Son of Weekend Dime: No harm in catching Porzingis Fever

Kristaps Porzingis' strong start has brought some excitement back to the Knicks. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Linsanity all over again.

Prisoner of the moment.

Will you knee-jerk, overhyping jerks ever learn?

These are the sorts of jabs being thrown at those of us with the temerity to get swept up in the delightful damage Kristaps Porzingis has been doing in his first few weeks in the NBA. If you listen to the Twitter chatter, we're as foolishly reactionary as the heartless yobs who lustily booed the Porzingis pick when the New York Knicks snagged him at No. 4 overall ... presumably because that's what New Yorkers attending the draft think they're supposed to do whether they've really formed an informed opinion on the draftee in question or not.

For the record: I don't think we're getting unduly carried away with what Porzingis has been able to accomplish in his first 12 games entering Friday's visit to Oklahoma City. Nor do I see any harm in getting swept up in P-Ziddy Fever if the mood strikes.

And here's why: I checked with the most qualified person on the planet to assess young Porzingis to date. To gauge, more specifically, whether media gnats like myself are taking our small-sample-size extrapolations too far and gushing over him prematurely.

Dirk Nowitzki says we aren't.

The greatest European import of them all, when asked this week by ESPN.com for his initial impressions of the Latvian, didn't hesitate.

"He is for real," Nowitzki said.

Dare I say Dirk would know. In January 1999, when the NBA's first-ever lockout abruptly ended, Nowitzki had to suddenly make the leap from mysterious European prospect to frontcourt starter in the best league in the world. The same leap Porzingis is making as we speak.

As well as anyone you could consult, Nowitzki understands how broad of a jump it is.

In one of the more memorable stories of my 20-odd years on the NBA beat, then-Mavericks coach Don Nelson told me for a piece in The Dallas Morning News that he expected Nowitzki to win NBA Rookie of the Year honors. Which was great for the newspaper and a terrible disservice to the skinny 20-year-old kid who had to shoulder the weight of such an audacious forecast.

The transition from the thoroughly unknown DJK Wurzburg X-Rays of the German Bundesliga to the moribund Mavericks of the rugged Western Conference proved to be so bumpy that Nowitzki would confess years later that he gave serious thought to going back to Europe for Year 2.

So if you don't want to listen to windbags like me try to convince you that Zinger's start is legitimately special, perhaps you'll be interested in Nowitzki's take.

Says Dirk: "He is long. He is athletic. He is tough. He's got a touch. He can put it on the floor.

"He is for real," Nowitzki repeats. "Sky's the limit."

Nowitzki's stunning longevity, which finds him in the midst of season No. 18 ranking as the Mavericks' best player still after all this time, makes putting Porzingis in the same sentence somewhat uncomfortable when the new kid hasn't even made it past Thanksgiving yet. But their builds and backgrounds make comparisons inevitable. And you have to say that Porzingis, if we persist with using No. 41's game as his dream-scenario blueprint, actually began his career with a few distinct advantages.

Besides his superior athleticism and extra height, at 7-foot-3, Porzingis went to Spain as a teenager and spent three seasons in one of Europe's top leagues -- then had a summer league with the Knicks as well -- before starting his new life in man-eating Manhattan.

Nowitzki, by contrast, matriculated to the NBA from a league in his native Germany that simply couldn't compare to the competition that greeted Porzingis in Spain playing in the ACB and the Eurocup with Sevilla. Dirk also had his first NBA summer league wiped out by that lockout.

So the Porzingis we're getting now, without question, is far more NBA-ready than the game's No. 7 all-time leading scorer was at the same stage.

That said ...

Porzingis is still over-delivering to such a degree that, like it or not, will unavoidably be hypercovered by us knee-jerkers in Bristol, Gotham and beyond. He just became the youngest Knick in franchise history to deliver a 25-and-10 game. He has established an early pace that has him on course to join Robert Parish, Hakeem Olajuwon and Arvydas Sabonis as the only rookies in league history to average at least 18 points, 12 boards, one block and one steal per 36 minutes. And best of all: Porzingis is legit changing the oxygen at Madison Square Garden when no one -- not even those who would swear to you now that they always had him pegged as a top-two pick -- thought he could do any of that this soon.

Scott Roth is the former Jazz/Spurs/Timberwolves forward who was coaching in Dallas when Nowitzki arrived in '99, then Memphis in 2001 when Pau Gasol got there and then Espana this time a year ago, having been hired by Sevilla to groom Porzingis for the big time after his good work with the Euro legends when they were in their formative years.

"I thought he'd be an All-Star in two to four years," Roth insists, "but I thought he'd need more time for his body to catch up to him.

"[Porzingis] always had the toughness. He's always had the willingness to take the hit. He's never shied away from contact. But the big surprise to me, to this point, is his rebounding. He's holding his own around the basket."

Reached in China, where he's now working with the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks, Roth was asked to explain how Porzingis has already managed to be more of a statistical threat on these shores than he was with Sevilla, where he was a mere 11-and-5 guy in league play.

"His shooting stroke is as pure as any big to come into the NBA ... as good as Dirk's," Roth said, punching his words as he sensed skepticism on the other end of the phone line. "He also has no fear and, more importantly, he has no ego. This is just a great kid with a great work ethic and a real love of the game.

"His numbers are better [in the NBA] because there's a big difference in style of play. Also because the refereeing is so much better, which gives him more freedom of movement. In the ACB, teams knew they could be physical with him and body him all the time and the refs would just let it happen."

The naysayers, though, aren't completely offside when they reference Linsanity. The 2015-16 season is a mere 26 days old. Of course we're getting a touch carried away ... just like so many of us did when Jeremy Lin was lighting up Manhattan as a Knick in February 2012. Porzingis is going to have to keep doing it, and doing it well, for a lot longer than 12 games to live up to the lofty projections coming now from all over the NBA map.

He's shooting only 40.7 percent from the field. He's unsurprisingly foul-prone. His 3-ball (26.5 percent) is nowhere near Dirk-like ... and the same goes for a post game that needs lots more polish before anyone confuses it with Pau's. You can also safely assume that a swoon of some sort is looming in his near future. Struggles as a rookie are inevitable; how Porzingis handles them will tell us a lot.

But this is key: He looks thoroughly unruffled by the challenge or the hype.

Which goes a long way here.

He soaked in all those boos in late June and promptly promised he would hush them.

Kristaps Porzingis clearly believes he belongs.

Which catches the eye as much as any of those putback dunks.

Here's an incredible stat to ponder, in closing, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Infomation workhorse Micah Adams: None of the last 16 players drafted in the lottery out of Europe have gone on to make an All-Star team.



Zero out of 16.

Yet in the space of a couple of weeks, Porzingis has already convinced the likes of Dirk Nowitzki that he has the potential and the moxie to end the drought.

Works for us.


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