DALLAS – The comparisons were as inevitable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West.
From the Dallas Mavericks’ perspective, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis understandably has been described as the second coming of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. And for plausible reasons.
One player in each of the aforementioned duo was a teenager when they joined the Mavs, while the other player was in his early 20’s. And all four are international players who had an impact on the NBA very early in their career.
Nash was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up in Canada, Nowitzki is from Wurzburg, Germany, Doncic hails from Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Porzingis is from Liepaja, Latvia.
Nowitzki and Nash became Mavs teammates in separate draft-day trades on June 24, 1998. Nash, who was 24 years old when the Mavs acquired him in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, wound up playing for the Mavs through the 2003-’04 season, and made All-Star appearances in 2002 and ’03 while he was with Dallas.
As a teammate of Nash’s, Nowitzki joined the Mavs at age 19 and prospered to the point where he made All-Star appearances in 2002’-’04 with Nash by his side.
Fast forward some 21 years from the time Nowitzki and Nash first joined the Mavs, now comes Nash-Nowitzki Part II in the form of Doncic and Porzingis. Making plenty of headlines as a mere rookie, Doncic is just 19 years old, while Porzingis is 23 and coming off a season where he made the All-Star team last year while playing for the New York Knicks.
So, quite naturally, the comparisons were inescapable.
“I think the analogy comes from the fact that they’re both so young,” proprietor Mark Cuban said. “With Dirk and Steve, when I first got here (in January of 200), they were 20 and (25).
“Luka is about to turn 20 (on Feb. 28), and Kris is 23, so the real comparison comes from the fact that we’ll be able to keep them together an awful long time. They’ll be able to grow together and learn from each other.”
Nowitzki and Nash were known to be gym rats who frequently spent Friday and Saturday nights in the arena working on their game.
“That was one of the hallmarks of Steve and Dirk,” Cuban said. “They pushed each other and they made each other better on the court and off the court, and they also set the culture for the organization.
“Look at today the way Dirk treats fans and supports the community — and Steve did while he was here and with his career afterwards. And that’s important because that helps define culture.”
While Doncic is a natural point guard with some of Nash’s innate ability, the 7-3 Porzingis was compared favorably to the 7-foot Nowitzki from the moment he was the No. 4 overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft.
“Dirk is a guy that I looked up to growing up and I hope we have a lot of time to spend together now that I‘m here in Dallas while he’s still playing,” Porzingis said. “I’ll try to use every moment that I can to bother him with some questions and some good stories that he has.
“It’s a great opportunity, so I’m excited.”
Porzingis also noted that he gets excited every time he thinks about playing with Doncic.
“I really think we can be something special,” Porzingis said. “I think about basketball 24/7 and I really see us being very special on the court and fun to watch, so I’m excited about it.”
As the Mavs rebuilt their roster over the past two years, Doncic has created the most buzz with averages of 20.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. That includes becoming the first teenager in NBA history with multiple triple-doubles – he has two of those.
Still, with a franchise-type player in Porzingis to lean on, Cuban believes the best is yet to come from Doncic, who is also considered to be a franchise-type player.
“Honestly, he’s been far better than any of us expected,” Cuban said of Doncic. “We thought to get to this point it would take much longer, but he’s been a pleasant surprise.
“The best part is he can get better. There’s a lot of areas in his game that he can improve at, and he will improve as he comes to understand the NBA game.”
Cuban is hopeful that Doncic and Porzingis will be able to attract other high caliber free agent superstars to join the Mavs.
“It’ll be interesting to see — particularly as the buyout market takes shape and everything — who wants to come and how things go and how things progress going forward,” Cuban said. “We’re certainly much more of a destination than we were the last two years.”
And that comes compliments of the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash.