As the NBA returns to action, so does the greatest German player of all time. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks is back for his 20th season in the world's top professional basketball league.
When he takes to the court in the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Wednesday night, Nowitzki will likely be playing against a familiar face; Dennis Schröder of the Atlanta Hawks, the man expected to succeed him as Germany's most famous basketball player.
However, the 24-year-old Schröder will have a lot of work ahead of him, if he is to come close to matching Nowitzki's achievements in the National Basketball Association (NBA) over the past two decades. Among other things, the native of Würzburg in the southern German state of Bavaria won the award as the league's most valuable player in 2007 and led the Dallas Mavericks to an NBA title four years later – when he was also named the MVP of the playoffs.
Top non-American scorer
He enters his 20th season ranked sixth overall in NBA regular season scoring with a total of 30,260 points – which also makes him the league's highest non-American point getter.
Having turned 39 this year, Nowitzki readily admits that getting back out onto the practice court on the morning after a game isn't as easy as it was in his twenties, and that he can look "a little stiff" for the first few minutes. This has led some of his teammates to start referring to the big German (2.13 meters, 7 feet 0 inches) as "the big mummy."
Dirk Nowitzki has frequently played for Germany. Here he prepares for a shot at Italy's basket during EuroBasket 2015
However, in a recent interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio, Nowitzki said that although it "feels like yesterday when I came into the league" in 1998, his personal training program was becoming more difficult with each passing summer.
"That gets a little tougher, I've gotta say, but once the games start the atmosphere is there. The hoop and ball goes up and that'll always be fun," he said.
Going into the season, just making the playoffs is the Dallas Mavericks' main goal; something that Nowitzki conceded would be very difficult "because the teams in the west are really, really strong."
Moving up the ladder
As for his personal statistics, Nowitzki could be poised to move up the ladder on the list of top all-time scorers. To catch the fifth man on that list, Wilt Chamberlain, Nowitzki needs 1,159 points. Were he to play all 82 games, Nowitzki would need to score an average of 14.1 points per game to equal "Wilt the Stilt's" total of 31,419 points. Admittedly, the German hasn't played all 82 since the 2000-01 season, but the fact that his average is significantly higher – at 21.7 points per game – makes the possibility seem plausible.
Nowitzki, who was picked ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1998 NBA draft, before being immediately dealt to Dallas, is back for a 20th season after having signed a contract extensionback in July. However, he isn't sure whether this campaign will be his last.
"I still love to compete so we'll just see how it goes. I kind of set my goal from year-to-year," he told SuriusXM NBA Radio. "Last year I felt fine and thought I could give it another year, going into this year with the mindset of being efficient again."
pfd/mds (Reuters, SID)