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Kristaps Porzingis eager to prove he can play in NBA

NBA draft prospect Kristaps Porzingis attends a workout

NBA draft prospect Kristaps Porzingis attends a workout on June 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo Credit: Getty Images / NBA Photos

Kristaps Porzingis had something to say to skeptical fans, and he said it in perfect English.

"Don't be scared to draft me," he said with a laugh at Wednesday's pre-NBA Draft availability.

"I will prove that, with my work ethic, that whenever is my moment, I will be ready for it," the 7-1 Latvian forward added. "If I play a lot since the beginning or not, I will keep working, keep the same mentality. There won't be a moment I will break or give up."

In terms of international men of mystery, for every Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol there is a Darko Milicic and Frederic Weis. Which is why using a high draft pick on a European player comes with understandable skepticism.

Some fans prefer players they are familiar with, players they have seen make a run in the NCAA Tournament, players whose names are easily pronounced without the phonetic spelling.

And Porzingis knows this.

"They say Europeans like basketball, Americans love basketball. That's the thing about me, I love the game, I love to be in the gym by myself just shooting ... I think that's going to help me in the long run."

Maybe fans will take solace in the fact that Porzingis speaks fluent English. Or that he recognizes the areas in which he needs improvement. Or that the 19-year-old has been called by many as the player with the most upside in Thursday night's NBA Draft.

No player has seen their draft value rise more than Porzingis, who is expected to be selected in the top five in Thursday night's draft at the Barclays Center. Minnesota likely will select Karl-Anthony Towns with the first pick. The Lakers figure to opt for the more NBA-ready, polished post presence of Jahlil Okafor. Philadelphia has stockpiled big men in the last two drafts, making point guard D'Angelo Russell the logical pick for the sometimes illogical Sixers.

That means Porzingis, who played professionally in Spain last season, could be available at the fourth pick for the Knicks, assuming they don't trade down. On Wednesday, Porzingis told reporters it would be his dream to play in New York and that the Knicks were the best organization in the NBA.

"Carmelo [Anthony] I think is a great guy," he said. "I'd love to play with Carmelo."

But would Anthony love to play with someone who could be a long-term project? In a league that now puts a premium on floor spacing and rim protection, what makes Porzingis so enticing is that he can both shoot the three and block shots.

"Just having a combination of my length and my ability to stretch the floor," Porzingis said when asked which aspect of his skill set can make him successful in the NBA. "My athleticism. I would say my face-up game is going to help me. Obviously I need to work on my post game to be able to have an all-around game."

His ability to defend in the NBA - which demands more strength, physicality and lateral quickness - has been questioned because of his lanky, 230-pound frame. "I'm skinny," he told reporters. "I need to get stronger. Everybody knows that. I know that."

If he does, if he improves his ability to play with his back to the basket, if he reaches the potential some see in him, Porzingis will prove skeptics wrong.

"Right away, I will help any way I can on the team," he said. "I'm a young guy. I need to bring energy to the team just running the floor, doing the dirty job, getting rebounds, getting blocks. Down the road, I have my own goals that I want to reach and that includes helping the team to win. I want to have a long career in the NBA. It's about being focused, being mentally ready for that."

Surrounded by reporters, cameras and microphones, Porzingis was asked what he has learned about the NBA so far.

"That uhhh," he paused, "that you have a lot of interviews."

And he did them all. In perfect English.


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