Dirk Nowitzki lumbered onto the court Sunday afternoon to play eight minutes and 22 seconds for the Dallas Mavericks. Taken with the ninth overall selection in the 1998 NBA Draft, the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer has been a constant reminder for the last two decades of what could have been for the Milwaukee Bucks.
It’s a footnote in history, but Nowitzki wasn’t drafted by the Dallas Mavericks, the team he has played 1,473 regular season games with plus another 145 playoff games over his 21-year career.
The 13-time All-Star was acquired in a draft night deal along with Pat Garrity for the rights to the sixth overall selection, Robert “Tractor” Traylor.
Traylor averaged just 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds over seven seasons in the league. While Nowitzki was leading his Mavericks team to their first NBA championship in 2011, Traylor suffered a heart attack and unexpectedly passed away on May 11 of that year at the age of 34.
One player became great, the other struggled to find a spot in the league. That is the NBA Draft lottery in a nutshell.
The Sacramento Kings passed on Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft, selecting Marvin Bagley III with the second overall pick. It’s possible that these two players will always be connected by this decision.
Bagley injured his left knee in a fall during Friday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. He missed the first matchup with Doncic, but both players look like long-term keepers in the league.
Doncic, a seasoned European player, looked nothing like a rookie in his first game against Sacramento. He led the Mavericks with 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He added nine assists and six rebounds in 35 minutes of action.
At 19-years-old, he is already the Mavs’ best player and his impact on the team is incredible.
“He’s got a lot of different skills,” Kings coach Joerger told reporters before the game. “I think he’s going to become a heck of a shooter and when that happens, it will make him quicker. He’s got a good ball handling set and he knows how to play.”
“Perhaps there was an idea that there was a ceiling on him - I don’t see it, unfortunately for us,” Joerger said. “He’s great for them and he’s great for our league.”
It was clear from the opening tip that the Kings were going to struggle with Doncic. Joerger tried a variety of different looks against the rookie, but it wasn’t until the second half when point guard De’Aaron Fox stepped up and used his quickness against the 6-foot-7 guard.
“He was playing great in the first half and I took it upon myself to switch the matchup and I wanted to guard him,” Fox said. “He’s a hell of a player. You can’t stop a hell of a player. He had a great game tonight.”
The Kings aren’t the only team to pass on Doncic. The Atlanta Hawks selected the Slovenian-born guard with the third overall selection and then traded his rights to Dallas for a future first round and the draft rights to Trae Young.
Doncic is the better player today, but rarely do the early returns from the NBA draft tell the whole story. Bagley has incredible potential, but he’ll need time to develop.
Just a reminder, but Nowitzki averaged only 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game as a 20-year-old. Bagley is way ahead of where the star big man was when he came into the league and Bagley’s a year younger than Nowitzki was as a rookie.