Like most kids who have grown up in Europe over the last decade in a half with dreams of becoming an NBA basketball player, Latvia-born Kristaps Porzingis grew up idolizing and wanting to be like Dallas Maverick franchise player Dirk Nowitzki.
In only 22-games through his rookie season, Porzingis is helping the Knicks have a turnaround season while already drawing comparisons to his idol Nowitzki. After going straight up with Porziņģis for the first time in his career Monday and watching him go off for a game-high 28 points on 13-for-18 shooting in the Knicks’ 104-97 loss to the Mavericks, Nowitzki has no problem with Porzingis being compared to him.
“It’s more than fair,” Nowitzki said via Knicks.com after his first game against Porzingis. “He’s probably way ahead of the curve. When I was 20, I was scared to death out there. … He’s almost averaging a double-double, so he’s way better than I was at 20. So the comparison’s probably unfair to me.”
Porzingis, who was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November, definitely appreciated the kind words from the future Hall of Famer.
“Obviously, he’s showing some respect to me. That shows me that maybe I have the potential to one day be as great as he is,” Porzingis said via Knicks.com. “I’ve got to keep working, and hopefully, I can be as good as he thinks I can be.”
Due to his outstanding play, Porzingis has taken New York City by storm in only a couple of months and morphed into one of the most popular athletes in the “Big Apple”. Which is a complete 180 from draft night, when many Knicks fans booed the Latvian due to not being familiar with him or his game.
After watching Porzingis, who is averaging 14.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for the Knicks (10-12) go off for 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter against his team, add Mavericks head Rick Carlisle to the Porziņģis fan club.
“Porzingis is a special player, and the city of New York has Phil Jackson to thank for that one,” Carlisle said via Mavs.com. “There were others that didn’t have the balls to pull the trigger on that one, and he’s a great young player who’s got a chance to be truly special.”
Though, their games are similar; there are some major difference.
When Nowitzki was at the same point in his career, he was viewed as a soft Euro who didn’t play defense and could easily be taken out of his game if you got rough with him. While Porzingis, though, is viewed as a tough European due to the physicality in his game and already being an average NBA defender.
Making him even more popular with NBA fans, is the fact the 7-foot-3 Porzingis already has several spectacular put back dunks on his personal highlight reel in only his first month of being an NBA player.
“He’s for real,” Nowitzki said after scoring a team-high 25 points for the Mavericks (13-9). “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 to root for him”
When Nowitzki retires in the next couple of years, he will go down as the best European NBA player ever. It will be interesting to see if, in a decade from now, Porziņģis is giving him a run for his money for that title.