DALLAS -- San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, the coach who has faced Dirk Nowitzki the most, pretended not to be impressed by the big German bumping Oscar Robertson out of the top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
“Well, you shoot it that much, you’re going to pass somebody,” Popovich deadpanned. “He shoots it every time he gets it. Geez, oh whiz!”
The truth is that there’s a massive amount of respect between Popovich and Nowitzki. Popovich, who is notorious for giving brief answers to interview questions that don’t interest him, was extremely elaborative with his praise of Nowitzki after the Spurs’ Thursday shootaround at American Airlines Center in advance of the Spurs-Mavs game Thursday night.
“Ever since he got here day one, when nobody knew who the heck he was except Nellie [then-Mavs coach Don Nelson], he’s done a lot of great things,” Popovich said. “He started out a bit slow until he got used to the deal here and then became Dirk, a Hall of Fame player and somebody who’s arguably the best pure shooter we’ve ever seen.
“And he’s done it with class. He’s showed up every minute that he’s available, plays hard all the time, great teammate. He’s somebody special.”
It was apparent that Nowitzki was special when he went off for 42 points and 18 rebounds in a playoff game against the Spurs as a 22-year-old. The Mavs were eliminated that night, but it was apparent that a superstar had arrived.
One of Nowitzki’s greatest moments of his NBA career came on the Spurs’ home court. His and-1 layup forced overtime in Game 7 of the 2006 West semifinals, a game the Mavs won in large part due to a dominant Dirk performance of 37 points and 15 rebounds.
Production like that demands a certain level of respect, although the Spurs have gotten the best of the Mavs more often than not. But Popovich seems more impressed by Nowitzki’s process, the work ethic displayed by constantly attempting to improve his game over the course of a 16-year career that’s headed for the Hall of Fame.
“He’s obviously got some natural skills and all that kind of thing, but he worked to be the player he is now,” Popovich said. “He’s put in a lot of time.
“He’s done everything. He needed to rebound more and he did. He’s got a myriad of shots. Every year we see new things, whether it’s his fadeaways or his drives or his spins, his pump fakes. Every year he got better in some aspect of the game and worked himself into position offensively where he was impossible to guard. And he’s still pretty much the same thing. So that’s pretty incredible.”