Is KP6 The Next Nowitzki?

(Kristaps Porzingis greets Dirk Nowitzki at the start of the game – @DallasMavs)

Before the Knicks took on the Dallas Mavericks on Monday at The Garden, it was inevitable that their superstar rookie Kristaps Porzingis would be compared to the Mavericks’ 17-year veteran, Dirk Nowitzki.

They both are seven-footers, in Porzingis’ case 7’3″ and Nowitzki an even seven-feet, from Europe who play at power forward and can shoot from long range.

Knicks Head Coach Derek Fisher said of the Porzingis/Nowitzki comparison being fair, “I just don’t see how you take two minutes of something and compare it to something, 15, 18 years, whatever years Dirk has been playing. I don’t think it’s fair to either guy, why I’ve just never been in the business of doing it.

“Obviously, Dirk has been a Hall of Fame-caliber player for a long time, and Kris has potential that shows his upside is maybe equally as high, but I think we have to kind of let him tie up his other shoe before we start comparing him to other guys,” said Fisher.

Before Monday night’s game, Porzingis received his award for being named NBA Rookie of the Month for November.

Fisher said of the last time he saw a player with a start like Porzingis has had, “Kobe’s a popular name to throw out. I’ve seen many guys over the years that, for different reasons, seem ready to go from the start. It just depends on the situation. I think you go into more so than whether the player is ready, I think there’s some players drafted as rookies onto teams and they’re given responsibilities they that maybe they aren’t ready for, but it doesn’t mean that they’re not ready to play at this level.

“I think that this worked out well for Kris, that we didn’t try to make him something before he actually started playing, so he’s been able to find a role that fits him at this point where he is in his career. We didn’t place the entire franchise on his shoulders and say, ‘go win some games for us.’ I think a lot of rookies  that are drafted high are put in that position,” said Fisher.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said of Porzingis, “I love Kristaps, I mean, it’s funny because everywhere I went that I’ve dealt with New York basketball fans, like ‘aw, man,’ you don’t understand, we would’ve traded up in a heartbeat to get that kid. We loved him, and (Jerami) Grant too, actually, I don’t know if I said this before, it was a toss-up between Justin Anderson and Grant. If he (Grant) would have fallen, it would have been a coin flip as to who we would have taken, so and the guy that you (the Knicks) took that’s overseas, (Guillermo) Hernangomez, we wanted him too, so the three guys that we had on our board that we wanted the most, the Knicks got all three.

“We’re huge fans (of Porzingis) and, obviously people are gonna compare him to Dirk because that’s what everybody likes to do, but when he steps up for a three, those three inches (in height) make a difference,” said Cuban.

In the game, Nowitzki came out firing and scored nine of the Mavericks’ first 11 points.

Nowitzki had 11 points total in the first quarter on his way to a 25-point night, in which he shot 9-for-18, 2-4 on threes, with six rebounds and two assists.

Porzingis finished with 28 points on 13-for-18 shooting, including 2-4 on threes, with two rebounds.

In the fourth quarter, Porzingis had 12 points, as the Knicks outscored Dallas 25-16 as they made a late comeback that fell short in the 104-97 loss.

Porzingis said of the match-up with Nowitzki, “It was fun at first. He showed why he’s Dirk Nowitzki. In the first half, I let him shoot open shots and, of course, he made them. But, it was a lesson for me and something to learn from now. I’ve been learning from him. It was really fun playing against him.”

Nowitzki said of what it was like matching up with Porzingis, “He’s for real. We’ve said it before. He’s tougher than you think, long, athletic, can put the ball on the floor, made threes today. He made runners and especially when they put him on at the five – obviously when (Robin) Lopez goes out – that’s a tough lineup to guard. They can space the floor with (Carmelo) Anthony, (Jose) Calderon was shooting well tonight, and so was (Lance) Thomas in the corner. That lineup gave us some problems and he was fantastic during the fourth quarter.”

Porzingis said of learning from Nowitzki, “He’s not the most athletic, he’s not the fastest guy on the court, but somehow he always gets his shot off. He’s so smart. When you just watch him play and how he tricks the opposite player, he might be walking around and then there’s a screen for him and an open shot. Those kind of things come with experience, but those are the things I can learn from him.”

Nowitzki said of Porzingis looking up to him, “It sort of mean I’m old, but I’ve been blessed to be around for a long time. It’s an honor that guys respect my game over so long. I wish him nothing but luck and think the sky is the limit for this kid. Not only because he’s good but I’ve heard he lives and breathes basketball. He stays in the gym, works hard and doesn’t let all this hype get to his head – you have to root for him.”

Porzingis said of meeting Dirk for the first time, “I had never met him. After the game, he just said, ‘keep working and focus.'”

Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle said of the Nowitzki-Porzingis matchup, “Well, Dirk got us off to a great start. He loves these types of situations; it’s really great to see taking the challenge of a young guy like this. Porzingis is a special player and the city of New York has Phil Jackson to thank for that one. He’s a great young player who has the chance to be truly special. Dirk got us off to a great start and I thought throughout the whole game he was consistent and when we needed to get a few stops, we did; we got a little ragged in the fourth, but that’s how it gets on the road sometimes.”

Dallas point guard Deron Williams said of Porzingis, “He’s special. He’s definitely, if he says healthy, (going to) carry this franchise for a long time.”


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