You can call him Kristaps. You can call him Porzingis. Or you can call this year’s foremost NBA international man of mystery what Minnesotan Ben Woodside calls him.
“We just call him Zinger,” Woodside said.
Raised in Albert Lea, Minn., and educated at North Dakota State, Woodside played with the position-blurring Latvian last season in Spain. He knows well a uniquely tall and athletic player who has NBA scouts wondering if he might be the next Dirk Nowitzki or a more fluid Pau Gasol or maybe even this draft’s best player five years from now.
Fans of whichever team drafts him Thursday, though, probably will worry he’s the next Darko Milicic, Jan Vesely or Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
Woodside can tell you this much: “Yes,” Woodside said, “he does exist.”
NBA fans might be skeptical about a prospect who has gone mostly unseen as Thursday’s NBA draft approaches. That is, unless you’re a fan of Spain’s competitive ACB league or have glimpsed video of the one workout Porzingis did for NBA scouts in Las Vegas earlier this month.
Woodside can tell you more — much more — about a player who has the widest wingspan of anyone in Thursday’s draft but who shoots the ball off the dribble and off screens from great range like a guard.
“His upside is unbelievable,” said Woodside, who has played the past six seasons in Europe. “Everyone sees his length and obviously his athleticism. I saw how good he can be. At 19, doing what he did in the Spanish league, that showed me a lot.”
Yes, Porzingis is pushing 7-2 — all of it seemingly arms and legs — and is skinny as can be.
“He needs to put on some muscle mass, but that’s an easy adjustment,” Woodside said. You put that guy in the weight room and let him go to work.”
Woodside isn’t worried, either, about the maturity of a 19-year-old who left home at 15 to play professionally, following an older brother who also played in the European leagues.
“What people don’t see is his locker-room presence,” Woodside said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s got that fire. He wants to get better, he wants to win. You can tell he loves the game. The professionalism he has at 19 really shocked me. He will adapt here, 100 percent.”