Even as a kid, Nik Vucevic recognized greatness on a basketball court.
That's why he admired — and still admires — Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki can do things most 7-footers can't do. He can shoot from long range. He can handle the basketball. He can run the court. And no one can hit a fadeaway jumper better than Nowitzki can.
"I just feel like he's such a skilled player," Vucevic said. "He's probably the only one that plays that way. It's truly hard to stop him, if it gets going, that fadeaway jumper. It's so high that he's almost got it to where it's perfect."
When Vucevic's Orlando Magic host Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks Friday night at Amway Center, the matchup will pit a disciple against a master. Vucevic and other European big men have benefitted from the example Nowitzki set. Nowitzki proved that 7-footers can do more on offense than just patrol the low post.
"I'm not sure we'll ever see another Dirk," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said.
"His ability to shoot the basketball with range, his ability to create his own shot and do it at various positions on the floor? It's really remarkable, and I'm not sure we'll ever see it again. That's how special he is."
Vucevic would never compare himself to Nowitzki, but their arsenals on offense do share some elements in common. This season, Vucevic has made 40.0 percent of the shots he's attempted from 15 to 20 feet and 50.0 percent of the shots he's attempted from 20 to 24 feet.
Vucevic developed his outside shooting touch partly because he wasn't always the tallest player on his youth teams. When he started playing competitive basketball, he was 9½ years old and a year younger than most of the other children. Because he was shorter than they were, his coach put him at point guard.
As Vucevic grew taller, he switched from position to position, going from point guard to shooting guard to small forward to power forward.
Now, as a 7-footer, he's the Magic's starting center and one of the most productive rebounders in the NBA.
Youth basketball teams in Europe typically place more emphasis on practices than American youth teams, and many European big men arrive in North America with a more diverse set of skills than their American counterparts.
In that way, Nowitzki, who is from Germany, set the example.
"He's a Hall of Famer, without a doubt," Vaughn said.
"I think when it's all said-and-done, he'll be one of the greatest to ever come from Europe and play."
Vucevic was raised mostly in Belgium by a mother and father who played for Yugoslavia's national teams.
He always looked up to Nowitzki.
On Sept. 25, 2005, he saw Nowitzki play in-person for the first time. Vucevic attended Germany's game against Greece in the final of the European championships in Belgrade. Germany lost that game, but Nowitzki was named the tournament's MVP.
Vucevic, now in his third NBA season, has played against Nowitzki before and often guarded Nowitzki.
"The way he plays, he's really tough to guard if he gets going," Vucevic said.
Note that Vucevic and Vaughn used present-tense verbs as they described Nowitzki. Even at 35 years old, Nowitzki remains one of the more dangerous scorers in the NBA. He entered the Mavericks' game Friday night in Miami averaging 18.3 points per game.
On Saturday night, Vucevic and his teammates will have the difficult task of trying to slow Nowitzki.
"He's a 7-footer who can shoot great," Magic power forward Jason Maxiell said. "That one-legged shot he has is something he works on all the time. That's something you don't find over here as much."
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