DA's Morning Tip
Morning Tip Q&A: Dirk Nowitzki
The Mavs' superstar looks back on his latest scoring milestone, the future of the franchise and more
The year before Dirk Nowitzki came to Dallas, the team’s leader in 3-point attempts was … Dennis Scott. You could have given me 1,000 guesses, and I never would have remembered 3D was the Hoister-in-Chief in Big D. I always imagine him in Orlando, playing for the Magic alongside Shaquille O’Neal.
Thankfully, none of us will ever have to think about the Diggler in anything but the white and blue of the Mavericks. In his 19th season, the only question surrounding the now-38-year-old Nowitzki, after all the great moments as the Mavericks’ greatest player ever, including the league MVP in 2007 and the title and Finals MVP in 2011, is whether he’ll keep playing after his 20th year in Dallas next season — the second and final year of his $50 million deal.
Nowitzki has more than earned the right to leave whenever he wants, and he’s continued to play well for Dallas this season, though his scoring numbers are down to 14.3 points per game, the lowest average since his rookie season. But he’s still dangerous outside — the great shooting big man in history and the best ever from Europe is knocking down 38.1 percent of his 3-pointers this season — and he’s been a vital part of the Mavs’ unexpected playoff chase after a very slow start.
The future of the franchise is clearer now — Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry and newly acquired Nerlens Noel will take things from here. But Nowitzki had one last great night at American Airlines Center this season, on March 7, when he made his first six shots from the floor — and, with 10:58 left in the second quarter, dropped a baseline jumper over the Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr., giving him 30,000 points in his career, becoming just the sixth player in NBA history to reach that mark. The Hall of Fame is at least five years away. Maybe six. Maybe seven. Maybe more. Who knows?
Me: Do your kids understand what “30,000” means?
Dirk Nowitzki: Not yet. They didn’t go to the game. They’re too small, and we didn’t really want to yank them out of their routines. Eventually, it’ll be unbelievable, and grandkids, and stuff like that. But right now, it’s, keep plugging, you know? It was an emotional week for me for sure, and it was a lot of fun. The guys from Germany were in, and [Nowitzki’s longtime shooting coach] Holger (Geschwinder) had some tears in his eyes. It was a sweet moment. But we’re still battling for this last eighth spot, so there wasn’t really a lot of time to enjoy.
“To be standing here 19 years later and be one of the six to ever score 30,000, it’s been bizarre. It’s been surreal. It’s been a crazy ride.”
Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki
Me: Was it important for you to play well in that particular game?
DN: I hadn’t really played all that well leading up to it. After All-Star break, I had some bad shooting games. I tried to actually get closer to the mark in the second half of the game we’d played before. I was hoisting, and nothing went in. So 20 (in the next game) was kind of a harsh mark to get. But the guys were like, ‘you’ve got to get it tonight; we’ve got two days off after.’ So they just kept looking for me. The first play was for me right away. I made the first shot and I was kind of rolling from there. The first three was kind of a heat check where the guy was closing out, and I shot it anyway. And then it was just, it’s on from there.
Me: You’ve had so much churn with the roster this season. What can you really depend on now with this group?
DN: Well, I think there’s obviously, Coach is always there, putting the guys in the right positions. I think the two constants for us this year are Wes (Matthews) and HB. Both of those guys have been carrying an unbelievable workload for us. Wes has been battling injuries the last couple of weeks, but he’s been our workhorse on defense. And HB has progressed tremendously for us in year one here. I think we were all hoping he could get to that, be a 20-point scorer, but I don’t think anybody would really believe it. I think even some of the Warriors are shocked with what he’s developed into. Great, great mid-range player, which gets lost some in our age now. Can go both ways, both shoulders. He’s got it all. The only thing he needs to add is a little more consistency in his 3-point shot, but, man, he’s a worker. He’s the first one in the gym, the last one to leave, and he’s going back every night to shoot. We love what he stands for, on and off the floor, so we’re thrilled to have him.
Me: Regardless of what happens the rest of this season, do you feel that, with Barnes, with Nerlens, maybe with Yogi Ferrell, okay, now I see the future here?
DN: We were the oldest team (in the league) a couple of years in a row, it feels like. Always up there. We basically made this cut within a few days. We went from older guys, obviously trading Bogues [Andrew Bogut], and D-Will left, and suddenly we had 10 guys under the age of 26. And it happened overnight. Yeah, eventually, we had to make this cut. We’re thrilled with how the young guys have progressed and played. They want to learn, they’re hungry. It’s been fun. Nerlens has been great … really like what he brings — his activity, his athleticism, can finish above the rim, a shot blocker. And we need him, for sure.
