Today, the now 41-year-old is known as a revolutionary, as one of the best players in NBA history, as one of only seven players with over 31,000 points in the regular season. Not only is he one of the best, but also one of the most important players ever, because he opened so many doors and eliminated prejudice about foreign players. Thanks to him, the development of the NBA has taken a much more global direction and is now more versatile than ever.
The truth is that you can do your homework and have a “nose” and still be completely wrong: every GM in the league has already had this experience, of course, Nelson’s “right” decision did not immediately foresee that Nowitzki is going to be a seven-time All-Star and a player who has the potential to be a Hall of Famer.
His example also illustrates wonderfully what a game of chance the draft can sometimes be. It took a bunch of odd things to get him on the Mavericks’ radar and then get him to Dallas – a situation where a revolutionary-thinking coach was at work, who had the necessary patience and creativity. In the first one or two years, Steve Nash was essential for Nowitzki, as he helped him to adjust himself to a foreign environment and not to return to Europe, what was actually his idea in that time.
Of course, if you had known what you know today, Dirk would have been the Number 1 pick of the 1998 NBA draft. Even today, when scouting, medical testing and talent evaluation are at a completely different level, it still happens on a regular basis that player who was drafted later made an impact and become very successful.
“I thought back then that we had the chance to get an All-Star to build our team on,” Nelson told Sports Illustrated about Nowitzki, “but no one could have foreseen what had happened to him. He has far exceeded all the expectations we had.”
It just adds a little more. The draft is only the beginning – the challenge is to “forecast” the next ten years. Or, in Nowitzki’s case, the next 21.