Dallas Mavericks

The Legacy of Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki - Best Player to Never Win a Championship?It was May 3, 2007 when Dirk Nowitzki’s stock as a bona fide NBA superstar hit its lowest point. A rabid sea of yellow t-shirt wearing maniacs were howling with unbridled delight as the Golden State Warriors were putting the finishing touches on a 111-86 blowout win in Game Six over the Dallas Mavericks, completing one of the biggest playoff upsets in NBA history.

Nowitzki’s line? Eight points on 2-of-13 shooting, including 0-of-6 from three-point range.

After that night, the big German’s critics crowed about his reputation for being soft. Where was he when his team needed him most? Wasn’t this just a replay of the 2006 Finals when the Mavs coughed up a chance to take a 3-0 series lead over Miami only to lose four straight? Was Nowitzki cut out to lead a team to a championship?

Once again Dirk is in the midst of a legacy-defining series with the opportunity to re-write his career arc with Dallas taking on  the Lakers in the second round. It’s no longer enough for Nowitzki to put up numbers. It’s time to win. In fact, statistically speaking Dirk’s playoff career is pretty sparkling…


2000-01 10 23.4 8.1 0.423 0.283 0.883 0.573 22.3 1.7
2001-02 8 28.4 13.1 0.445 0.571 0.878 0.577 24.8 1.4
2002-03 17 25.3 11.5 0.479 0.443 0.912 0.593 23.2 2.6
2003-04 5 26.6 11.8 0.450 0.467 0.857 0.561 27.5 1.3
2004-05 13 23.7 10.1 0.402 0.333 0.829 0.505 20.1 1.2
2005-06 23 27.0 11.7 0.468 0.343 0.895 0.596 26.8 5.4
2006-07 6 19.7 11.3 0.383 0.211 0.840 0.509 20.9 0.6
2007-08 5 26.8 12.0 0.473 0.333 0.808 0.588 26.3 0.9
2008-09 10 26.8 10.1 0.518 0.286 0.925 0.635 28.4 2.0
2009-10 6 26.7 8.2 0.547 0.571 0.952 0.643 28.3 1.4
2010-11 6 27.3 7.8 0.452 0.444 0.889 0.575 25.3 1.0
Career 109 25.7 10.7 0.459 0.374 0.883 0.579 24.7 19.4
TS% = True Shooting Pct.
PER = Player Efficiency Rating
WS = Win Shares (estimate of number of wins contributed by a player)

…all except for that last column. Nowitzki’s scoring hasn’t translated to a slew of postseason wins. 2011 marks the 11th consecutive playoff appearance for Dallas, but in that time the Mavericks have advanced beyond the second round just twice (losing the ’03 WCF to the Spurs and losing the ’06 Finals to Miami) and have been bounced in the first round four times.

Now in his 13th season and approaching his 33rd birthday, Dirk is inching ever closer to a seat in the class of Best Players Never To Win A Championship. But Nowitzki may also be pledging to another fraternity – Best Seven-Footers Never To Win A Championship. When you consider the most dominant tall guys in NBA history – from George Mikan to Shaquille O’Neal – only Patrick Ewing sits without a ring.

The common NBA playoff wisdom is that teams with dominant big men have more success as the game slows down and becomes more of a half-court affair. Except Dirk Nowitzki’s game has never followed conventional wisdom. As arguably the best of the international players that flooded the draft throughout the last decade, Nowitzki was always criticized for playing a European-style game that doesn’t always demand big men to loiter around the paint and play with their back to the basket. While his face-up game and ability to shoot from anywhere has made him a tough cover, it has also been the Mavericks’ downfall in crucial situations when they needed a bucket.

So who’s to blame when a guy with such an unorthodox, yet devastating game is in such danger of finishing his career without a title? The answer: Dirk Nowitzki.

Often when great players fail to win titles, it’s easy to blame the lack of a supporting cast. Who had Dominique Wilkins’ back? Where was Allen Iverson’s help? How did the Pacers survive if Reggie Miller had an off night?

