The best Euro ever deserves respect. A lot of it.
by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
“…the one, that underachievers had underestimated” — Black Thought
In recent years, the “best scorer in the league” debate has generally consisted of a couple players, namely Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, with an occasional Kobe, LeBron or Dwyane Wade nomination.
One man, arguably more consistent scoring the ball than all of those aforementioned, often goes unnamed: Dirk Nowitzki.
Forget about defense, passing, rings, etc… For a minute, only focusing on scoring, it’s time to truly acknowledge his prowess.
The dude is straight buckets! Wet, pure, absolutely filthy. It’s a classic situation of someone making something look so easy that they’re often mis- or undercredited. For a time, I fell into this category. But finally, after awhile, you realize: he’s never gonna miss one of these! And if he did, chances are he’ll make the next one anyway.
Game after game, year after year, he fills it up from anywhere on the floor. Anyway you want it, too: off the dribble, jab or pull-up; fading way, stepping back or from the post. At 7-feet tall, he’s one of the toughest matchups in the league.
“Dirk’s one of the hardest guys to guard in the history of basketball,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.
His patented one-foot fallaway shot — on great display right now against the Lakers — is the nastiest of all. How many times have we seen someone play great D, only to be topped by better O from Dirk? And it was probably all-net.
“You just can’t bother that shot. It’s just impossible to ever get in a position where you make him uncomfortable with that jumpshot,” said NBA analyst Steve Kerr during Game 2.
All he has to do is get that ball to his spot—and when he does—it’s a wrap. Already guaranteed to be taller than his opponent, he grows to at least eight-feet once he raises the ball to his shooting pocket, just above his head to the right of his face.
Part of the reason much of this goes unnoticed is because Nowitzki’s been haunted by a few stigmas throughout his career: being soft or fragile (especially late in games) and not being a winner. Those allegations are highlighted by Dallas’ infamous collapse in the 2006 Finals, which they followed up with their infamous loss the eighth-seeded Golden State in the first round of the playoffs the following year.
Looking objectively, though, using his entire body of work, both qualms can be put to rest fairly convincingly. He may not have won the big one, but he’s a winner, no doubt. Despite the abundance of changes that have taken place in Dallas on all levels, one thing, other than Mark Cuban, has remained constant: Dirk.
Throwing out his ’98-’99 rookie season, the Mavs have never finished lower than fourth in the Western Conference or, save ’99-’00, won fewer than 50 games in his time there. 660 wins, .67 winning percentage.
His numbers are as consistent as they come: He’s never played fewer than 73 games (which was this year), averaging a rock-steady 23 points per game for his career, with percentages of 48 (FG), 38 (3PT), and 88 (FT). His ’06-’07 MVP year saw earned his admittance to the elegant 50-40-90 club.
While they haven’t won it all, it hasn’t been because Dirk comes up small in the postseason. His numbers actually increase to just under 26 points and 11 rebounds per game. His 27 points per game this year is good for second behind OKC’s Kevin Durant, but perhaps more telling are his fourth quarter stats, where he’s scoring a league-best 10.3 points.
He’s already passed the most player most comparable to him as far as size and skill-set, Larry Bird, on the all-time scoring list. Now at number 23, with Elgin Baylor in near reach, he’s also in front of Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce (same general playing years), and is still yet to play 1,000 games.
Given his tenure, he’s certainly earned himself some titles: best Euro ever, best 7-foot shooter, toughest matchup, and when it’s all said and done, arguably one of the top 10-12 scorers ever. The last statement is a bold one, but purely scoring the ball there are few who are as difficult to guard as Dirk. He’s impossible to guard, so all you can do is hope he misses.
At 32, with the type of game he plays, it’s not unreasonable to think he could do this for another six or seven years. Creating space and shooting over guys, it’s not that hard, especially for him. Actually it’s easy, or at least it looks so when he does it.
Watching him this year, especially, you find yourself speechless when he makes those tough shots with the clock winding down. All you can really do is laugh, and say, “damn, this cat is good.”
One thing that would surely cure some of the negligence would be winning a championship. Holding the Lakers with their backs against the wall, this year looks as good as any for the Mavericks to try to and fix their shaky reputation. If they do, we’ll all know the biggest reason why.