Dirk Nowitzki has long been an NBA outlier. He's a seven-footer, who can both shoot from the outside and post-up, making him a matchup nightmare in the NBA for nearly two decades. His diverse repertoire has earned him 13 All-Star Game appearances, an MVP and an NBA title.
Nowitzki was the ninth overall pick in 1998. It took another 17 years before the NBA met its next seven-foot European do-it-all product. Kristaps Porzingis (listed at 7-foot-3) was selected fourth overall by the Knicks last June.
The Dirk-to-Kristaps comparisons were inevitable. On Monday, Nowitzki and Porzingis faced off for the first time, and Dirk felt all the feelings.
"It's more than fair," Nowitzki told ESPN's Ian Begley. "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 is averaging 14.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, good for Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in October/November. Nowitzki caught Porzingis on an especially impressive night: the rookie scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, as the Knicks turned a 20-point deficit into four. The Mavericks held on to win, though, 104-97.
"He's for real," Nowitzki said. "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."
One could argue the comparisons are forced. Nowitzki is a more physical player than Porzingis. Porzingis is faster than Nowitzki. Other than both being European seven-footers who can shoot, the similarities are lacking.
But Porzingis gushes over the compliments.
"Obviously, he's showing some respect to me," Porzingis says. "That shows me that maybe I have the potential to one day be as great as he is. I've got to keep working, and hopefully, I can be as good as he thinks I can be."
For reference, Nowitzki was also 20 when he debuted in 1998. With the season cut short by a lockout, Nowitzki played in 47 games and started 24. He averaged 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and shot .206 from three-point range.
Porzingis' rookie numbers are better, but Nowitzki improved fast, averaging 17.5 points per game in his second season. He's never averaged less than 17.3 points in a season since, giving Porzingis a tall standard to meet.
But nobody's ruling it out.
"Porzingis is a special player, and the city of New York has Phil Jackson to thank for that one," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. "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."
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.