Kristaps Porzingis grew up watching Dirk Nowitzki, analyzing his fadeaway jumper from more than 5,000 miles away, learning how Nowitzki used his 7-foot frame to best advantage. When he was done, Porzingis would hit rewind.
“He’s one of the best of all time,” Porzingis said of the German-born Nowitzki, a player he’s been likened to a lot lately. “Dirk’s just amazing. I want to be as great as a shooter as he is one day, hopefully.”
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On Monday, Porzingis can leave the video clips at home. The player he grew up idolizing will be front and center when the Mavericks visit the Garden. Though it will be the first time Porzingis and Nowitzki will meet, it hardly will be the first time the two have been lumped together. Kobe Bryant called Porzingis “Dirk-like,” and when told about the comparisons to him, Nowitzki called the Latvian rookie “the real deal.”
They’re both long, lean and tough, and the 7-3 Porzingis has been lauded for his ability to maneuver his body despite his size. Porzingis’ numbers actually are significantly better than those Nowitzki had in 47 games in his rookie season. He improved drastically in his second season, when he shot 46.1 percent and averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Porzingis is shooting 44.0 percent in 21 games and averaging 14.0 points and 9.2 rebounds.
None of it has been lost on Porzingis, though he acknowledges that right now, the Nowitzki comparisons are based just on potential. He knows he has plenty of work to do, and he has ample impetus to do it.
“It gives me motivation, as always,” Porzingis said of Nowitzki’s comments. “It shows he sees potential in me and he sees that one day I can be a great player. I can use that motivation to turn my potential into what I know . . . that those guys see that I can be one of them.”
He spoke semi-reverently of Nowitzki’s one-legged jumper — “it’s really hard to guard,” he said — and even tried implementing it against the Houston Rockets last month (it’s a work in progress). “I have some similarities with Dirk, but he’s a way, way better shooter than I am,” he said. “I’m trying to get there . . . I still [have to work on] midrange and three-pointers, obviously, but I have a lot of learning to do — from him, especially.”
More from watching than from asking, apparently. Though he’ll be up close with Nowitzki, Porzingis didn’t have any immediate plans to seek him out. He didn’t want to bother him, he said. If the 37-year-old Nowitzki feels inclined to reach out, however, Porzingis isn’t exactly shooing him away.
“If he has something to say to me, some advice or something, obviously, I’ll listen to him,” he said.
In a way, Nowitzki has been informing Porzingis’ progress for a long time, anyway. Porzingis knows exactly where No witzki falls on the all-time scoring list — seventh — and even when he was young, Porzingis knew what a big deal it was for a European player to do this well in the NBA.
“He created the path for European players,” he said. “I’m just trying to walk in his footsteps. I would like to be as great as he is.”
Kristaps’ older brother, Janis, had a feeling his brother would go that way. When Nowitzki showed up on TV, he’d tape it for him — “highlights, games, everything,” Kristaps said. “My brother made a lot of highlights for me to watch and learn.”
Fast-forward a few years and those past memories have become present knowledge, as Europe’s current NBA star gets set to meet the 20-year-old who could be its future.