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Knicks select Latvian 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis with No. 4 pick in draft

Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia speaks to the media

Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia speaks to the media after being drafted with the #4 overall pick by the New York Knicks during the 2015 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June 25, 2015. Photo Credit: Mike Stobe

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - The fans at Barclays Center booed the Knicks' selection of Kristaps Porzingis, but Phil Jackson believes the 7-1 Latvian forward eventually will hear plenty of cheers in New York.

Jackson said the 19-year-old Porzingis is "an eye-opening athlete and player" and used the No. 4 choice on him, bypassing the more popular picks: point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, swingman Justise Winslow and center Willie Cauley-Stein.

"We thought the risk-rewards were the greatest with this guy perhaps in the whole lottery," he said. "He's got a great background support system; I think it's going to be good. I think our fans are going to like him.

"The reaction of the crowd is what you anticipate in New York. He's aware of it. He's very much intelligent on this thing that 'I'm going to have to face an uphill battle.' But he's willing to take it on."

The Knicks, who went 17-65 last season, also got a point guard in what proved to be a productive night for Jackson. They acquired the draft rights to Notre Dame senior point guard Jerian Grant for Tim Hardaway Jr., a defensive liability whom they had been shopping.

Grant, the son of former NBA player Harvey Grant and nephew of Horace Grant, who played for Jackson in Chicago and Los Angeles, was taken No. 19 by the Hawks and swapped for Hardaway. Grant averaged 16.5 points and 6.7 assists last season.

The Knicks were interested in Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky and Kentucky forward Trey Lyles, who went later in the draft. Jackson said he had other trade opportunities that he was close to pursuing but said they were contingent upon what happened before the Knicks picked.

As expected, Karl-Anthony Towns went first to Minnesota. The Lakers threw a curveball into the draft and took point guard D'Angelo Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor with the second pick. So for at least five minutes, Knicks fans held out hope that Okafor would drop to four. But the 76ers selected the Duke center at No. 3. "Those things fell the way they did," Jackson said. "We had what we wanted and we went with it."

Porzingis has played in Spain since 2012. He's long and lean, is a good shooter and can defend inside and on the perimeter. Jackson said he has "the capacity to step into 25-foot shots."

He might not be able to help the Knicks right away, but Jackson said he has a competitive fire and maturity. "It's hard to tell," he said. "We anticipate that he's anxious and willing. We'll see what kind of training we get during the course of the summer. Hopefully he's going to contribute to us.''

Porzingis, who played in Spain last season, has drawn comparisons to NBA All-Stars Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki. Some executives and scouts believe he has the potential to be the best player in this draft.

Jackson can see the comparisons to Gasol. "This young man has better range perhaps than Pau does, a natural three-point shooter, but that's the natural evolution of the game at this time," he said. "There's a lot of comparisons to him. I think the structure of their bodies is very similar and the activity level, how they run, their athleticism, is similar."

Knicks fans are concerned that he could be another Frederic Weis, but Porzingis called it "my dream" to play for the Knicks and wants to show he's not Weis. "For those people who don't know me, they may think I'm a soft European," he said on ESPN. "There have been busts before, but I'm different. I really love the game. I'm very hungry. It's my passion about my game that sets me apart."

The Knicks will have more than $25 million in free agency, and Greg Monroe, LaMarcus Aldridge, David West and Wesley Matthews Jr. likely will be among the players they pursue. If they can get enough quality veterans, they can bring Porzingis along at a slower pace. "We need something athletic and to make a real difference in the way we play," Jackson said. "This young man is an eye-opening athlete and player, and so that's something we have to go with."

The Dolan family owns

controlling interests in the Knicks, Madison Square

Garden and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.


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