Dirk Nowitzki's NBA career overlapped with the start of Luka Doncic's by one season, 2018-19, when the Mavericks traded for Doncic's rights on draft night.
Doncic was immediately regarded as the guy who was going to take the torch from Nowitzki and carry the Mavericks back into the ranks of the elite, but Nowitzki was initially skeptical. He wondered if Doncic was being perhaps a bit overhyped based on his success in Europe, and whether some of supposed physical limitations might hinder his NBA potential.
"The end of my career wasn't pretty," Nowitzki said during an appearance 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."
Nowitzki goes on to detail how the Dallas veterans made it a point to test Doncic right away in scrimmages, as is normal treatment for any golden child NBA newcomer, and Doncic was quick to flash the goods -- the talent, the swagger, the feel for the game -- that allowed him to dominate grown men in Europe as a young teenager.
Still, Dirk didn't see Doncic becoming this good.
Listen to his whole answer here:
The overvaluing of traditional athleticism has long been a hole in basketball scouting; players themselves tend to be the biggest suckers for the fastest, highest-jumping guy on the court. Guys like Doncic, Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry -- otherworldly skill guys who lack in so-called measurables -- have largely flipped the script on this sort of antiquated thinking.
But biases still exist. The slower, more grounded guy succeeding on skill and hand-eye coordination is always going to bear a larger burden of proof than the guy running and jumping out of the gym.
The best, of course, is to have both. But if you have to pick one, it's sort of interesting that of all people, Nowitzki, who couldn't run or jump a lick, doubted Luka's ability to turn his skills into NBA success. Sure, he didn't have Nowitzki's height or shooting ability, but still, Dirk was more often than not one of the worst "athletes" on the court, yet he will go down as one of the greatest players ever.
The smart money says Doncic will, too.