Dirk has never been blessed to be surrounded by a ton of future Hall of Famers, although he’s played with Jason Kidd for the past couple of seasons (and you could argue that Steve Nash will get a good look at Springfield when he’s done). But Nowitzki has had a respectable cast of sidekicks from Michael Finley to Jason Terry to Caron Butler. He’s helped lead the Mavericks to 55 wins or more in seven of his 13 seasons. And he’s taken a team all the way to the Finals.

Yet he’s never been able to put a team on his back in clutch moments and drag them to a win. The greats have all done it. And if Nowitzki hopes to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them, he’s going to have to learn how to do it. He took a step in the right direction by helping Dallas recover from a nightmare loss in Game Four of their first round series against Portland to dispatch the Blazers in six.

So far in this second round series against Los Angeles, Nowitzki has continued that. The numbers, as always, have been pretty (averaging 26 points and 10.5 rebounds through the first two games). But this time, he’s not just punching the Lakers in the gut. He’s trying to break their backs as well. Yet as good as he’s been, he’s still facing the two-time defending champs. Dirk will need to find a lot more of that for the Mavericks to have any hope of dethroning L.A once and for all.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to way goodbye to Dirk every May. And we’ll continue to wonder if he will ever be tougher than soft-serve ice cream. All the while, we’ll continue to set a place for him at the table of the NBA’s greatest runners-up.


32 Responses to “The Legacy of Dirk Nowitzki”

  1. That may be true, but Dirk Nowitzki is one of the top 5 most badass names of all time.

    Posted by Neazy | May 5, 2011, 10:06 am
  2. I’d still put Barkley and Malone above Nowitzki in the greatest runner up ever title.

    Posted by paulieshore | May 5, 2011, 10:52 am
    • Hard to argue. But the way Dirk’s career is going, he’s working his way into that group. Plus, besides Ewing, name another dominant 7-footer who never won a title.

      Posted by Marcas Grant | May 5, 2011, 2:46 pm
      • I just dont see how Barkley and Malone are even in Dirk’s league. Both of those guys played with hall of famers. Dirk is doing this with some third and fourth tier guys.

        I think that alot of the grief that Nowitzki gets is due to the fact that he’s not the typical American self-promoting dunker.

        Posted by JT | May 11, 2011, 11:14 am
  3. Dirk’s legacy…game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals…90% free throw shooter goes to the line and misses…From there the rest is history.

    Posted by Bob | May 5, 2011, 11:43 am
    • Right now, those ’06 Finals are a stain on his resume. And don’t think people won’t remember how Dallas coughed up a 2-0 lead in that series when they get home on Friday against the Lakers. But a win in this series might change the way a lot of people look at Dirk – especially if he keeps dominating the way he has been in first two games.

      Posted by Marcas Grant | May 5, 2011, 2:48 pm
    • Dirk’s legacy: 11 (and climbing) years of 50+ wins for a franchise that was arguably the worst in sports before he got there.

      Dirk’s legacy: taking a franchise to the finals for the first time in history. Without a second or third or fourth superstar to take the pressure off.

      Dirk’s legacy: playoff numbers that put him in the top 5 of all time.

      Dirk’s legacy: class, loyalty, and dignity in the face of self-promotion and the “we cant do this on our own, so lets all team up” era.

      Dirk’s legacy: massive, monster playoff games that will be remembered as the peak of Mavericks basketball.

      Dirk’s legacy: got better every year. Always added something to his arsenal.

      Dirk’s legacy: taught Kidd how to shoot threes. Ha!

      Dirk’s legacy: killed the Lakers’ dynasty. Dirk + Mavs vs. Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom…Dirk wins.

