Comparing these two prodigious talents is interesting because despite being in somewhat similar situations, their approaches couldn’t be more different. Let’s start with what they have in common. Both are power forwards playing in their first year in the NBA. Both of them are playing under the spotlights of the two largest media markets in the USA in New York and Los Angeles. Both of them are playing alongside aging (or aged) veteran scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. Both are also sharing their rookie seasons with rookie point guards that will have varying effects on how successful they become in the short term in Jerian Grant and D’Angelo Russell. Both are playing in throwback systems that emphasize post-play rather than spread pick-and roll. But despite all these similarities, they couldn’t be more different.
Kristaps Porzingis is a 7”3’ stretch big that has incredible timing and instincts for someone so new to the NBA. His willingness to constantly move without the ball coupled with his rare length make him a terror on the offensive boards. Just ask Lamarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Greg Monroe and the growing list of victims of one of his signature put-back slams. What is most exciting about Porzingis’ game is his ability to change a game without scoring. His length makes him a legitimate threat as a shot blocker and so far he has shown the ability to get steals. His confidence shooting the ball is just gravy when you look at all of the other things he brings to the table.
Julius Randle is a 6”9’ true power forward with ball handling ability that belies his wide frame. Kobe Bryant once described him as Lamar Odom in Zach Randolph’s body. This combination of skill, strength and tenacity makes him a matchup problem on most nights. He is too quick for the heavy big men and too strong for everyone else. He is comfortable finishing around the basket off the dribble as well as pushing the ball in transition. If he develops his jump shot to a reliable level, he has the potential to be a great scorer in the NBA for years to come.
A few things jump out when you compare the two players side by side. The first of these is on the defensive end. Porzingis is a already a difference maker on the defensive end posting a defensive rating of 100, while Randle is still trying to learn how to make an impact on that side of the floor, posting a defensive rating of 108. On the offensive end, Porzingis has figured out how to fit in to the offense the Knicks are running despite not yet shooting at a high percentage. His offensive rating of 100 despite only shooting 38% is indicative of the way he is affecting the flow of the game. Because Randle is more of a shot creator, he is having trouble coexisting with the likes of Kobe Bryant, D’Angelo Russell and even Jordan Clarkson to a degree. His offensive rating is a paltry 89 and only has 40% of his field goals assisted (per BBall-Ref). At the moment, he is trying to create too much and isn’t letting the game come to him. When you see that 60% of Porzingis’ field goals are assisted, you see that he’s getting in where he fits in and finding ways to succeed without dominating the ball.
Going forward, I believe that Randle will figure out how to create at a high level from the power forward position. He’s got a rare combination of attributes that if used correctly can give the opposition nightmares. With that being said, he certainly has some growing up to do. He needs to learn to read the game better and figure out how to contribute when he doesn’t have the ball. When it comes to Porzingis, it is already clear that he is going to be a good professional. I’m sure his time playing in Sevilla has a lot to do with that. His potential is limitless but it’s up to him to accept the challenge of becoming a go-to scorer. That means developing a post game whether it is a back to the basket or face up one. He also needs to cut down on his fouling. He consistently gets in needless foul trouble and that in and of itself can hamper his overall production. Both of these prospects will be very exciting to watch grow up in the league and because of where they play, we’ll certainly get to do just that.