Porzingis vs. Nowitzki
A look at the first matchup between Kristaps Porzingis and Dirk Nowitzki.
New York Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis has a lot of respect for Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki. Aside from being one of the greatest players to ever lace them up, Nowitzki played a huge role in paving the way for European prospects to come and thrive in the NBA — players like Porzingis, who hails from Latvia.
That respect, however, is mutual.
“He’s for real,” Nowitzki said of the 7-foot-3 Porzingis after the Mavs beat the Knicks Monday night. “We’ve said it before. He’s tougher than you think. He’s long. He’s athletic. He can put the ball on the floor. … The sky’s the limit for this kid, not only because he’s good but also because I heard he lives and breathes basketball. He stays in the gym, he works hard and doesn’t let all this hype here get to his head. You’ve got to root for him.”
Nowitzki even went as far to say as the comparisons between the two — both are tall, both can shoot, both are European — are unfair to Porzingis. That’s awfully steep praise to a first-year player from an all-time legend, but that’s what Dirk thinks of the young Knick, and it clearly means a lot to the rookie.
“He created the path for European players,” Porzingis told reporters ahead of the Mavs’ visit. “I’m just trying to walk in his footsteps. I would like to be as great as he is.”
There have been plenty of players in years past who have been considered “The Next Dirk.” Practically every European big man has drawn the comparison, but so far Porzingis has impressed even more than Nowitzki himself did during his rookie season in 1999. The only rookies in the last 20 years to have matched Porzingis’ current averages of 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game over an entire season are Tim Duncan and Pau Gasol. It’s still obviously very early in his career, but the forward has the ability to do some great things in this league.
“He’s probably way ahead of the curve,” Nowitzki said. “When I was 20, I was scared to death out there.”
Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki
Mavs F Dirk Nowitzki dishes on Monday's win over the Knicks, matching up against Kristaps Porzingis and more.
Nowitzki’s team got the better of Porzingis’, as the Mavs prevailed 104-97. The German scored 25 points on 9-of-18 shooting, including scoring 11 points in the first quarter — as if to say “You’re not me, yet, rook” to the 20-year-old Porzingis. But the Latvian spearheaded a furious fourth-quarter comeback which ultimately fell short, and he finished with 28 points on sizzling 13-of-18 shooting. While Porzingis received plenty of praise and even Nowitzki’s admiration for his play, the Knicks rookie couldn’t help but pay respect to the Mavs legend.
“He’s so smart,” Porzingis said. “He’s walking around, and then out of nowhere there’s a screen for him, and he gets an open shot.”
He even took to Twitter to show his respect to the No. 7 scorer in NBA history…
— Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) December 8, 2015
…as did the Knicks.
— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) December 8, 2015
Those little things — learning how to use screens, perfecting the fadeaway, and knowing when and how to get into position to shoot — are the things that have separated Nowitzki from most good shooters in the history of the game. Porzingis is already openly talking about how he wants to pick up on all of those subtleties and add them to his own game, indicating that he has a Dirk-like work ethic and the desire to improve. It’s still way too early to consider Porzingis “The Next Dirk” or the next anyone, but it’s still cool to see a young player with such a positive mindset about getting better.
It will be fun to watch these two square off for as long as possible. The Knicks don’t come to Dallas until March 30, so by then Porzingis will have a better grip on the speed of the game and life in the NBA. He could be a much-improved player. Nowitzki, meanwhile, will hopefully be gearing up for a long playoff run. Either way, it should be a fun duel. This budding rivalry — based completely on mutual respect — is something that could one day be bigger than basketball. Porzingis still has a very long way to go in this league, and Nowitzki still has some good years ahead of him. But depending on how the Latvian’s career shakes out, this could be a game we remember for a long time.