Saturday, October 20th, 2012 at 12:44 pm  |  39 responses

Top 50: Dirk Nowitzki, no. 14

The definitive ranking of the NBA’s best players for ’12-13.

by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

I was away with friends as the 2006 NBA Playoffs reached their apex, when Dirk Nowitzki was knocking down jumpshot after jumpshot to push the Mavericks past the Spurs and Suns and into the Finals against the Heat, all in very entertaining fashion.

In that spring’s 23-game (most he ever played in one postseason) Playoff run, Dirk averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds per game and hit countless momentum-changing shots. At more than one point during the proceedings (but certainly his epic 50-point performance in Game 5 against the Suns), the question was posed: Who would you rather have shooting a jumper from the free-throw line extended—Karl Malone or Dirk?

In Karl Malone, we were talking about the second highest scorer in NBA history, a player who—copious free throws and corny hand-behind-the-head dunks notwithstanding—built his Hall of Fame career largely on the strength of his 17-footers. And cats were comparing some “soft” German’s offensive skill set to The Mailman’s?

Forget Malone’s name for a second (even if their similarity scores have grown awfully close)—the fact was that in 2006, it was still awfully premature to be putting Dirk into any type of “all-time greats” conversation.

The Dirk doubters who had been looking dumb throughout the ’06 season/Playoffs got a little comfort when the Mavs blew a 2-0 Finals lead to the Heat (with a huge assist from the whistle-happy refs) and even more when Dirk followed up his ’07 MVP campaign (even if he had definitely been better in’06) with a brutal disappearing act in the first round against the 8-seeded Warriors, who out-worked Dirk and the Mavs over every inch of the floor during a historic (and fatal to SLAM 109) upset.

But just when people thought they had Dirk pegged—great scorer, shies away from tough moments and tough opponents—Dirk went back in the lab. He grinded. He honed. His key numbers didn’t get appreciably better (excepting ’10-11, when he shot a career-best 52 percent from the floor), but even as he aged, his stats sure didn’t get worse.

Whatever post-season failures Dirk and the Mavs had, he still put up big numbers. The type of numbers that have him looking like a very good bet to reach top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list himself before he retires. And then, in June of 2011, with perhaps some karmic payback in the form of a Heat team that did not seem ready for the moment, Dirk Nowitzki got his title. At the end of one last sick individual season (his 11th straight, by my count), Dirk not only had tons of points, All-Star appearances and respect, he had a title.

After that legacy-affirming moment, I’d say we’ve entered a new phase of Dirk’s career: the come down. It began last season, when he started the lockout-shortened season at less than peak condition, missed a handful of games, averaged his lowest ppg since his second season, shot his lowest percentage since his rookie season, and seemed generally unimpressed with the roster Mark Cuban trotted out to try and defend their Championship.

This year figures to be a continuation of the same. Dirk’s knee is hurt, the Mavs roster is still in flux (though I think OJ Mayo will do great there), and at 34 years old, his post-playing career is possibly just two years away.

But you know what? He’s been to the top, he’s now a definite first-ballot Hall of Famer, and if he comes back strong from his knee surgery, he will still be the 14th-best player in the League this season.

Where should Dirk Nowitzki rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7
20 James Harden Thunder SG 3
19 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 6
18 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
17 Kyrie Irving Cavs PG 6
16 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 4
15 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
14 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 3

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.

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  • http://SLAMonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Everyone, remember Dirk’s injury/surgery factors into this ranking. Excellent write-up, Ben!

  • Perry the PlatyPteranodon

    Love and Griffin better be the next two, or I swear many an office table will be flipped over

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Good write up Ben

  • Caboose

    Liked the write-up. It’s scary to me how high Blake is going…

  • justin05

    I’ll be confused as hell if he’s in the top 10. The NBA values highlight reel-type players. Brings in the $$$

  • justin05

    Kevin Love should be the #1 PF in the league then. Blake is so overrated, I want to see him vs. Lemarcas Aldridge one-on-one

  • blackthought

    blake over dirk, gasol & bosh; slam wtf?

  • danpowers

    dont expect kevin love to win any one on one agains any of the names you mentioned

  • danpowers

    and where do you guys rank griffin’s (almost-) and love’s non existant defensive factors in this ranking? ;)

  • danpowers

    great article and fair rank. thank you sooo much for this mr osborne: “(with a huge assist from the whistle-happy refs)”. made my day

  • spit hot fiyah

    the rankings have nothing to do with who would win a potential one on one match up.

