The 2017 NBA draft was the Year of the Freshman: Ten of the first 11 picks spent a single season in college basketball and the other – Frank Ntilikina – was a teenage French pro.
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski says he defined the other extreme: Age 24 and a fifth-year senior who redshirted his first season in Spokane, Wash. So, while he was disappointed not to be one of 60 players drafted, he wasn’t particularly surprised.
If he has to take the hard way to the NBA, he’s fine.
“I’m here, I want to give it my best shot,” said Karnowski, on the Charlotte Hornets’ summer roster.
“Europe is Plan B. I want to show my skill and ability in summer league, and we’ll go from there.”
Karnowski would seemingly have plenty of options in Europe. He’s from Poland, and at 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds, he’s gigantic, even by the standard dimensions of NBA centers.
That size and Gonzaga’s run to the national championship game (a loss to North Carolina) wasn’t sufficient to get him drafted. Karnowski’s 1-of-8 shooting in the title game was a poor last impression on NBA scouts.
The Hornets brought Karnowski in for a pre-draft workout, and they liked what they saw enough to invite him for the Orlando (Fla.) Summer League, starting Saturday at 11 a.m., against the Miami Heat (NBATV).
What’s to like? Karnowski averaged 12.2 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, shooting 59 percent from the field. Hornets assistant Stephen Silas, coaching the summer team, saw some nuances he liked in Karnowski’s play in practice the past couple of days.
Silas said Karnowski is quicker than expected. That’s not just physical quickness, it’s Karnowski’s ability to anticipate defensively what the opposing offense is about to run.
Silas also likes Karnowski’s hands as a high-post passer and his shooting from the elbow (the corners where the foul line and lane lines meet).
Karnowski averaged less than one shot blocked per game last season. However, his bulk can make him a lane protector, disrupting offensive action in the lane.
“He’s quick to a spot, his basketball instincts are to help, and keeping the ball out of the paint is everything,” Silas said of Karnowski. “With his size, it’s hard to go around him.
“You’re not going to Euro-step around him and you’re not going to be able to spin quite as much.”
Karnowski said help defense has always been one of his priorities.
“We all know how much today’s NBA is dependent on the pick-and-roll,” Karnowski said. “I need to make sure I cover (the ballhandler) and help my teammates.”
There aren’t many prominent Polish pro basketball players. The only established one in the NBA is Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat, who Hornets coach Steve Clifford worked with on the Orlando Magic staff.
Karnowski says he’s known Gortat for about eight years, from when he was coming up in junior international tournaments (he once played against a Team USA squad that included Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist).
Karnowski helps out at Gortat’s summer camps in Poland. Gortat plays mentor to Karnowski, in part because he’d like some company from his home country.
“We talk a lot. Being able to ask him about anything is very helpful,” Karnowski said.
He’ll need all the help he can get. Like Karnowski said, fifth-year seniors aren’t usually NBA-bound.