Originally published in SLAM 61

The 6th Man: A quick glance at Dirk Nowitzki’s season statistics on NBA.com is terrifying. Top 10 in almost every big-time category: scoring,defensive rebounds, double-doubles, free-throw attempts. Tim Duncan numbers. Those alone would be worth the max. But look further. Top 15 in three-pointers made (and attempted)—good for nearly 40 percent. Drops 23.6 points a game for a loaded squad. Oh, and he’s a legit seven feet, 245. Mark Cuban’s got deep pockets, but if it wasn’t for the KG laws, he’d still have to take out a loan—and maybe dig the spare change out of his couch—to re-sign No. 41. If you created this guy on NBA Live, they’d disallow him.

Transcendent. There aren’t many players in the L who earn the label. Players for whom no equal trade value exists, not that anyone would seriously consider trading them. Shaq and Tim Duncan, definitely. Kobe, TMac, KG, AI. Paul Pierce is getting there. And Dirk. A 7-footer who shoots threes better than most two guards, finishes the break as good as any three, clears the boards as good as any four not named Ben Wallace, and is just getting started. Comparisons to Larry Bird are completely unjustified—Bird wasn’t half the athlete Dirk is.

The truly terrifying thing is that Dirk Nowitzki is 23 years old (he’ll be 24 in June), and is only in his fourth year of organized ball in the States. Which means he’s just getting comfortable (and learning how to play defense). The numbers that matter—points per game, rebounds per game, three-point percentage, field goal ercentage—have risen every year in the League. So have the Mavs’ wins. Dirk has led them there.

Still, the Mavs and Dirk wouldn’t be anywhere near where they are if it wasn’t for Don Nelson. It was he who believed in Dirk when no one else did (Tractor Traylor’s a funny guy and all, but that trade was one of the biggest steals of all time), he who plucked Steve Nash off Phoenix’s bench, he who pulled the trigger to bring in Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz. For all Cuban does to make sure the Mavericks are comfortable off the court, it’s the much-maligned Nellie who has made sure they’re comfortable on it—which is why they’ve just had their second-straight 50-plus-win season, even with Shawn Bradley on the roster.

So for all of you out there wondering why this is Dirk’s first time on the cover, don’t worry. Just know that it won’t be his last.

A few other things worth mentioning: Thanks to a Stockton-eyed reader, we were reminded that Tony Parker averaged 9.1 points, not dimes, through late February (page 38, SLAM 60). Excusez-moi…congrats to Gary Williams, Juan Dixon and the Terps…oh, and one other thing—thanks for the jersey, Jalen.

You better stay in Chicago now.


Russ Bengtson

Issue 61 Nowitzki