      Posted by JT | May 11, 2011, 11:20 am
  4. It’s a shame the 2006-2007 finals are held against Dirk Nowitzki as much as they are. Remember, this was the height of Tim Donaghy’s gambling problem and he admits to gambling tens of thousands of dollars on NBA games from 2005-2007. He had been approached by the mob, but he also stated that there were “company men” who worked in the best interests of the NBA to extend series and manipulate outcomes. He told federal prosecutors that such company men had essentially decided the 2002 Western Conference finals should be extended to 7 games in the best interest of the league. This was done by giving lots of additional free throws to the favored team. To add to the intrigue, it was well known that David Stern HATED Mark Cuban, and Cuban had been unusually vocal about refereeing throughout the playoffs. Phil Jackson had this to say about that series: “That Miami Finals really was a tough one to swallow…I think Wade averaged about 25 foul shots a game. You couldn’t even touch him. That was really tough to swallow and I think [Mark Cuban] understood there’s kind of a pecking order in this league and you keep your mouth shut at times.” Tim Donaghy himself stated that there were referees that had personal vendettas against Mark Cuban. Danny Crawford brags about this. Dick Bavetta brags about being a guy who can extend series or make a certain team win. Donaghy also states that he felt many referees are probably inclined to make calls against Mark Cuban just because of the amount of trouble he causes them.

    Whether it was the mob, or crooked refs looking for a buck (who would notice if huge sums were wagered on the NBA finals) or a way to stick it to Cuban, NBA higher-ups looking out for their league’s self-interest, or David Stern punishing Mark Cuban, there are lots of reasons why this seems like a ripe series for a fix. In the first two games, which Dallas won, Dallas outshot Miami by 3 free throws total. Over the next 4 games, all of which Miami won, Miami had a total of 60 more free throws than Dallas. Given that Dallas had averaged 0.6 more free throws per game than Miami, that’s just not true to form. Dwyane Wade has averaged 9 free throws per game over his career in the regular season and playoffs, but he set an NBA finals record with 97 free throws in this 6 game series, which averages out to 16 per game. Of course, there was also the fact that Jerry Stackhouse was suspended for a game for what Shaq later referred to as being “less vicious than a love tap from my daughters,” whereas Stack’s bloody nose courtesy of Shaq in game 1 was only called a regular foul. There’s no consistency there whatsoever.

    I say this because, perhaps Dirk wasn’t just soft in this series. Sure, he choked at the end of game 3 and that might have been the difference. But the Mavs really were the better team that season and were significant favorites to win even before taking a 2-0 lead. And when you say he’s never put a team on his back and taken them to the promised land, it’s hard for me to imagine what he could have possibly done to win this series.

    Posted by Lochpster | May 5, 2011, 6:33 pm
  5. Actually, Dirk is one of the greatest post season performers in the history of the game. Just look at his win shares per 48 minutes.. He’s ranked 5th in playoff history. He truly hasn’t had a ton of help. Yes, he has had Jason Kidd, but he is well past his prime. Yes, he has had Jason Terry, but that’s a guy who’s shrunk completely in the playoffs. Yes, he had Nash, but that was well before Steve Nash was the player that he has been for the past 8-9 years. Nash has admitted so himself.

    As for not being able to carry a team on his back, that is absolutely idiotic. Dirk is one of the top 3 players in the league in the playoffs when it comes to performance during possible elimination games.

    The bottom line, he steps up his game in the playoffs. No, he has not been perfect and he has had his failures. However, he almost carried a team to a title with a VERY mediocre supporting cast back in 2006. The guy catches too much grief from people that quite simply don’t have a firm grasp of what he has actually done in the playoffs. They remember a game here or a game there without any idea as to what his entire body of work says. His entire body of work would indicate that your article is probably something I should print out and wipe my rear end with.

