Rick Carlisle: Dirk Nowitzki Is One of 12 Greatest Players in NBA History

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Rick Carlisle: Dirk Nowitzki Is One of 12 Greatest Players in NBA History
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Dallas Mavericks franchise centerpiece Dirk Nowitzki is a 12-time All-Star, former league MVP and NBA champion, but does his impressive resume make him a top-12 player of all time? Head coach Rick Carlisle believes the answer is yes.

In an interview with ESPN Radio (h/t ESPN’s Marc Stein), Carlisle said the following:

I think there’s a certain criteria where you can say pretty much for certain that he’s one of the top 12 all time.

And that is, there’s only been 12 guys that have been 10-time All-Stars, [NBA] Finals MVP and league MVP. So I think that firmly puts him in the top 12. And then getting into the top 10 in all-time scoring validates that even more.

Nowitzki passed NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for 10th on the league’s all-time scoring list with a 21-point outing against the Utah Jazz on April 8.

“It’s definitely surreal,” the 7-footer said, per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “Passing the Big O and only nine guys ever in this league scored more than me. That’s crazy to think.”

While Dirk is undoubtedly one of the greatest scorers the Association has ever seen, whether he’s a top-12 player all time is up for debate.

According to Bill Simmons’ "The Book of Basketball" (2010), his top 12 falls into place via a “Hall of Fame Pyramid” as follows:

Bill Simmons' Top-12 NBA Players
Rank Player All-Stars MVP(s) Finals MVP(s) Championships
1 Michael Jordan 14 5 6 6
2 Bill Russell 12 5 N/A 11
3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 19 6 2 6
4 Magic Johnson 12 3 3 5
5 Larry Bird 12 3 2 3
6 Wilt Chamberlain 13 4 1 2
7 Tim Duncan 14 2 3 4
8 Kobe Bryant 16 1 2 5
9 Jerry West 14 0 1 1
10 Oscar Robertson 12 1 0 1
11 Hakeem Olajuwon 12 1 2 2
12 Shaquille O'Neal 15 1 3 4

Basketball-Reference.com and "The Book of Basketball."

Since Carlisle believes Nowitzki is one of the greatest 12 players ever, he’d have to eclipse Shaquille O’Neal when consulting Simmons’ subjective ranking. Here’s a head-to-head comparison between the two:

Dirk Nowitzki vs. Shaquille O'Neal
Player All-Stars All-NBA First Team MVP Finals MVP Championships Points Scored (Rank)
Dirk Nowitzki 12 4 1 1 1 26,733 (10)
Shaquille O'Neal 15 8 1 3 4 28,596 (6)

Basketball-Reference.com

Considering that Nowitzki doesn't eclipse O'Neal in any of the above categories—including championship rings, where he falls three short—it's difficult to envision him in the top 12.

Of course, Carlisle is using his own subjective ranking via a "certain criteria" that clearly doesn't weigh titles as heavily when compared to separate categories.

Is Dirk Nowitzki one of the greatest 12 players ever?

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Nevertheless, Dirk is still one of the greatest players ever and arguably the most unique 7-foot talent the game has ever seen. His ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court is a stark contrast to prototypical big men from years past.

"He's done it with class," San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Nowitzki, per Stein. "He's showed up every minute that he's available, plays hard all the time, great teammate. He's something special."

At 35 years old, Nowitzki's career is winding to a close. Nevertheless, he still has plenty left in the tank. He's averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game for the Mavs in 2013-14.

Dallas is still fighting to earn a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference, but if owner Mark Cuban can put more complementary pieces around his star, Nowitzki may get one last shot at a second championship before retirement.

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