  • gusisit

    aldridge is better then dirk imo

  • 23

    Because dirks defensive skills are WAAAAY more advanced than loves and griffins? An injured Dirk means even worse d than he normally plays. But if he is at least 85% then I agree he should not be lower than love or Griffin.

  • 23

    Dude can score and is a good rebounder.

  • 23

    Defensively I got Aldridge over Dirk. But offensively I take Dirk, no question.

  • 23

    How is Blake overrated? He has been very consistent, contributing around 20 10. Nobody claims he’s the second coming of olojowan, but his size/strength/agility combo is what makes him special. But all I hear about his game is criticism. Let the dude at least play 3 seasons before you tear down his skills. Not everyone comes into the league with Duncan type skills. He’s no scrub. Just because he’s always in commercials and highlights, it doesn’t mean people are saying he’s the most skilled dude in the game. He’s just really popular.

  • thatguy

    Was a good write-up, though he spent most of the article discussing how great he WAS, how he is now on the decline and only just a sentence justifying the ranking for the upcoming season.

  • danpowers

    my comment was not being about nowitzki ranking below them, i just wonder how high love and griffin will rank overall.

  • http://twitter.com/sooperfadeaway nbk

    Does the guy who led a team to a title a year ago really need justification as to why he’s top 20? Come on bruh

  • bigA

    “and if he comes back strong from his knee surgery, he will still be the 14th-best player in the League this season”

    too low

  • bigA
  • Tomas Rios

    Dirk at 100% health and 100% interest may still be the best PF in the league. His 2011 playoff run was epic. Between that run and Lebron’s this past year its tough to say who was more impressive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/starkpwnsyou Joshua Maria Peter Bautista

    apparently, they think the word “Slam” plays a factor in ranking players.

  • Idioteque…

    What a moronic article. Oh he had a bad season because he overworked his body? After we came back from all star weekend he dominated but the team itself was worse and he was worn out by playoffs no help at all something the others stars don’t have the misfortune of having. Oh his knee hurts this year the man has always been a healthy he had a pretty big injury 2 years ago and never got proper treatment for it. Kobe had an injury on his knee meh season came back awesome year after. Dirks always been a top 5 player and will be back in the game.

  • danpowers


  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    Totally. Projected through 2013 Blake will be better than Dirk. Why does everyone rag on Griffin? His pull up j’s aren’t the smoothest (neither are TDuncans) but his offensive set is excellent. I’ve seen virtually every Clippers game since he’s been in the L and Griiffin has game… so much so in fact U believe he could be a top 3 scorer. If anything this is too highn for Dirk Dude is awesome but is limited this year!

  • http://www.facebook.com/qcollingwood Interdico Scriptor

    As if… Griffin is pretty good defensively. Have you ever watched him play? He’s waaay better than Dirk!

  • Ugh

    Totally. I had no idea Steve Blake would even be in the Top 50, let alone the top 10.

  • Drig

    The problem being that dude can’t stop other dudes from scoring and his FT% is still a weakness until he proves he can hit it at a decent clip in the regular season.

  • Drig

    That’s the problem. If Griffin was this high after he developed well, most wouldn’t have any problem. He’s no way top 10 or top 11 this season.

  • Dagger

    Because all of the members of the top-10 are good defenders and free throw shooters, right?

  • Rainman

    Its not tough to say at all…Dirk’s run was an All Time great run, with countless epic games. . Bron had one Epic game(game 6 Boston) with many good ones, to make a very good run through the playoffs, but they dont compare…

  • Drig

    LBJ, Durant, Cp3, Dwight, Deron, Wade, Rondo are all good defenders. Kobe, WB and Love are average/above average defenders depending on where you fall. And yes, all of them are pretty good FT shooters sans Dwight who more than makes up for it with his D. Seriously, till Blake improves on D, I don’t see how he can rise above the 12th spot ( assuming 11 is Melo )

  • http://twitter.com/ReeceCrolex215 Reece Lightner

    You think slam adjusted their rankings in less than a week after his injury and surgery was announced? H should be top 10!

  • http://twitter.com/ReeceCrolex215 Reece Lightner

    BTW Love is injury too and will be out a longer period of time.

  • http://twitter.com/ReeceCrolex215 Reece Lightner

    Totally agree Tomas, but I would have to lean towards Dirk because of the competition he faced, he beat Kobe, Durant, Lebron, Wade, Gasol, Bosh and Westbrook.

  • http://twitter.com/ReeceCrolex215 Reece Lightner

    What has Aldridge done to be better than Dirk? Stop looking at box scores.

  • Max


  • Aaron

    Dirk’s run was far more impressive. Not to mention lebron played with wade, a guy arguably better than him, and Bosh, while Dirk played with complementary players.