The Utah Jazz visit the Dallas Mavericks
It didn’t take long for the basketball world to take notice of Dirk Nowitzki’s amazing talents. Seven footers that move, handle the ball, and shoot like Dirk does don’t come along but once in a particular dimension of space/time. He is an anomaly in every sense: a seven-foot jumpshooter, a MVP with reputation for mediocre defense, a European dominating an American game. It was no surprise that Nelson Major (Don) and Minor (Donnie) saw it fit to tailor the Dallas offense to Dirk’s very particular talents; not only was Dirk’s game potent, but it was so unique that many teams knew not what to do against a seven-footer going to work with fades and fakes at the elbow. It’s not much easier to defend Dirk a decade later, and though some players give Nowitzki more trouble than others, he’s still among the league’s biggest match-up nightmares.
All of that said, I completely understood the rush to find the next Dirk. NBA scouts and front office types scoured Europe in search of elite talent, and though the hunt turned in more busts than stars, it did turn out a few gems. Among them was Utah center Mehmet Okur, the other player from Turkey who also happens to be a big man with a sweet shooting stroke.
But aside from that cheap, one sentence characterization, it’s difficult to find ways in which Dirk and Memo’s games intersect. Dirk is, and has been for the better part of this decade, his team’s primary offensive option. His skill set on that side of the ball is unparalleled for big men, and the Mavs’ offensive system runs through those unique talents. Okur is still very talented, but seems very pedestrian when cast in Nowitzki’s shadow. Memo isn’t nearly as skilled in creating space from an on-ball defender, and lacks Dirk’s attention to footwork. For those reasons, Nowitzki is one of the league’s premier offensive threats. The ball goes through him, and if there’s trouble, he kicks it out…to a player like a Memo Okur. Playing with numbers isn’t even fair when it comes to these two, as such the disparity in assisted baskets (or essentially, baskets set up by a teammate) ranges between 10 and 20% in any given season. That’s shot creation at work, holmes, and in the NBA it’s kind of a big deal.
The natural inclination in tonight’s game is to examine the match-up between the fading Jason Kidd and the rising Deron Williams. Or maybe to put a microscope on Utah’s power forwards, with Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap starting the season off on an odd foot. But amidst all that matters today, take a moment to recognize what mattered yesterday. Scouts somewhere saw Mehmet Okur and thought: “This guy could be the next Dirk Nowitzki.” That’s a heavy statement. And even though Okur never quite panned out as another Dirk, he’s still made a fine career for himself as a third or fourth offensive guy who can really stretch out a defense and space the floor. But he isn’t a star, and the weight of those career projections certainly didn’t make him into one.
The Mavs have their very own “next” sitting on the bench as we speak. But before Rodrigue Beaubois becomes a Tony Parker or a Rajon Rondo doppleganger, we’ll have hundreds of opportunities to freak out and then mellow out when it comes to his potential. Beaubois is going to make mistakes, and he’s going to do some things incredibly well. But before you ink up your fountain pen to scribe his name as a 2015 All-Star, keep Okur’s career in mind. Maybe Rodrigue won’t be the next Rondo. That’s fine. For all we know, he could be even better. But at this point all the Mavs have is a young player with a lot to learn and a lot to prove, and though he may have the speed, hops, and instincts to be a star, the weight of our career projections certainly won’t make him into one.