On June 25, 2015, New York Knicks fans at the Barclays Center booed Kristaps Porzingis after Adam Silver announced the Knicks selected Porzingis with the 4th pick in the NBA Draft.
A 7-foot 3-inch power forward who averaged 11 points and 4 rebounds playing in Spain, Knicks fans were enraged. Yet after his 3rd season, Porzingis is being comparing to one of the best power forwards to ever play basketball, Dirk Nowitzki.
Statistically, Porzingis and Nowitzki had very similar junior years in the NBA, although Porzingis only played 48 games due to a torn ACL.
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Offensively, Porzingis has all the tools to become as good as Nowitzki. Porzingis shot a better percentage from the 3-point line than Nowitzki did in his 3rd year in the league, taking the same amount of shots per game (4.8).
Nowitzki obviously improved his efficiency as he gained experience. He had five years in which he shot over 40% from the 3-point line. In an era defined by the three-point shot, Porzingis’ ability to knock down a 24-foot jumper is going to be huge if he wants to be judged on the same level as Nowitzki.
Porzingis has the same look and feel to the game as Nowitzki has had in his 20-year career. The Latvian forward likes to pop out for a jumper after setting a screen, a play which was almost created by Nowitzki.
However, Porzingis has not shown any signs of Nowitzki’s famous post-up game. Nowitzki, known best for his one legged fadeaway, has always thrived in the post, yet Porzingis has struggled down low. He often gets pushed around by smaller players, forcing him to post up closer to the three-point line rather than the elbow. This often results in a difficult shot from Porzingis where he converted on a mere 43.8 percent of those jumpers in the 2017-18 season.
The 7-foot 3-inch 240lb forward should be down low, similar to Nowitzki. Porzingis needs to reach the next level of his game in the post. The Mavericks can give Nowitzki the ball and say, “go get us a bucket,” and he creates something from nothing. Porzingis just does not have that skillset yet, and needs to be fed the ball in the right spot. He will never have the most unguardable shot of all time like Nowitzki, but it is important that he learns how to get easy buckets closer to the basket if his jumper isn’t falling on certain nights.
Even earlier in his career, Nowitzki has never had the athleticism that Porzingis has displayed so far. Porzingis has excellent quickness for a player of his size, while Nowitzki, who is the epitome of slow, mastered his footwork and knowledge of how to get to his spots, and still does it at 40 years of age. Dirk was never known for dunking, while the Knicks forward has already thrown down some insane dunks just three years into his career.
The biggest difference in the two power forward’s games is defense. While Dirk Nowitzki has been a decent team defender, he’s not a shot blocker or controlled a game defensively. Porzingis has not only proved he can anchor a defense at the forward or center position, but he has shown the ability to read plays to get timely blocks and stay alert on defense. He led the league in block percentage last season, and has had two seasons in the top 10 in blocks, something Nowitzki was never able to do.
Porzingis has the physique to be a great defender, but he put up a lousy 108.5 defensive rating and a net rating of -9.3 in losses last season. Nowitzki, who was never labeled as a great defender, always managed to put up decent defensive numbers, finishing in the top 10 of defensive win shares twice in his career.
The Latvian forward needs to be a presence inside the paint. While he did average two blocks, he only grabbed 6.6 rebounds a night, a low number for a 7-3 NBA player. In his prime, Nowitzki was averaging almost 9 rebounds a night. Porzingis needs some fire on the glass, as he shows next to no urgency after a shot goes up.
Last season, Porzingis was unable to reach the top 20 in offensive or defensive rebounding percentage, while Nowitzki, in an era dominated by big men such as Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace, was able to reach top 20 in defensive rebounding percentage several times in his career.
Porzingis has an extremely long way to go until we put him in a conversation with arguably the game’s most impactful Euoropean player in Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki revolutionized the way big men play today and is the reason we see players such as Porzingis and Lauri Markannen excel.
Porzingis has the tools to be an all time great and one of the best power forwards ever. If he keeps working on his post up game and his defense, he will dominate the league. He is just 22 years old, and has a full NBA career ahead of him.
Knicks fans, be excited.