Dirk Nowitzki is the 6th leading scorer of all time with 31,187 career points. He is a 13x All-Star, 12x All-NBA, the 2006-2007 League MVP, and 2010-2011 Finals MVP while getting his championship ring. Over his 20 yr career in Dallas, he is the franchise leader in games played, minutes, points, free throws, rebounds, blocks, and player efficiency rating amongst a dozen other franchise records. Off the court he is the heart and soul of this team and a pillar of the Dallas community. Dirk is the greatest athlete the metroplex has ever had and you can’t convince me otherwise. I know all this, so please don’t bite my head off for the headline.
What I’m merely pointing out is that Dirk is playing year to year with the intent on retiring before the end of our 2018 first round draft pick’s rookie contract. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at the ways the potential draft picks are like Dirk, the ways they differ and impact that they can potentially have on Dirk on the court.
In this 3 part series leading up to draft night, I will look at 3 of the players most closely linked to Mavs and their 5th pick. Most would agree that Deandre Ayton is going #1, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley III are set to go with the following 2 picks in some order. That would leave Jaren Jackson Jr. (who we looked at here), Michael Porter Jr. (here) and Mohammed Bamba as the most likely picks for the Mavs at 5. So let’s look at ways that each of them can contribute in Dirk-esque ways, ways they are nothing like the greatest player the Mavs have ever seen, and ways that they can impact Dirk directly once they get here.
7’0’’, 225lb Forward/Center – Texas
Mo Bamba was the defensive stalwart of the University of Texas this past year with the ability to cover lots of ground and defend faster players using his – soon to be NBA record setting – wing span of 7’10”. He was top three in blocked shots in the NCAA last year and has the instincts and timing to be all NBA defense over time. His offense was about what you would expect in college, lobs, dunks and a few mid-range and outside shots, but none that you would really write home about. However, after college Bamba started working on his offense in a way that has teams thinking that he could be nearly as special on offense as he is already on defense.
How is he like Dirk?
We’ll start with the build. Bamba is a skinny 7 footer who the NBA worries whether they can hang down low with the modern NBA big men. Dirk has managed to get by and Bamba is already working to pack on muscle, adding over 10lbs since college. In his new training videos, Bamba sports a 3 point shot that is high and away from defenders with a quick release point that would really be unguardable by most NBA players. That sounds a heck of a lot like Dirk’s patented 1 legged fade away. I know I just compared a prospect’s training video to an NBA champion’s patented shot, but that actually brings me to another similarity: work ethic. Dirk prides himself on being a gym rat and while most players claim to be a version of one, no one really lives up to Dirk’s standard. The Ringer posted a GREAT article about Bamba’s training that would be too much for most and he takes it in stride as a way to succeed. The tall baller from the G might have a new gym buddy…
How is he different from Dirk?
Pros: Bamba already possesses the tools and instincts to be the best defensive center the Mavs have ever had. For perspective, Shawn Bradley holds the Mavs record for blocks per game at 2.1 and Bamba averaged 3.7 blocks in his one season at UT. I know, NCAA vs NBA, but I think you see my point of what he COULD be from day one. Bamba could reach the top of the NBA in defense, something Dirk has never even dreamed of.
Cons: Even with his improved shooting mechanics, Bamba will most likely NEVER be the offensive superman that Dirk is. There are very few instances in NBA history where the center is your highest scoring player, so we can safely say that Bamba would probably fall into that middle ground of scoring bigs. And the Mavs offense, as it is currently designed, doesn’t focus on the center as a scorer, so that would definitely have to change to make Bamba a focus on offense. He might occasionally get you twenty on a night, sure, but can he be like Dirk and get you 40+? I think we can safely say no.
Impact on Dirk
I think that there is enough hype and buzz around Mo Bamba that if you draft him, you start him just like Carlisle did with Dennis Smith Jr. Smith wasn’t the best point guard on the roster on opening day last year, but he felt the need for the team and the fans to know that Dennis was the future, but also that he had the head coach’s trust. I think Mo Bamba would fall into a similar category even though his offensive game still needs a lot of work. I could see a world where Carlisle starts Dirk at the 4 out of respect OR one where Dirk graciously bows himself out of the starting lineup and into his eventual backup role before anyone asks. Bamba immediately becomes your starting center and Dirk proves yet again why he’s the hero we need, not the one we deserve.
Mo Bamba is a highly intelligent big man with the physical tools to be a special big man in the NBA, but he is a very different than your man Dirk on the basketball court. Dirk was also very different than power forwards before him and changed the position forever. Now, I’m not putting that lofty goal of Bamba being a transformative center, but I am saying that him being a different guy on the court than Dirk is not necessarily a bad thing. Bamba’s abilities and personality off the court and in the locker room mirroring Dirk is something Mavs fans should salivate over.
Guys…the draft is TONIGHT! Let’s get a game changer!
We’ll see you on the other side!