    Posted by Murph | May 6, 2011, 7:45 am
  6. Top 50 Win shares/48 in the playoffs from basketball-reference.com
    1. Michael Jordan* 0.2553
    2. George Mikan* 0.2541
    3. LeBron James 0.2359
    4. Magic Johnson* 0.2078
    5. Dirk Nowitzki 0.2057
    6. Jerry West* 0.2031
    7. Wilt Chamberlain* 0.1998
    8. David Robinson* 0.1992
    9. Tim Duncan 0.1991
    10. Dwight Howard 0.1986
    11. Walt Frazier* 0.1934
    12. Charles Barkley* 0.1932
    13. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 0.1929
    14. Chauncey Billups 0.1917
    15. Frank Ramsey* 0.1902
    16. Dolph Schayes* 0.1890
    17. Hakeem Olajuwon* 0.1887
    18. Baron Davis 0.1886
    19. Shaquille O’Neal 0.1845
    20. Paul Arizin* 0.1827
    21. Dwyane Wade 0.1817
    22. Manu Ginobili 0.1816
    23. Pau Gasol 0.1809
    24. Reggie Miller 0.1799
    25. Oscar Robertson* 0.1783
    26. Bill Russell* 0.1778
    27. Bob Lanier* 0.1755
    28. Bill Sharman* 0.1739
    29. George Yardley* 0.1736
    30. Kevin McHale* 0.1736
    31. Larry Bird* 0.1731
    32. Moses Malone* 0.1728
    33. Cliff Hagan* 0.1718
    34. Adrian Dantley* 0.1716
    35. Cedric Maxwell 0.1713
    36. Don Nelson 0.1683
    37. Amare Stoudemire 0.1653
    38. Ben Wallace 0.1636
    39. Ray Allen 0.1612
    40. Kobe Bryant 0.1607
    41. John Stockton* 0.1602
    42. Bob Pettit* 0.1590
    43. Vern Mikkelsen* 0.1588
    44. Sam Jones* 0.1570
    45. Brad Daugherty 0.1570
    46. Bobby Jones 0.1560
    47. Horace Grant 0.1556
    48. Kevin Garnett 0.1554
    49. Shawn Kemp 0.1548
    50. John Salley 0.1526

    I think you can see that Dirk’s up there towards the top.

    Posted by Murph | May 6, 2011, 7:48 am
    • Lochpster and Murph

      Thank you. I am a couple of years removed from the violent emotional responses I used to have to comments such as “if he will ever be tougher than soft-serv ice cream”. Now I just group it right up there with “Americans are loud and obnoxious”, “French people smell”, “Kobe is the most clutch player in the league”, and “Lebron James does not get away with travelling” as poor assessments of people resulting from stubbornness, ignorance, and the love stupid people have of hearing themselves speak.

      That said, never argue with an idiot, they’ll win based on experience.

      Dirk’s legacy is secure in the minds of those who know good basketball. To those who allow the NBA championship to dictate “greatness”, well, just give it a few weeks.

      But, all things considered, DIRK is an excellent basketball player who plays through injuries, does not manipulate the press or his teammates, and so, in this dog-eat-dog world, will continuously be called “soft” which really is a synonym for “he isn’t crude or obnoxious and he hasn’t won the championship”.


      Posted by JP | May 6, 2011, 1:46 pm
  7. Eleven straight years of 50 or more wins…..does anyone remember how “good” Dallas was before Dirk arrived?? Soft!!!!??? This guy has had his teeth knocked out and continued to play and over his career has missed very few games while taking beatings from everyone. And the playoffs? Little Stevie Nash was good and the two of them (Dirk and Steve) together were a winning combination, but Michael Finley was very over-rated and when your centers are Shawn Bradley and Eric Dampier respectively for several years……well that speaks for itself. If you never have to cover the center doble teams on Dirk became triple teams. I love all the stats and they prove one thing. Dirk has been great in the playoffs, too. The last time I looked basketball was a team game. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen while the Bulls were winning all those championships. Malone and Stockton couldn’t get past them and Dirk has certainly never had anyone like Stockton by his side. (Sorry Steve Nash and Jason Kidd….who would probably not be in this sentence had he paired with Dirk in HIS prime). All in all Dirk has almost assuredly been one of the most under-appreciated players in NBA history. Even as he gets tons of praise for being unguardable now, he still has never been appreciated the way he deserves.

