Dennis Smith Jr.,a 20-year-old rookie with pogo-stick hops who was drafted with the No. 9 overall pick, is quite certain he'll be a star in this league.
In the third quarter of the Mavericks' loss to the Warriors, Draymond Green followed up a highlight-halting hard foul with a little welcome-to-the-NBA trash talk when Smith attempted to dunk on the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Smith considered Green's trash talk nonsensical. "I don't know what he was talking about," said Smith, "He can't say nothing. He fouled me. It doesn't even make sense. He's rambling on about nothing. It ain't like he blocked it."
"He's an unbelievable talent with athleticism," said James, who had a spectacular chase-down block in the fourth quarter against Smith. The rookie responded with a breakaway slam dunk the next possession.
"He's very poised to be his age, can shoot the ball, penetrate. He's only going to get better and better with the opportunity that he's getting here. Dallas got a good one. I've been knowing that. I've been with him for so long now. I've been knowing his talent level."
The Mavs swung and missed on several superstar targets after stripping down the aging roster of their 2011 title team, and Nowitzki, 39, has accepted the reality of rebuilding and his role as a mentor.
"That's part of the league. You can't play forever," said Nowitzki,"I mean, it was tough. It's just the cycle of the league. New guys come in, older guys go out. That's just part of it."
Nowitzki's presence gives Smith a model for how a franchise centerpiece should conduct himself. Smith sees how hard Nowitzki works and vows to hold himself to that standard.
Nowitzki is always willing to help and has a friendly relationship with the rookie. But Nowitzki tries to choose his words of advice wisely, not wanting to overwhelm Smith.
"As a rookie, you have a lot of people in your ear," Nowitzki said. "I don't want to harp on him even more, but if I see something that I think can help him, especially during games, I go up to him. Other than that, I let him play. I let him be, let him play his game.
"He's a competitor. He wants to win. He wants to learn. He just turned 20. It's crazy, sometimes you have to tell yourself how young he is. The sky's the limit. If he keeps working, he's going to have a long, great career."