Just how good was Dirk Nowitzki? One thing's for sure – he's the best international player the NBA has ever seen. With the globalization of the NBA and the emergence of top-level talent, it's safe to say some will challenge him for that title. Until then, he's the best Europe has ever offered.
Dirk was first of its kind – a 7-footer superstar that based his game on jump shooting. He's the forerunner of modern stretch 4s that are a must-have in the league today. None of them are doing it the way Nowitzki did it, but his influence can't go unnoticed.
Peek of Dirk's powers, at least on the individual scale, was the 06-07 NBA season, when he was awarded his only regular-season MVP trophy. On the list of Dirk's accomplishments, that one ranks second. What's first? Try his championship run in 2011, when he dominated Miami's Big Three in the Finals.
Dirk is, without a doubt, one of the greatest players we've ever witnessed. Top 20? Top 25? Wherever you put him, the fact is there weren't many guys who played the game of basketball better than the German.
However, everyone will agree on one thing: the lack of all-around ability puts a limit on his all-time ranking. Dirk is and always will be perceived as a scorer because let's face it, that's the only number that jumps out when you look at his career numbers. That and his shooting percentages, as Dirk was very efficient.
Everything else is solid – not amazing, though. 7.5 RPG is good, but you're not crazy if you've expected more from a 7-footer. Blocks and steals are average, and I won't hold 2.4 APG against him. He was never a playmaking type, and none of the systems he played in was catered to him being the team's go-to playmaker.
However, there was a standout season for Nowitzki as an all-around player. I'll take you back to the 01-02 NBA season when Dirk led the Mavericks in total points, rebounds, steals, and blocks. Nine others have only done something like that. It was a tremendous all-around year for the German. But it was just the beginning.
During the first decade of the '00s, Dirk was a reliable rim protector and a passable man-to-man defender. Numbers speak in Nowitzki's favor, as only he and Dwyane Wade averaged 24 PPG, 1 SPG, and 1 BPG. Oh, Dirk did it playing 320 more games. Add in his 9 RPG – he's the only one to do it.
If you want to lower the thresholds to 20 PPG, 5 RPG, 1 SPG, and 1 BPG, only two more names appear – Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber. All of those guys were great all-around players. No one is saying they were as one-sided as Dirk. And from 00-09, Nowitzki was on their level by some all-around parameters.
Honestly, this one came as a surprise even to me. I guess we've all become victims of forgetting too soon. Maybe we all remember Dirk for the later stage of his career and keep forgetting how good Dirk was when he was in his prime athletic years. Let's not get it twisted; even then, he was an average athlete. But it enabled him to have a better all-around performance.
Overall, I'll still mostly remember him by his scoring and silky smooth jump shot. But when his name comes up, I'll be sure to mention those years when he was an excellent all-around NBA player.