The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is Mavericks star, Dirk Nowitzki. This scouting report appeared in the Dec. 27, 1999, issue of The Sporting News, noted that he was “projected as Dallas’ starting small forward for the next 10 years.” This was early in the second season of a career that would last 21 years, all with the Mavs.

The book on … Dirk Nowitzki

Mavericks F, 7-0/230, 2nd year

Dirk Nowitzki’s teammates called the German youngster (he turned 21 in June) “Irk” last season, as in Dirk without the D. His defense often was missing in action, and for that, the rookie forward took his share of abuse.

Nowitzki’s potential on offense was evident from the start; it was, after all, the reason the Mavericks made a draft-day deal to get him with the ninth pick in 1998. He’s a 7-footer who can run the floor, he possesses a shooting touch that’s the envy of many 6-3 off-guards and he already has played all five positions.

It was obvious from the beginning his defensive effort needed an upgrade. A scoring star in Germany, Nowitzki needed a primer on the defensive realities of the NBA.

After being handed a starting role early last season, Nowitzki had to take a seat on the bench. He watched and learned. Slowly, he boosted his defensive intensity enough that coach Don Nelson felt comfortable returning Nowitzki to the starting lineup by the end of the season.

“One thing I learned is that you’ve got to play aggressive every night,” Nowitzki says. “The legs may be tired, but you’ve got to come out and defend, rebound, do other things to stay on the court and be productive. They’d try to get me going (defensively) in Germany. But I was expected to score.”

This season, Nowitzki has expanded his defensive play. Projected as Dallas’ starting small forward for the next 10 years, Nowitzki was forced to shift to power forward in the first six weeks while starter Gary Trent recovered from a hamstring injury.

Nowitzki had to guard a series of tough inside players, and he even opened at center against the Knicks’ Patrick Ewing, quite an adjustment for a finesse player. Nowitzki learned how to front a stronger player, and though he hasn’t been a candidate for the All-Defensive Team, he hasn’t been undressed either.

Nowitzki has taken flight on offense. With Nelson encouraging an up-tempo style, Nowitzki has prospered in the open court, making open jumpers and taking bulkier but slower defenders to the basket on drives. After 24 games, Nowitzki was averaging 17.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. He had failed to hit double figures in scoring only three times.