Dirk Nowitzki's March Toward History Has Just a Few More Steps

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 13, 2014

USA Today

It's been an unforgettable, extraordinary, one-legged ride for sweet-shooting Dallas Mavericks big man Dirk Nowitzki.

The 35-year-old isn't simply stuffing stat sheets at this point, he's rewriting the history books.

His latest entry came during Dallas' 108-101 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

He entered the game deadlocked with Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek for No. 12 on the NBA's all-time scoring list. He needed just one possession to break that tie, fittingly surpassing "Hondo" with a trademark, twine-tickling fadeaway jumper.

Those were just the first two of his game-high 31 points (giving him 26,426 for his career), a total he amassed on a mind-numbing 12-of-14 shooting performance from the field, 4-for-4 from deep and 3-for-3 at the line.

"Dirk was great from start to finish," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said afterward, via Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Twelve for 14 is ridiculous."

Indeed it is, as are so many things he's accomplished already in his career—and what he still has left in store.

Robust Scoring Resume

There will be no Hall of Fame debate needed for the 12-time All-Star. He's a first-ballot selection by every definition of the phrase.

He was the project pick who showed how special raw talent can be when developed with the right blend of patience, teaching and unwavering support:

He didn't make the Mavs wait long to reap the rewards on their investment. An 8.2 points per game scorer and 40.5 percent shooter as a rookie in 1998-99, he bumped those numbers to 17.5 and 46.1, respectively, during his sophomore campaign.

Little did anyone know then that the gangly giant was only setting his basement.

19 Feb 1999:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks walks on the court during the game against the Golden State Warriors at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The Warriors defeated the Mavericks 84-79.  Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn  /Alls
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

As for his ceiling, well, it wound up being one of the highest of his generation.

It would be another 13 seasons before his scoring average dropped below 21.

The volume was impressive, but the efficiency was what really separated him from his peers.

He's part of the league's six-member 50/40/90 club thanks to the scalding hot .502/.416/.904 shooting slash he compiled during his 2006-07 MVP campaign. If he had a masterpiece season, that was it. Truth be told, though, his hoops resume is overloaded with works of art.

He's almost a 50/40/90 shooter for his career (.476/.382/.879), all the more amazing considering how active of a scorer he's been (22.5 points per game). Since 1979-80, the league has seen 14 seasons of 25-plus points on at least .450/.390/.850 shooting. Nowitzki has had three of those 14. Only Hall of Famer Larry Bird has more (four).

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

With his size, stroke and durability—last season marked the first time he'd missed more than nine games—his scoring eventually took on historical importance.

In April, Nowitzki received his 25,000-point club membership card:

In January, he became the 24th player in league history with 1,400 made triples. He's one of only four players in that group standing taller than 6'7" and the only 7-footer of the bunch.

That same month, he once again scored his way to significance, this time showcasing a staple of his career that's becoming a dying breed in professional sports—loyalty:

He's a unique talent, standing out even in a league that's littered with physical specimens. What he's managed to do with those physical gifts has surprised even himself:

He's a scientifically proven nightmare matchup. And his historical impact extends well beyond the point-production department.

More Than a Scorer

Gaudy point totals make for great highlight reel material, but there's often an emptiness behind the numbers.

Dominating that column doesn't typically translate to domination in the standings. The last time a scoring champion led his team to the title was Shaquille O'Neal when he carried the Los Angeles Lakers to the 1999-2000 crown.

Nowitzki led his Mavericks with scoring first, but he's done so many other things during his tenure as the face of the franchise.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

He snagged the seventh-most rebounds in the league from 2000-01 to 2005-06 (4,455). He's tied for the eighth-highest career assist average (2.6) and sixth-best steals mark (0.9) among 7-footers in NBA history.

He has the scoring numbers of a one-dimensional performer, but a well-rounded body of work that stands alongside some of the greatest interior players the game has ever seen:

That versatility was on full display during his masterful, MVP performance in the 2011 NBA Finals. Not only did he gave the Mavericks 26 points a night, he also supplied 9.7 rebounds, two assists, 0.7 blocks and 0.7 steals.

He scratched whatever itch arose and didn't let up until he was proudly hoisting the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy high above his shoulders.

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

His leadership has been so inspiring that it's even drawn appreciation from the players he's now bumping down in the history books.

"One thing I can tell you for sure is John Havlicek is a huge fan of Dirk Nowitzki and what he's done in his career," Carlisle said, via Bryan Gutierrez of ESPN Dallas, "not only individually, but from a team standpoint and a competitive standpoint and wanting to take on the responsibility of winning and losing."

Nowitzki never settled. The man formerly known as "Irk" (i.e., no "D") has now bullied his way up the franchise's all-time defensive ranks:

He makes the most of what he has and fills in wherever he's needed.

Judging by his performance this season, that's a role he'll still be playing for a while.

Plenty Left in the Tank

Players aren't supposed to age this gracefully. Father Time's unblemished record feels threatened every time the 16-year veteran steps foot on the hardwood:

Eventually his age will get the better of him, but that bridge still sits far off in the distance.

Different traits can lead to NBA longevity. Nowitzki has all of them: size, intelligence and a silky three-point shot.

He's the 12th-best scorer this season. With extra offensive help around him (offseason imports Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis) and the cap room to add even more this summer, he's a tough cover that defenses can't afford to smother.

How much longer can he keep it going? A few more years, at least, according to him.

I’m a free agent this summer, and I’ll probably sign on for two or three years,” he said, via Price. “And then I can sign a bunch of one-year deals, I guess, after that, as long as I want and as long as it feels good."

Let's assume he stops three seasons from now. Where might that leave his all-time rankings?

If Father Time gets back in this race, maybe Nowitzki loses 15 percent of his scoring each season. That would put him at 18.3 points in 2014-15, 15.6 the following year and 13.3 for his final campaign.

If he played just 75 games this season and each of the next three, that would add another 3,777 points to his career total. He'd then be sitting at 30,203—sixth-most in NBA history.

It's perhaps optimistic, but the numbers say it's possible if he can avoid serious injury. He's missed only two games this season and dropped below 21 points per game only three times in his career.

This might even be underselling his ability.

There will never be another Dirk Nowitzki coming through the NBA ranks. Luckily, he'll have his fingerprints all over the record books, cementing his legacy for generations to come.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.


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