#9 Dallas Mavericks The big gamble: Can a lottery pick from Wurzburg, Germany, be their winning ticket?

February 08, 1999

Who is Dirk Nowitzki? According to the Mavericks he's part Larry
Bird, part Boris Becker and part Randy Moss.

"He's a 20-year-old kid who six or seven months ago nobody in the
basketball world knew anything about," says Donn Nelson, the Mavs
assistant coach and player personnel director. "It's like a Larry
Bird story, a kid from this small podunk town who grows up to be
a great player."

Except that Nowitzki's town is Wurzburg, Germany. Last June he
was the property of a small local club that until this season
had played in the German second division. The coach of Germany's
national team had recently declared that Nowitzki might be ready
to play for his country after three more years of seasoning. The
Mavs, meanwhile, deemed him an NBA lottery pick, cutting a draft
day deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, who drafted Nowitzki ninth
and immediately shipped him, along with the No. 19 pick, Pat
Garrity, to Dallas for Robert (Tractor) Traylor, the sixth
selection. For a player who hails from a country with so little
basketball tradition it was a Beckeresque leap.

Nowitzki is a slim, 238-pound 7-footer with the hands,
athleticism and marksmanship of a small forward. By the 2000-01
season, when Donn Nelson is scheduled to replace his father,
Don, as coach, the Mavs believe Nowitzki will have added muscle,
learned to knock down the three-pointer with regularity and
become a tremendous passer as well as a defensive force. Dallas
believes that, like the NFL's Moss, Nowitzki had the talent to
be drafted much higher. If his accent sounded more like Bird's
and less like Becker's--i.e., if Nowitzki were an American--"he
would've been the Number 1 pick in the draft," Don Nelson says.

Nowitzki won't help the Mavs much inside, where they lost Kurt
Thomas, a 6'9" enforcer who signed with the Knicks. Nelson
responded by beating out 10 teams for John (Hot Rod) Williams,
who at 36 will be Dallas's starting center, flanked by
35-year-old A.C. Green and backed up by 7'6" Shawn Bradley.
Newly acquired tough guy Gary Trent and 6'9", 258-pound holdover
Samaki Walker are also in the mix.

Nelson hopes the Mavs will contend for their first playoffs since
1990, building their success around 25-year-old scorer Michael
Finley. Steve Nash, whom the Mavs picked up in another draft day
trade, will be expected to prove that he's a 40-minute player
after backing up Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson last season in

But Dallas's biggest X factor is Nowitzki. "We've got to
convince Dirk how good he really is and of the skill level he
possesses," Donn Nelson says. "In the last five to eight years
it's kind of been the opposite with young players. Everybody has
come trash-talking his way into the league. It's nice to deal
with somebody who's a bit modest."


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Total package Nowitzki has the height of a center and the moves of a small forward.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Dirk Nowitzki(R)[+] 77 17.5 ppg 9.9 rpg 2.0 apg 60.1 FG%
PF A.C. Green 146 7.3 ppg 8.1 rpg 0.95 spg 45.3 FG%
C John (Hot Rod) 180 3.6 ppg 4.4 rpg 0.85 bpg 47.0 FG%
SG Michael Finley 23 21.5 ppg 5.3 rpg 4.9 apg 1.61 spg
PG Steve Nash[+] 57 9.1 ppg 3.4 apg 0.83 spg 41.5 3FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 6

C Shawn Bradley 112 11.4 ppg 8.1 rpg 3.34 bpg 42.2 FG%
F Samaki Walker 153 8.9 ppg 7.4 rpg 0.98 bpg 48.6 FG%
G Hubert Davis 182 11.1 ppg 2.1 rpg 45.6 FG% 43.9 3FG%

1997-98 Record: 20-62 (fifth in Midwest)
Coach: Don Nelson (second season with Mavericks)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics for DJK
Wurzburg in Germany)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)