Me: You ever think about the numbers you may have put up if the game was played throughout your career the way it is now?
DN: Not really. I came in at that time and I made the most out of what I had. I was struggling early on with the physicality and some of that stuff. It is what it is. But I worked through it. I think if they wouldn’t have changed the rules early on in my career, I would have just had to bulk up a little more. They had some big fours and the backdown was still in play. I probably would have just had to lift more weights in the summer and get bigger. Instead of shooting a million jumpers I would have had to lift more weights. But once they put in the zone and everybody had a spread four, it was better for me to stay skinny and keep shooting.
Me: You probably would have been a “stretch five,” don’t you think, if you came out now?
“I still love to compete. That’s the main thing. It’s still fun out there. … Even the other night, every time I touched the ball, there was this buzz in the gym. That’s still what I live for. It’s still fun to compete.”
DN: Yeah, it’s possible. It’s possible. Anything’s possible these days. Usually, still, every team has a big that’s great at rolling, and all the four guys are spread around him. I was never a great screen and roller, obviously. You need a little bit of both now. Especially down the stretch, teams tend to go smaller and smaller. I’ve got to be ready for everything.
Me: Are you satisified at this point in your career?
DN: I still love to compete. That’s the main thing. It’s still fun out there. Some of the practices, some of the weight lifting sessions get a little old, especially in the summer. But as soon as the game starts, it’s thrilling. Even the other night, every time I touched the ball, there was this buzz in the gym. That’s still what I live for. It’s still fun to compete. It’ll be over sooner or later, so I’m just trying to enjoy it, help these guys get better and spread the floor for them, and answer every question.
Me: But you’ve played at the highest level, competing for championships. And the last three, four years haven’t been like that for you. So I wonder if moments like 30,000 make you feel like this is still important and I can still compete at that level if we get the right people around me.
DN: Yeah. It’s a fortunate situation to be in an organization where you get to play for a championship every year. And we’ve been fortunate in Dallas for a long, long time where we’ve been 50-win teams, we make playoff runs every year. It doesn’t happen all the time. And I understand the grind of it. I understand you’ve got to go through tough times to get better. It was the same way my first couple of years, where I was struggling and the team wasn’t that great. There’s always some ups and downs and some turnaround, but once the ball goes up, it’s still fun to compete and help these guys win.
Me: If this is how your career ends, with the one championship and all the points, are you comfortable?
DN: I came into this league when I was 20, and I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I wasn’t the most confident guy, like you see these young guys walking in here now, thinking the league owes them. I was not like that. I was worried. My first year, when things weren’t going well, I was even thinking about going back to Europe. You have doubts in your head.
To be standing here 19 years later and be one of the six to ever score 30,000, it’s been bizarre. It’s been surreal. It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve been fortunate, with a great owner, with a great coach in the beginning who gave me a lot of confidence in Nellie (Don Nelson), great teammates, starting with Steve (Nash) and Mike (Finley), and J-Kidd obviously helping me get the ring. Am I comfortable? It’s been a crazy ride. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Devin booker just went HAM…and cheese
— Evan Turner (@thekidet) March 25, 2017
— Blazers guard Evan Turner (@thekidet), Friday, 10:13 pm, as startled as the rest of the Association at Devin Booker’s 70-point performance Friday.
THEY SAID IT
“The league has to understand that the science of what we do is a whole lot more sophisticated than it used to be, and we have definitely added years to people. So, it’s a tradeoff: Do you want to see this guy in this one game or do you want to see them for three more years of his career? And do you want to see him through the playoffs because he didn’t get hurt?”
— Gregg Popovich, explaining the cost-benefit analysis of resting players when a team’s medical staff says it’s a good night to sit him, versus the disappointment of fans (and television networks) that were expecting to see that player play in the game.
“People are so concerned and I appreciate it, but I’m doing fine. I’m very happy. I’m getting to do other things that I have never been able to do. I’m a beginner in a lot of things. But I’ve learned to like it, and just look at the nice new picture I have of the world.”
— Chris Bosh, to the Associated Press, on how he’s adjusting to not playing this season — and, perhaps, being done altogether as a player — after he failed the Heat’s preseason physical.
“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice. I can’t get that image out of my mind.”
— Former Laker Rick Fox, recalling to the Orange County Register the occasion when Shaquille O’Neal arrived for a team practice … with no clothes on. And now, I can’t unimagine that. Thanks, Rick.
Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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