I have been covering for the past few weeks the superstars in the NBA that are worthy of the moniker Franchise Player. Far too often, we put players on a pedestal and anoint them as the best without giving it much reflection. Consequently, I took it upon myself to tell every one, who the true NBA franchise players are. In order to do so, I had to come up with a list of criteria that players had to meet in order to merit the title of franchise player. For the list of criteria, click here, you will have the list of requirements as well as the players that were previously featured. With that said, let’s move on to our next player…
Back in the 1990’s, no one took the Dallas Mavericks seriously. Opposing teams looked at their calendars and whenever they saw the Mavs, they circled them as a stat padding night. Hell, back then I’m assuming some players probably made bets to see if they could get a triple double against the Mavericks. During the decade (1990-1999), the Dallas Mavericks had a record of 180-507, which translates to a 28.2% winning percentage. Dallas was in desperate need of change, and they got in when they drafted Dirk Nowitzki. He made his rookie debut during the 1998-99 NBA season (strike year) and was rather unremarkable. He was soft and had trouble adjusting to the NBA game. Oddly enough, after his rookie season, people viewed Dirk a bit like they view Darko Milicic now: big slow player from Europe that will probably never be able to play big minutes in the NBA.
One of Nowitzki’s biggest obstacles was that he had to he had to overcome two perceptions: the first one was that players from Europe were soft; and the second one was that seven footers were meant to be bangers in the paint. Considering that Disco Dirk was European (from Germany) and that he was a seven foot jump shooter, no one really took him seriously. However, Dirk had come too far to be denied. After a rather brutal debut season, Nowitzki trained hard during the summer in the hopes of being an impact player for the Mavs. The work paid off in his second season, as he doubled his scoring, rebounding and assists averages. Nowitzki turned himself into a perennial NBA All-Star as he reversed the fortunes of the Dallas franchise. Ever since Dirk has joined the NBA, his team is an astounding 606-324; good for a 65.2 winning percentage. But with that said, is Nowitzki a franchise player? Let’s get to it.
The Kobe Bryant Exception (formerly known as the Tim Duncan Requirement)
Since being drafted in 1998, Dirk’s Mavericks have only missed the playoffs once; and it occurred during the German’s rookie season. Needless to say, Big Dirk passes this requirement with flying colors.
The Kareem Standard
Dirk Diggler has appeared in eight NBA All-Star games and also captured the 2006-2007 NBA League MVP trophy. In addition, Nowitzki has appeared on the All-NBA list (1st, 2nd or 3rd team) every year in the past decade (2000 to 2009)
The Karl Malone Rule
I have not yet compiled all the information for all the other individuals that are considered to be franchise players, but Dirk Nowitzki is probably the most durable alpha dog in the NBA. He has appeared in 899 out of 931 regular season games; good for a 96.6%. That’s a ridiculous participation rate; people were always quick to say that Dirk was soft; and yet he has missed less games in his career than Allen Iverson. Not counting this current season (between the retirement and his family issues, keeping track of his games missed solely due to injury would be a bit tougher), AI has missed 160 games and has participated in 84.5% of his team’s games. Dirk on the other hand has only missed 32 games so far in his career. Essentially, Dirk is like a bizarro Vince Carter; he plays through injuries, cares and still plays hard.
Magic Johnson Provision
Let’s not dance around it, Dirk Nowitzki has caught a lot of flack for losing against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals and then losing to the eighth seeded Golden State Warriors the following season. Does that define his career? I would rather think not. People look at Dirk’s two biggest playoff failures and judge his whole career based on them.
Imagine if people looked at Kobe Bryant’s performances in the 2004 (vs. Pistons) and 2008 (vs. Celtics) NBA Finals and based their opinions of his career on those playoff series, that would be incredibly shortsighted. And yet, the Diggler has made one of the best plays in NBA playoffs history but for some reason, no one ever mentions it. Back in the 2006 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Spurs, with the Mavericks down three points, Avery Johnson called a play for the German seven footer to post up Bruce Bowen with 32.2 seconds left in the game. Disco Dirk posted up Bowen on the right block, backed him down, spun and drove to the basket and converted a tough layup as he was getting fouled by Ginobili. Nowitzki then calmly sank the free throw which resulted in the game going into overtime where the Mavericks prevailed. It was perhaps the biggest play in our featured player’s career; but does it mean that he has stage presence?
