porzingis was the great unknown in the draft. The 7-3 skilled big man was highly regarded by some teams, but others weren’t as convinced that the lanky Latvian would pan out.
New York Knicks president Phil Jackson recently said he never had a doubt about Porzingis, so much so that he warned the Los Angeles Lakers not to pass up on him.
"We knew that [Porzingis] had a lot of talent," Jackson said in excerpts obtained by the New York Post from an MSG Network special airing Wednesday. "We saw that even in the workout with him shooting, and I had some fun with one of the Buss guys and I told him after [our] workout, ‘You guys are going to be sorry if you don’t pick up Porzingis with the second pick.’ They didn’t, we did."
In the special, Jackson was responding to a remark ex-Lakers coach Byron Scott made last month, when he said Los Angeles passed on Porzingis because he looked out of shape during his workout with the team.
"Watching him in the summer league, we thought he was really competitive, that’s what we wanted to see in the tapes study we did,” said Jackson, who guided the Lakers to five titles as a coach. "But when we saw that he had the stamina to play 28 to 32 minutes, well, we thought maybe he was going to be a 20-to-22-minute guy because of his strength and his lack of size or weight. But we knew how competitive, and what an athletic talent he was, really to be able to have that stamina.”
Jackson sounds very confident now, but there was much debate leading up to last year’s draft as to where Porzingis would eventually be taken. The Timberwolves took Karl-Anthony Towns with the No. 1 pick, and the Lakers opted to address their backcourt, taking D’Angelo Russell at No. 2.
The Sixers went big, selecting Jahlil Okafor with the next pick, leaving the best player available on the board — Porzingis — for the Knicks with the fourth pick. Porzingis became almost an immediate sensation for the Knicks, whose fan base began calling him "Godzingis" and "Porzingod."
Porzingis averaged 14.3 points and 7.3 rebounds and finished second to Towns in rookie of the year voting. Russell, who finished ninth in rookie voting, struggled for consistent minutes with the Lakers but started to show signs of improvement late last season.