Monday, May 9, 2011

Dirk Nowitzki's Legacy

I know I promised a List of Greatness post by tonight, and I'm still going to try to get it up, but there was a recent comment that I can't let slide by without making my own comments on it, because it's exactly the kind of statement this blog is dedicated to analyzing. After the Mavericks just absolutely demolished the no-longer-defending-champion Lakers, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said "In my opinion, he's one of the top 10 players in NBA history because of the uniqueness of his game and how he's carried this franchise on his back for over a decade." Alright, Rick, let's not get carried away here. What's wrong with this statement? Um, several things.

Before I get to whether or not Dirk is actually a top 10 player of all-time, let's take a look at Carlisle's stated reasoning for why Dirk is in the top 10. He's unique? Well, yes, he is, but so were Dennis Rodman and Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins. Russell and Wilt were unique. Magic and Bird were unique. Jordan was unique. Iverson was unique. Barkley was unique. Nash and Shaq and LeBron and Kobe are all unique. There's at least one aspect of almost every great player that is unique. They can't all be top ten players. Uniqueness in and of itself isn't a mark of greatness. Hell, Shawn Marion is unique in that sense. I've never seen any other professional basketball player shoot like an 8th grade girl and make it work, but he does. It's what you do with your unique skill set that puts you in the top ten.

And the fact that he carried a franchise for a decade? Please. How many players have done that throughout history? Dominique Wilkins. Patrick Ewing. Reggie Miller. Gary Payton. David Robinson. Hakeem Olajuwon. Clyde Drexler. Alonzo Mourning. And that's just players off the top of my head from the 90's. And it's not like Dirk's been doing this entirely on his own. He's been the consistent factor, but he's had other good players. Steve Nash, Michael Finley, and Josh Howard all made All-Star teams during Dirk's tenure in Dallas. Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, and Devin Harris weren't exactly schmucks during their time there. Even Shawn Marion has been pretty good during his time in Dallas. And that's not even counting the one hit (season) wonders who came in practically every year throughout the 00's in Dallas - Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker, Cedric Ceballos, Tyson Chandler currently fits that bill, too. Often they're players not quite or just past their prime, but they're good players nonetheless. So, no, carrying a franchise for a decade does not make someone a top ten player.

But is Dirk a top ten player anyway? No. He's not. No unbiased non-Dallas fan would suggest that. I currently have him ranked 25th. Behind Jordan, Kareem, Russell, Magic, Wilt, Shaq, Duncan, Bird, Kobe, Karl Malone, West, Robertson, Hakeem, Dr. J, Havlicek, Pettit, Garnett, Moses Malone, Robinson, Barkley, Baylor, Pippen, Cousy, and Stockton. He'll almost certainly pass Cousy and Stockton by the end of the playoffs, and depending on how far the Mavericks go, he could pass Baylor and Pippen, too. (He'll get close to Barkley and Robinson if the Mavs win the title, but I don't think he can pass them this year.) So, realistically, Dirk's looking at being the 21st greatest player ever at the end of this year. Is that very very good. Hell yes it is. Is it top ten? Not even close.

Now, will Dirk get to the top ten by the end of his career? I really doubt it. As of this moment, Dirk has a Greatness Rating of 389.8. The tenth ranked player (Kobe) has 654.3. Realistically, if Dirk has another two great to really good seasons and three or four good to average seasons, he'll probably top out around 500. (Unless the Mavs start a championship dynasty here, then all bets are off.) That'll put him right around 15th all-time. Which sounds about right to me.

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