Whether we’re talking about the first game of the season on Halloween night or a game on Valentine’s Day, you can expect Dirk Nowitzki to show up and give the other team the business. Check out his regular season averages for the past decade (2000 to today):
For the past decade, Dirk Diggler has been so good and so consistent that several of us have failed to realize how good he truly is. Because he has not really had any one season that has really stood out from the others, we tend to forget how dominant he is as a big man. He might not be the traditional big guy that we’ve been accustomed to seeing throughout NBA history, but in the words of Spike Lee, He Got Game. But let’s take it a step further; let’s have a look at his career playoff numbers.
Just for argument’s sake, let’s have a look at the playoff averages of some noteworthy power forwards.
Tim Duncan: 23.3 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 50.1 FG%
Karl Malone: 24.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 46.3 FG%
Chris Webber: 18.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.6 APG, 46.4 FG%
Charles Barkley: 23.0 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 51.3 FG%
Dirk Nowitzki is a bit like Brad Pitt. You think of him as a pretty boy that’s overrated and that’s been living off of hype his whole career. But when you look at what he does and you stack him up against some of the best of his profession (past and present), you realize that he actually fares pretty well. Still not convinced? Look at the short list of guys in the history of the NBA to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in the playoffs throughout their careers (placed in order of scoring average):
1. Elgin Baylor – 27.0 PPG, 12.9 RPG
2. Hakeem Olajuwon – 25.9 PPG, 11.2 RPB
3. Dirk Nowitzki – 25.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG
4. Bob Pettit – 25.5 PPG, 14.8 RPG
5. Shaquille O’Neal – 25.2 PPG, 12.1 RPG
6. Karl Malone – 24.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG
7. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 24.3 PPG, 10.5 RPG
8. George Mikan – 24.0 PPG, 13.9 RPG
9. Larry Bird – 23.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG
10. Tim Duncan – 23.3 PPG, 12.6 RPG
11. Charles Barkley – 23.0 PPG, 12.9 RPG
12. Elvin Hayes – 22.9 PPG, 13.0 RPG
13. Wilt Chamberlain – 22.5 PPG, 24.5 RPG
14. Moses Malone – 22.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG
15. Kevin Garnett – 21.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG
16. Patrick Ewing – 20.2 PPG, 10.3 RPG
That ladies and gentlemen is what we call an elite group. A lot of the players listed above are already in the Hall of Fame; and the ones that aren’t will be fairly soon. But there’s one last thing I wanted to delve into with regards to Dirk’s stage presence. Putting up numbers is one thing, but can a player shine when his best is needed? Well I went over to 82games.com and looked for their clutch stats data to see how Nowitzki did in clutch situations. The data they’ve compiled ranges from 2003 up to last season (includes regular season and playoffs). Before we look at Dirk’s performances in terms of game winning shots, let’s look at 82games.com definition of what they consider a game winning shot: “Game Winning Shot Opportunity = 24 seconds or less left in the game, team with the ball is either tied or down by 1 to 2 points.”
As I mentioned earlier in this post, people tend to think of Dirk as the guy that got bullied by the Golden State Warriors and that allowed his team to lose an NBA Finals to one player (Dwyane Wade); but the truth is that although he has not won a championship, Nowitzki has been the face of the Dallas Mavericks and has carried them to heights that were once thought of as impossible. His numbers compare favorably to some of the legends of the game and his shot making ability under duress with the game on the line is right up there with the best in the league today. In my opinion, he aces the Magic Johnson Provision.
The Shaquille O’Neal aka Diesel Test
Considering all the information that has been dropped on you right now, could you actually see Dirk failing the Diesel Test? Me neither. Sign him up for $20 million right now.
Dirk Nowitzki meets all the listed requirements and is therefore a franchise player in my book. Truthfully, he is one of the best and most important franchise players in the league. Perhaps no one outside of Dallas notices, but isn’t it about time for that to change? Start paying attention people, greatness is on display every other night, make an effort to see it on full display.