New York City, NY -- Dallas Mavericks are inevitably headed for the lottery for the third year in a row once the 2018-19 NBA season concludes for them in mid-April. For their Australian rookie Ryan Broekhoff, this season has been a mix of finding his feet in the NBA world, the battle for consistent minutes, and getting caught in a season-long farewell tour for basketball icon, Dirk Nowitzki.
Broekhoff joined the Mavs during a transitional phase for the team: The proverbial passing of the torch from Nowitzki to rookie sensation Luka Doncic. Although the German has not formally indicated he will retire at season's end, he's been feted at every arena he's played in as fans pay their respects to the greatest European player of all time.
Broekhoff says being in the midst of, potentially, Nowitzki's last hurrah is "special" while lamenting he didn't get to play with the Mavericks legend when he was in his prime.
"It's very unusual to go to an away game and have the fans give a standing ovation for an opposing player," Broekhoff tells ESPN. "Dirk's done so much for this league, for this organization; raising the profile of basketball, not just here in America, but all though Europe. It's fun to see him run out for possibly his last season. You can still see it at his age, even though he's slowed down a little bit, he's got so much talent and shoots the ball at such a high level.
"It would have been great to be a part of the team five, 10 years ago when he was really up and running."
In early January, Broekhoff noted that one of the biggest takeaways he's had from playing with Nowitzki this season has been his work ethic. He mentioned how Nowitzki takes care of his body, lifts extra weights, and always gets his shots up.
After five seasons playing in Turkey and Russia, Broekhoff entered the NBA with a reputation as a shooter. Over his 20-year NBA career, Nowitzki too has been lauded for his shooting prowess. Broekhoff jokes that he is actually the one mentoring his teammate.
"No, I usually tell him how to shoot," he says.
"We sort of joke around at the facility, and at practice and stuff like that. We get shots up and have a few competitions -- I think we're about tied at this stage. We haven't done it too much but I remember he got me right at the beginning of the year and he got me, maybe in Indiana. He's such an infectious personality with his work ethic and his positivity. To have him around and being able to joke around and shoot-around with him is pretty special."
Nowitzki confirms that he has indeed lost a couple of competitions to the Australian, but adds that he hasn't passed on any advice to Broekhoff.
"He doesn't need advice, obviously he's an older player already -- he's not 19 years old -- he knows how to play," Nowitzki said. "He's a great shooter and when he comes in he gives us a lift and he competes."
Minutes have been sporadic for Broekhoff this season, but since February 1st he's only had three DNP-CDs attached to his name. Unfortunately the team's record has also been inconsistent during that time span as well -- they are just 4-8 -- but after a blockbuster mid-season trade saw a few new faces arrive, Broekhoff is looking toward the bigger picture.
"We're still fighting to win games, we've been up-and-down, pretty inconsistent," he says. "It's been hard, but it's also a learning experience - we're still fairly young team with new parts after the trade period. It's been a lot about gelling together and getting some time and continuity, which in the long run, will be good for the organization."
Dallas will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the eight seasons dating back to their 2011 championship. Broekhoff is hoping that in the season's final 16 games, he'll be able to find the individual consistency that will catapult him into next season.
"I think the energy and the effort's always there, it's just about trying to establish the rhythm and keep the rhythm," he says. "Just making sure I stay ready and do all the work behind the scenes. Hopefully I've been able to show a little bit and give some confidence going forward for next year."