Dirk Nowitzki’s NBA journey briefly overlapped with Luka Doncic’s debut season in 2018-19 when the Mavericks acquired Doncic’s draft rights. At the time, there was much hype surrounding Doncic as the future of the franchise, but Nowitzki, a Mavericks legend, had his reservations. He questioned whether Doncic’s European success would translate to the NBA and whether he possessed the athleticism needed to excel in the league.
“The end of my career wasn’t pretty,” Nowitzki admitted on Showtime’s All the Smoke podcast. “We were struggling. There was some talk of tanking. We needed a little spark plug to change things. I didn’t think it was going to be this kid [Doncic]. When he walked in the first time, he looked like a big boy, but I’m like, ‘I’m not sure this is going to work. Is he quick enough? Is he athletic enough to go by guys like he is in Europe?’ So there were plenty of doubts there, from everybody on the team.”
However, Doncic quickly dispelled those doubts during practice sessions. Veterans on the team, as is customary with promising rookies, put him to the test. Doncic showcased his exceptional talent, confidence, and basketball IQ, proving that he could hold his own against experienced NBA players.
Despite Doncic’s impressive start, Nowitzki still didn’t anticipate him becoming the superstar he is today.
Dirk was skeptical about Luka at first.
But after spending more time with him, he saw the @dallasmavs’ vision.
— SHOWTIME Basketball (@shobasketball) December 4, 2023
The NBA has a history of overvaluing traditional athleticism, often favoring players with speed and jumping ability. However, players like Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Stephen Curry have challenged this conventional thinking with their extraordinary skills and basketball intelligence.
Nowitzki himself, known for his shooting and basketball IQ rather than athleticism, had a successful career despite not fitting the traditional mold of a top athlete. This experience made his initial doubts about Doncic’s abilities particularly intriguing.
In the end, the combination of skill and athleticism is ideal, but players like Doncic prove that exceptional skills can outweigh physical limitations. Nowitzki’s doubts have been unequivocally proven wrong as Doncic continues to establish himself as one of the NBA’s brightest stars.