The 2005 NBA MVP race was one the most tightly contested MVP races in league history. Never before had fans been a part of a season with so many possible winners, featuring four players at the peak of their powers. A recent post from Clutchsports Instagram highlights the four main candidates: Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and the eventual winner, Steve Nash. The Phoenix Suns guard went on to win the award for the second consecutive season in 2006 and came close to making it three in a row if not for the award going to his former Mavericks teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
In the past 15 years, we have seen an evolution in how the media evaluate the candidates for the award. If back then the prevailing theme was to award the best player on the best team, the decision-making process is so much more complex today. As records continue to be broken and players put on historic performances, it’s clear that the criteria have changed. Since we believe this to be true, then perhaps it’s time to look at whether or not the winners or the past should remain victorious. Today we try to answer the question, “Should Dirk have gotten the MVP over Nash in 2005?”
Nowitzki finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2005, with averages of 26.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and three assists per game while leading the Dallas Mavericks to 58-24 regular-season record, just one game behind the second-best San Antonio Spurs and Shaquille O’Neal’s Miami Heat. Dirk also shot 46% from the field and nearly 40% from the three-point line, impressive efficiency for someone average 26 ppg as the lone focal point of the Dallas Mavericks offense.
To most, being the best player on the fourth-best team in the league does not seem impressive enough to be considered the MVP, but several awardees in recent years show that team success is not necessarily a huge part of the MVP equation. In 2016-2017, Russel Westbrook was crowned the league MVP after becoming the second player in NBA history to average a triple-double for the season. While Westbrook’s stats were astonishing, his team finished with the sixth seed in the Western Conference at 47-35. Still, his individual brilliance allowed voters to set that aside when making his decision. Why were voters able to do that? Well, Westbrook’s best teammate was the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Center back then, Steven Adams.
Dirk virtually averaged a double-double for the season with 26 and 10 (9.7 to be exact but let’s just round this off anyway) while adding three assists, a steal, and 1.5 blocks per game. Dirk started playing in the post more this season, which isn’t an excellent spot for getting assists with the way defenses could rotate off double teams in this era. Also, Dirk’s passing ability was good enough to make teams rethink double-teaming him because he was surrounded by guys who could make open shots. Otherwise, Dirk’s stats are arguably more impressive than Shaq’s and Nash’s and surprisingly show that Dirk got it done on both ends of the floor. Don’t believe me? Check out this highlight reel and see for yourself.
Nowitzki also played alongside Jason Terry as the second-best player on the Mavericks, and while Terry is a knock-down shooter, he is not someone you can consistently count on to get your offense going. Terry could create his own shot but is not on the same level as Dwyane Wade and Amare Stoudemire.
Doing more with less is essentially the argument for Dirk in 2005; Terry could make shots in crunch time but only averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 assists per game that season. It’s safe to say that Dirk didn’t have a lot of help on offense that year. Compare Terry’s 12 and 4 to Wade’s 24 and 6, or Stoudemire’s 26 points and nine boards, and then you’ll start to see the point I’m driving at here.
Dirk did not have another teammate averaging 20 or more points, yet the Dallas Mavericks finished a mere four games behind Nash’s Phoenix Suns, the league’s best team at that time. Nowitzki also registered 15.6 Win Shares, versus Shaq’s 11 and Nash’s 10.9; this shows Dirk arguably had the most significant impact on winning of all the stars in the running for the MVP award that year. Dirk also played more games than Shaq and Nash that year with 78 while virtually matching Shaq’s production on both ends of the floor. Shaq finished seven votes shy of Nash for first-place in the MVP voting, and Dirk did not receive a single first-place vote; that’s a shame.
Although he did win the MVP two seasons later and a Finals MVP in 2011 at the expense of LeBron James and “The Heatles,” Dirk ending his career with one regular-season MVP award just seems wrong. It would have been nice to see Dirk add a few more individual accolades to his name because he is, without a doubt, one of the greatest power forwards of all time and arguably second only to Tim Duncan. While Dirk was absolutely unstoppable for most of his career, it seems like 2005 was a special one for him and a season where perhaps the MVP award that year was the one trophy that got away.
Whatever your verdict might be, I think it is clear that Dirk Nowitzki was a perennial MVP contender and one of the greatest ever to play the game, but also a player that due to his seemingly unglamorous style of play, failed to gain the favor of MVP voters each season. I’m sure Dirk isn’t thinking about this missed MVP right now, but as true basketball fans, we ought to give him his roses and recognize him for the transcendent talent that he was.