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Layups: Young Dirk

Posted by Neil Paine on June 14, 2011

Here's a great story at Slate by Benjamin Markovits, whose German minor-league team played against a 17-year-old Dirk Nowitzki in the mid-1990s.

"What amazes me when I watch him now is the effort that goes into each of Nowitzki's offensive moves—how he uses all of his length and athletic ability to win a few inches of separation for his turnaround fadeaway jump shot. When he played against us, nobody could keep him out of the lane. He was not only the tallest player on the court but one of the fastest. I remember switching on to him once at the top of the key. One dribble later and he was at the rim. How can you stay in front of a guy who can go around you and past you in a single stride? After that, it didn't even matter if he missed the shot—he was the quickest man to the ball and could tap it back in at will."

UPDATE: In the comments, Chris shared another link that gives quite a bit more of Markovits' backstory, and how his path came to intersect with Dirk's that summer.

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7 Responses to “Layups: Young Dirk”

  1. Chris Says:

    Someone in the comments there has linked to an expanded, less Dirky version of this article from The Observer.

    If you want a bit more backstory regarding how a high school bench warmer with no college ball experience could make it in the Euro leagues.

  2. CJ Says:

    His story underlines the whole "pros vs joes" gap. A friend of mine who played on a team that made it to the NCAA Tournament told me about the reality check he got playing against players who would later make it to the NBA. He was a high school superstar and a quality college player, but got completely owned by Robert Pack in a workout. He was depressed for a while, but ended up having a decent career in Australia.

    My dad told me a story about how Maurice Cheeks would play at the Y in the offseason. Word got back to Cheeks that people were saying the the local Y hero might be better than he was. The next time they were on the court, the local guy got a steal and went for what looked a like a breakaway dunk. Cheeks (never known to be a superior athlete by NBA standards) chased him down and threw his shot out of the gym.

  3. Cort Says:

    i think 1 of the things that has made dirk more effective in the crunch in recent times is this: when he gets crowded he takes his time and doesnt get in a rush or allow his body to get off balance. he calmly assesses the situation, keeps his dribble and usually makes the right decision to shoot or drive now. he is better at drawing fouls too and is getting calls he didnt used to get 4-5 years ago as well.
    in 2006 haslem pushed him all over the court and dirk got in a hurry to burn him and rushed shots/moves, or settled for a tough jumper or fadeaway.
    for years because he is a supposedly soft foreign minority the refs have allowed defenders to push him or go under him on his jumper, which is a really dirty trick where the shooter will often sprain an ankle coming down on their foot. then to avoid that you start fading away on everything and rushing - i never saw a player twist his ankles as much as dirk by that dirty defensive tactic. bruce bowen was a fne defender but very adept at that cheap move in particular.

    dirk's winning drive at the end of game 2 illustrates his improvement. after he spun he kept his dribble and finished a nice lefty drive. 4-5 years ago he stops his own dribble and settles for a 19-foot fade over bosh, which is a very tough shot to make.
    another thing is his passing has improved, as has is ability to see the floor. and dallas surrounded him with better shooters. in the past teams doubled dirk and made him pass because they didnt fear the other mavs. and their failings were unfairly projected onto dirk.
    once the rust from a long layoff wore off and they figured out the heat defense, they shot the last 2 games like they had much of the post-season.

    i find it laughable that some supposed experts are already making miami the favorite for next year. dallas won WITHOUT caron butler and was pulling away as the series wore on. james andwade dont play that well together since bioth need the ball, and they have no inside scoring.
    had the series gone 10 games at that rate it ended dallas would have won 7. if they bring back their free agents and stay healthy, dallas has to at least be the co-favorite - assuming there is a season.

  4. marparker Says:

    Cort,
    Not only did they make Miami the favorites...the next best team is 6 to 1.

    I think there were 3 teams at 5-1 or better this year.

    They are making them the favorites by a resounding margin.

    I find folly in your extrapolation. What if you had stopped watching basketball with about 10 minutes to go during game 2?

    IMO, the reaction to Miami's "failure" is overblown. They had a two possession lead late in game 1-5 and came out behind 2-3. Dallas had a bunch of players play above their career levels. Dirk lived at the free throw line and missed 1 free throw(from memory)the entire series. Meanwhile, Miami had only two guys show up. Small sample size.

  5. huevonkiller Says:

    Cort Dirk has always been a clutch player you're just creating a narrative.

    Miami will be fine they don't have career worst playoff series in every round, and the scoring margin was still reasonable as Marparker alluded.

  6. huevonkiller Says:

    Cort in your defense, you did make some solid points about unfair projections and Bruce Bowen.

    I had a lot of fun watching Dirk in 2006 actually, he was a better player even when he was "flawed".

  7. Hoops Maestro Says:

    This story reminded me of watching the original Dream Team at the Tournament of the Americas in Portland. I had thought Chris Mullin was a pure outside shooter who couldn't guard anyone or take it to the hole. Against the other international teams, he was a ball-hawking steal machine who could strip his guy at one end and blow by him on the other.