Ranking the Best Seasons of Dirk Nowitzki's Career
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Dirk Nowitzki has had a long, illustrious career in Dallas, but it seems to be winding down. Though he's still playing at a high level, he's not the same player he used to be as he enters his 16th season.
But this is not the time to be saddened by the decline of a legend. This is the time for reflection, the time to look back at one of the NBA's best careers.
We'll break down Nowitzki's best seasons of his career so far. The rankings will be based on his individual success, the team's success, his statistics, any accolades he collected, and the impact of each season.
Nowitzki has plenty of seasons to choose from, but we'll only be picking the top five. So obviously there will be plenty of nitpicking for someone with a career like Nowtizki's.
Choosing between All-Star seasons can be tough, but it's what we have to do.
All statistics and facts unless otherwise noted come from Basketball-Reference.
2002-03 was a great Dirk Nowitzki season, but it lacks a certain something.
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This season would have been a career year for 99 percent of NBA players, but for Dirk Nowitzki it's only No. 5.
He averaged 25.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 block per game. He also shot 46.3 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from deep and 88.1 percent from the free-throw line.
The season also stacked Nowitzki's trophy case. He was named to the All-NBA second team, selected to the NBA All-Star Game, and placed seventh in the MVP voting.
Not to mention his Mavericks went 60-22 and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
So why is this season only his fifth best?
This is where the impact part weighs in. This was the third straight year the Mavericks made the playoffs, and the third straight year that Nowitzki had very similar statistics.
The big difference was they made the conference finals, where they lost to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. Instead of the Mavs and Nowitzki getting ousted in the second round 4-1 like the previous two years, the team and Dirk showed some playoff chops and pushed the best squad in the NBA.
This season represents a step in the right direction and of course a fantastic individual season from Dirk. But it lacks anything really special to bring it farther up the list.
Dirk played very well and put up great stats. But he has done that for practically every year he has been in the NBA. So a big part of the rankings come from the impact of a season.
This year was a great one and the team went deep in the playoffs. But Dirk can do better.
Dirk was having a year for the ages until he played the Warriors in first round of the playoffs.
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Although this is a season many Mavericks fans wish they could forget, it obviously merits a spot in this list.
Statistics-wise, this was one of Nowitzki's best seasons. He scored 24.6 points, grabbed 8.9 rebounds, dished 3.4 assists and joined the prestigious 50-40-90 club. In other words, he shot over 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line over the season.
He's one of only four players in NBA history to be a member of that elite club.
The Mavericks also went 67-15, which is tied for sixth-best all time. Thanks to his incredible stats and Dallas' success, Nowitzki took home MVP honors that year to go along with an All-NBA First Team selection and an All-Star game appearance.
But those were all regular-season achievements. It was the postseason that became a problem.
The Mavericks became the first No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose in the first round since it became a seven-game series.
And in that series loss to the Warriors, Dirk shrank from the spotlight. They hounded him all series, as he shot only 38.3 percent overall, 28.6 percent from deep and 80.0 percent from the line. He also only scored 19.7 points per game.
If we were rating Nowitzki's seasons based on regular-season success, then this one would probably be at the top. But for better or worse, this list incorporates the playoffs into each year.
And Nowitzki was a big reason the Mavericks were a part of one of the biggest upsets in recent NBA history.
So as much as I would like to make this season higher on the list, Dirk himself would tell you that 2006-07 was a failure due to the playoff loss. In light of the that, Dirk's MVP season has to be on the list, but it can't be higher than here.
This was the season Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks burst onto the scene.
2000-01 was Dirk's first 20-point-per-game season. He put up 21.8 points and 9.2 rebounds on 47.4/38.7/83.8 percent shooting. That was up from 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and a shooting line of 46.1/37.9/83.0.
He was named to the All-NBA third team, becoming the first Maverick ever to be named to an All-NBA team. The club also won 53 games, which tied a franchise record at that point.
The Mavs made the playoffs for the first time since 1990 and made the second round for the first time since 1988. And in his playoff debut, Nowitzki played well, scoring 23.4 points per game.
Basically, this was the season Nowitzki and the Mavericks became relevant. Up until this point, Dirk was a budding star but hadn't really had his big season yet. Ending the playoff drought and making an All-NBA team meant that NBA folks couldn't ignore Nowtizki and the Mavericks any longer.
Keep in mind that this was not just a one-time occurrence or a flash in the pan.
The Mavericks were led by Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley. Though that core wouldn't stay together for too long, they established a winning culture in Dallas.
This season started a 12-year playoff run, all led by Nowitzki. It was the coming out party so to speak, so in Mavericks history, it carries great significance.
So, no, this was not one of Dirk's most statistically imposing seasons. But the 23-year-old made basketball relevant again in Dallas, and that's a huge career accomplishment. So this season has to be higher than other less impactful seasons.
Up until this season Nowitzki hadn't been able to get past the conference finals, but in 2005-06 he finally made it over that hump.
Nowitzki led his 60-win Mavericks to the finals against the Miami Heat. And though they lost 4-2, that was the first finals appearance in the franchise's history. So it was a big deal in Dallas.
But besides the team success, this was probably Dirk's second-best regular season of his career. The best was easily his MVP year, but this one isn't as far behind as people may think.
He was only two field-goal percentage points away from the 50/40/90 club, while scoring a career-high 26.6 points per game, grabbing 9.0 rebounds, dishing 2.8 assists and blocking 1.0 shot a game. Though he didn't win the MVP this year, he was close. He finished third in the voting.
So not only did he make the finals, but he had one of his best regular seasons of all time.
To add to it all, he also had one of his best postseasons. He scored 27.0 points a game, collected 11.7 rebounds and had almost 3.0 assists a game.
The only problem with this almost perfect season was a loss in the finals. Up two games to none, the Mavericks ended up losing in six games to the Heat. It was a heartbreaking loss, and one that would haunt Nowitzki and his reputation for years.
That end is what weighs down this otherwise fantastic season. If not for that, it might be No. 1. But at least this was Nowitzki's first finals trip, though certainly not his last.
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Where every other season in the top five was missing something, Dirk Nowitzki's 2010-2011 had it all.
His regular-season statistics weren't as gaudy as previous years, but he was still excellent. He averaged 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists with a shooting line of 51.7/39.3/89.2. Not quite up to his previous seasons of 26.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists but very close.
Yet again he made the All-NBA second team and was selected as an All-Star. He also placed sixth in the MVP voting.
But since the loss in the NBA Finals to the Heat in 2006 and the collapse against the Warriors in 2007, Nowitzki had been written off as a guy who crumbled in the playoffs.
His critics hadn't been wrong of late either, as the Mavs had made it past the first round only once in the previous four years.
But Nowitzki proved all his detractors wrong when he led Dallas past the heavily favored Miami Heat in the NBA Finals to win his first championship. Nowitzki carried his team throughout the playoffs, averaging 27.7 points and 8.1 rebounds while putting shooting percentages of 48.5/46/94.1. Thanks to his play, he earned finals MVP honors as well.
2010-11 was the year everything came together. Nowitzki had an amazing regular season, led the Mavericks to 57 wins, collected his usual individual accolades and led Dallas to postseason success.
The championship validated Nowitzki's career. Instead of going down in NBA history books as a soft European seven-footer who never totally worked out, he will go down as a clutch performer whose style of basketball ushered in a new breed of NBA big men.
This season meant everything to Nowitzki's career, and as such, it has to be at the top. No question about it.