When people, especially commenters on blogs, have the audacity to try comparing rookies to certified hall-of-famers, they are met with criticism 100% of the time. These ideas, while ill founded, should not be dismissed simply because of their source, as this would be outright discrimination. An example of an ill-conceived idea that is both diehard sponsored and logic approved is that of Celtic's rookie center Kelly Olynyk and inevitable hall-of-fame inductee Dirk Nowitzki.
Is it 'cause they're white?
…To an extent. This is the aspect of player comparisons that is fortified by common knowledge, but that does not make it less vital. While some may look at fans connections between Kelly and Dirk as some sort of racial profiling, I see it more as a way to begin the debate as opposed to a way of ending it. It is only natural to begin a comparison with an eye test, so lets take a look:
They are indeed both white.
They are both 7-feet tall.
The both have amazing hair that trademarks them.
Got it? Fantastic. Let’s move on.
Is it ‘cause they’re not from here?
Neither was born in the US, so they have an outsider's take on the game.
They both trained in unorthodox ways. Growing up in Germany, Dirk’s personal basketball trainer did not stress weight training, but envisioning basketball more as a "dance", as opposed to a "schematic series of moves" (Spiegel). Olynyk’s personal coach also stressed a subconscious understanding of the game:
"Every day, for the better part of a half-hour, Travis Knight, Gonzaga’s strength and conditioning coach, would from close range toss Olynyk tennis balls bearing a number or letter that represented a complicated movement, maybe a step back jumper from the left side, or a shot-fake, dribble, then shot from the right. Or something else (Holmes)"
A unique mind for the game is what separates Dirk and Kelly from others and what helps connect the two in play style.
Is it ‘cause they both are good in similar ways? Is it ‘cause they both are bad in similar ways?
The most fundamental and defining similarity is actually their shared weakness. On an NBA spectrum, they both lack average athleticism, never mind elite athleticism. Both have gotten to where they are in their careers with their skill and intelligence. They are old school post players, whose style of play is equivalent to rocking suspenders (outdated but fundamentally sound). We’re talking Olajuwon, Chamberlain, and Atari old school gaming. That comes with the territory, given their lack of physical gifts. They are not going to go jump over Kia sedans any time soon, so if they want to score natural selection has forced them to get creative. And creative they are. Dirk has that simultaneous turn around-step back-fade away that is both so trademarked and indefensible that Sport Science had to do an episode for it. Kelly showed at the Orlando Summer league (in my opinion a greater talent pool than college basketball, especially proportionately) that he is walking arsenal of post moves. Take a look: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ps3RqEE1E0w).
Dirk was given the knick name "Irk Nowitzki" because of his lack of D, or defense (Sauer). Kelly hasn’t even played yet, and his lack of defensive lateral quickness and shot-blocking ability are already being ostracized. Like all people, they are characterized and compared in relation to what they do good and what they do bad.
Is History on Kelly's Side? Kelly is somewhat old for a rookie, and I'm pretty sure Dirk was always the superstar he is today.
History actually gives Kelly a head start by default because he has no experience in the NBA, meaning he is currently starting at neutral (like all NBA rookies at this point in the pre-preseason). Dirk on the other hand, came onto the NBA scene as a disaster.
After being drafted 9th by the Dallas Mavericks, his rookie year amounted to sub-pedestrian numbers for a future superstar. He was only awarded 20.4 minutes per game, in which he averaged only 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds and shot only a .405 field goal percentage and a ghastly .206 from the three-point line (NBA.com). Yes Kelly is starting out roughly two years older than when Dirk was drafted, but two years ago Kelly was sitting behind Robert Sacre on the Gonzaga bench. Because Dirk and Kelly are cerebral players, they don’t dominate at a young age (meaning their fundamentals don’t deteriorate like top high school recruits) but age like fine, German bratwurst or Canadian bacon. I think the 22-year-old Kelly is more on par with the 21-year-old Dirk as opposed to Dirk at 22 (who scored 21.8 ppg).
Kelly could be terrible as an NBA player
The same could be said for Anthony Bennett, the first overall draft pick this year. Drafting Olynyk may not have net the Celtics as high of a ceiling as Bennett, but Olynyk definitely has a sturdier floor beneath him. From day one we know that Kelly can shoot, pass, and dribble. That sounds like it would be pretty standard amongst professionals that make a career out of playing basketball, but this is just not the case. A lack of basketball skill is, as surprising as it may sound, why so many world-class athletes never realize their potential. For all we know fundamental skill could be the downfall of Bennett just as it was for many freak athletes before him. Personally, I believe Bennett can become a glorified Brandon Bass. Which is fine, Ill take Dirk’s stunt double every day of the week.
I still don’t think Olynyk's career will come close to Nowitzki's...
For now, that's fine with me. I just wanted to prove that Olynyk's comparisons to Dirk may seem far-fetched at first, but are highly attainable in reality. Also, even if you don’t believe in the comparison, you ought to know that Kelly does. He has chosen to wear number 41, the same number as… Dirk Nowitzki!
Thanks for reading