In what will become a daily entry over the course of the next month, Waiver Wire writers Greg Kaplan and Vinny Ginardi will release a list of the the 25 players who they believe to be the best in NBA history. Players were judged on their careers as a whole rather than short stretches of dominance (for example, Bill Walton didn’t make the list due to injuries cutting his career short).
Vinny Ginardi: If Dallas doesn’t win the 2011 NBA title is Dirk Nowitzki on this list? Probably not. But they did, and he was the main reason why, taking home the Finals MVP award and vaulting him into the discussion (at least this discussion) as one of the best players in NBA history.
Dirk also earned the 2006-07 MVP award, when he averaged 24.6 and 8.9 rebounds per game while leading Dallas to an incredible 67-15 record. That season, Dirk also became the fifth player to join the 50-40-90 club (FG%-3P%-FT%). He’s also made four NBA All-First teams and five NBA-All-Second teams, showcasing that he was one of the most dominating forwards of his era.
But what if Dallas didn’t let the 2006 Finals slip away? Dirk probably cracks the top 20. He’s not higher on this list because despite being an impossible-to-guard-scorer and a lights out shooter for more than a decade, he was never an intimidating defender. It’s also worth noting that Dirk was able to lead the Mavs to two NBA finals during an era where the West was dominated by two dynasties: the Lakers and the Spurs.
Greg Kaplan: Originally, when Vinny and I were constructing the list, we both left Dirk off. While we both valued his experiences on the court, neither of us viewed him as anything higher than a fringe player that would barely miss this list.
Then, we started to really think hard about it. Dirk has two finals appearances, a ring and a MVP award. He’s been the best player on a playoff team for the better part of the last decade. He’s easily one of the most dynamic scoring options the NBA has ever seen. And, he may be the best international player to suit up in the history of the NBA.
Dirk helped usher in the international game to the NBA. Few big men have the ability to post up against any defender, shot an open three from the corner and bag bodies underneath for hard fought rebounds quite like Dirk. He also has a trademark shot that few players can replicate: his patented fallback baseline jumper. Whenever Nowitzki goes back on one leg and lifts up, all while it looks like he’s about to fall either flat on his ass or into the first row of seats, fans of the opposing team can feel their heart sink into their stomach. That shot goes in literally 9 times out of 10.
The tricky aspect about ranking Dirk: everything changed when he got his ring. Without that ring, Nowitzki becomes a great talent that never lived up to his potential and would remain as a walking what-if should he had reached the promise land (Reggie Miller and Dominique Wilkins are solemnly nodding in a dark room). Then, he didn’t just get his ring, he did it while crushing the “Big Three” of ‘Bron, Bosh and Wade. He became the king, the hope that the Heat wouldn’t destroy the NBA like many had predicted.
That was before the Heat won the 2012 title. But, Dirk still got his. And that got him on this list.