Home > Basketball, Uncategorized > Dirk Nowitzki Top Ten all Time…?

Dirk Nowitzki Top Ten all Time…?

How good is Dirk?  I mean really, how good is Dirk?  48 points on 12-15 shooting with 24 freebies from the line, that’s crazy like Charlie Sheen on a Tuesday with a Goddess and a briefcase.  It’s so good, that it makes me wonder whether we’ve missed the boat on just how incredible the big German really is.

Last week Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle named Dirk as one of the ten best players in NBA history, which on its face seemed absurd.  Well, maybe not absurd so much as just self serving.  It’s the kind of thing coaches do, propping up their own players, calling out refs, pacing the floor, and looking grim.  Any simple smell test would tell you that Dirk is great, but top ten…

In Bill Simmons’ Bible, he lists the ten best players of all time as:

  1. Jordan
  2. Bill Russell
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Magic
  5. Bird
  6. Wilt Chamberlain
  7. Tim Duncan
  8. Jerry West
  9. Oscar Robertson
  10. Hakeem Olajuwon

Since relaeasing the book, I think he has moved Kobe from 15th into the top ten, above West, but below Duncan (I might be wrong about that order), but basically you get the point.  Now, I might quibble with some of the exact ordering – for instance Russell is being given far too much credit for playing on the greatest teams of all time – but generally I think we can agree that this is a decent starting off point for the discussion.

In the same tomb Simmons lists Dirk 37th.  Again, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that since publication Simmons has said he would have moved up both Nash (38th) and Dirk.  Still from 37th to top ten is a big jump; that’s leaping over names like: McHale (35), Gervin (34), Dave Cowens (31), Willis Reed (30), Iverson (29), Robinson (28), Walton (27), Stockton (26), Pippen (24), Isiah (23), Garnett (22), Barkely (19), Malone (18), Dr J (16), Elgin Baylor (14), Moses (12), and Shaq (11).  Obviously that’s a Jordanesque leap and I don’t know if Dirk has those kinds of hops.

I do think that you could make a plausible argument that Dirk belongs in the high twenties, with Pippen, Isiah, and Garnett.*  Garnett for instance seems an interesting comparison point.  Both players were exceptionally young when they started their careers (20 for Dirk, 19 for KG), both guys broke barriers (straight from high school and awesome foreigner), both guys won MVP awards, both guys were truly unique in their abilities (best shooting big man, seven footer  capable of defending all 5 positions).  Of course, Dirk was an offensive force, while Garnett was a defensive one.  Frankly, I’d have loved to see them playing together, because they were both selfless and their skills would have complemented one another, but since we (and they) weren’t that lucky, lets take a look at their careers in a box:

Stat

Dirk

KG

Seasons
13 16
Points per Game
23.0 19.5
Rebounds
8.4 10.7
Assists
2.7 4.1
FG%
.476 .498
3FG %
 .381  .282
FT%
 .877 .788
All Star Games
 10  13
All NBA 1st Team
 4 4
All NBA 2nd Team
 5  3
All NBA 3rd Team
 2  2
PER – Career
 23.7  23.4
PER – Best Season
 28.1  29.4
True Shooting % – Career
 .583  .549
 True Shooting % – Best Season
 .612  .589

I think it’s safe to say that they are entirely comparable (albeit completely different) players.  Of course, as I said above, what Dirk is to big men shooting the ball, KG is to 7 footers defending.  KG certainly never shot as well as Dirk, but he did provide almost as much offensive value between his post play, mid-range jumper and passing.  On the other hand, Dirk has never made an all-defensive team of any sort, while KG has won Defensive Player of the Year and made 11 defensive 1st or 2nd teams.  Ultimately, I think that at their absolute peaks, KG provided more value, but perhaps Dirk’s peak will be longer.

* Interestingly, Simmons has LeBron at 20, which at the time seemed completely reasonable, but I wonder whether everything that’s happened in the last year would force Bill to reconsider that placement.  Not that I think LeBron isn’t likely to finish in the top ten, but just that right now, the benefit of the doubt that he was getting seems tenuous.

What I find more interesting about the two players, is that in different circumstances, we might  consider them legitimate top ten talents.  Until KG landed in Boston, the best player he’d ever played with was Sam Cassell or Latrell Sprewell.  That’s why he’d never made an NBA finals and why he missed the playoffs his last three years in Minnesota.  What if the T-Wolves had continued their trend of picking high school players and the year after taking Garnett had tabbed Bryant with the 5th pick (they took Ray Allen and promptly swapped him to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury).  Doesn’t a Garnett-Bryant nucleus win at least three titles?  Is KG then seen as a no doubt about it top 15 player?  Possibly even a top ten player?

And what about that feisty German that Rick Carlisle believes is one of the ten best all time?

Dirk has certainly played on some great teams, his squad has won at least 50 games for 11 straight years and three times they’ve won more than 60, but since they lost the 2006 finals to Miami and were bounced in the first round of a 67 win season, Dirk’s star has diminished.  Yet, like KG, who is the best player that Dirk has ever played with?

The big German played with Nash, but before Nash peaked.  He’s played with Jason Kidd, but during Kidd’s decline years – and too many pundits still think that Jason Kidd is Jason Kidd, he isn’t.  The year the Mavs won 67 games, their second best player was Josh Howard, their third best player Jason Terry.  Look at the champions over the last decade and who their three best players were:

Year

Champion

Three

Best

Players

2010 Lakers Kobe Bryant Pau Gasol Andruw Bynum
2009 Lakers Kobe Gasol Bynum
2008 Celtics KG Paul Pierce Ray Allen
2007 Spurs Tim Duncan Manu Ginobili Tony Parker
2006 Heat Dwayne Wade Shaq Alonzo Mourning
2005 Spurs Duncan Ginobili Parker
2004 Pistons Chauncey Billups Ben Wallace Rasheed Wallace
2003 Lakers Shaq Kobe Robert Horry
2002 Lakers Shaq Kobe Horace Grant
2001 Lakers Shaq Kobe Glenn Rice

When you look at that chart, it’s not hard to see why Dirk has yet to win a title.  Howard and Terry are hardly the Wallace twins, let alone Ginobili and Parker.  In Simmons’ “What If” chapter from the Bible he writes,

30. What if the Mavs re-signed Steve Nash in 2004?

… If you’re throwing money around, throw it at Nash, over Dampier, right?  Dallas also fatally underestimated the rule changes that transformed Nash into a two-time MVP.  Had they kept Nash and Antawn Jamison (dealt for Jerry Stackhouse and Devin Harris) and still made the Antoine Walker/Jason Terry trade, that’s suddenly a monster roster (Nash, Nowitzki, Jamison, Terry, Josh Howard, DeSagana Diop, Veteran Free Agent X and February Buyout guy X year after year after year.

Doesn’t that team win multiple titles?  Doesn’t that change how we view Dirk?  It is the problem of judging players historically by titles.  We like to think that if you’re great you will win a title or two, but it just isn’t that simple.  Bird had McHale and Parrish, Magic had Kareem and Worthy, Jordan had Pippen and the Worm (not to mention Grant – who is grossly underrated by history).  Great players win multiple titles because they are paired with other great players.  I don’t think Dirk is one of the ten greatest players of all-time, but he very well might be in the 15-20 range and if he keeps dropping 40 points on night en-route to a title this year?  Well…

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