    Posted by Guy | May 6, 2011, 1:49 pm
  8. btw: great picture of nowitzki. where have u got it?

    Posted by Mark | May 6, 2011, 2:05 pm
  9. How many rings does Dirk have while playing the most minutes in the playoffs for those teams?

    Posted by Gil Meriken | May 6, 2011, 4:35 pm
  10. There’s a real and natural tendency to be very selective in what we recall….

    …Dirk missing two free throws down the stretch in Game 3 and Dirk’s crappy performance in Game 6 v the One-Hit-Warriors….

    …but we forget that Dirk has played many, many big playoff games over the history of his long career, he’s taken many free throws in clutch situations, so many that even a 90% free throw shooter is bound to have missed a couple just by chance.

    We may recall the 50 he hung in game 5 of the WCF in ’06 where he single handedly outscored the Suns over the last 15 minutes, and we probably recall the and-1 at the end of regulation in Game 7 v. the spurs, or perhaps even the clutch 3 at the end of regulation to seal the deal against the grizz….

    …but what we almost certainly forget is the amazingly clutch play of Dirk in Game 5 versus the Heat. We forget two huge Dirk plays in the last minute of regulation to send it to OT and we forget the ridiculous J that Dirk hit to give the mavs a lead with less than 10 seconds to play in OT.

    (we also forget D-Wade’s two bricked free-throws at the end of Game 6, but that’s another post I suppose)

    We’re especially inclined to forget excellent individual performances in the midst of dismal team failures — Dirk’s 27 and 12 performance while playing on one leg in ’08 as a case in point.

    Pt being, Dirk has been a clutch player, a great playoff player for over a decade….

    Posted by alexamenos | May 7, 2011, 9:01 am
  11. This article has no merit. All Nowitzki does is carry the team on his back. His worst career series was GSW in 07 and he put up 20 and 13 while being triple teamed. In the decisive 3 games in 06 finals (3,5,6) in the last 3 minutes of those games Jason Terry was 0 of 12 and 2 turnovers. In game 6, JET and Josh Howard were 11 for 44!! Also, the fact that Wade went to the line that many times was an anamaly. Watch the call at the end of game 5. It is the worst call in the history of professional sports. When Nash was there, Dirk was yet to reach his prime. Josh Howard and J-Kidd made the all-star team because of injury replacement. When was the last time you saw a team win a championship with only one all-star? Now, the prevailing thought is you need three to win. If Dirk wins it this year, I will view him in a greater light than the likes of Kobe and maybe Duncan simply because of his supporting cast.

    Posted by Cameron Stewart | May 8, 2011, 7:18 am
  12. Softer than soft-serve ice cream?

    That Dallas team Dirk led to the 2006 finals had had Jason Terry as their 2nd best player and Josh Howard as their 3rd best.

    Dirk has been phenomenal in the playoffs by every measure you can think of except for number of championships. And teams win championships, not individual players.

    I am 100% sure Dirk would have more rings if he got to play with an in-his-prime Shaq or Pau Gasol.

    Posted by Mike | May 9, 2011, 8:13 am
  13. Yup, he hasnt been able to will his teams during tough times in the playoffs but he has had great performances in the playoffs that led them to wins against san antonio and the suns. You could say the same thing for Kobe.When was the last time Kobe had a great playoff game when their backs against the wall? Never. He always performs his best when his teams up 3-0 or 3-1 but facing elimination he has 2 of theworst performances of all time. Look it up in 82 games.com. Dirk is in the same league as Kobe and maybe even better. Kobe is overrated, blessed with great temates for most of his career.

    Posted by zarr | May 9, 2011, 9:41 pm
  14. Not a compelling argument.

    One of the reasons Chasing 23 is better than the majority of bball blogs is the quantitative analysis. But this article concedes Dirk’s playoff numbers are stellar, than reverts to evidence-free assertion. That likely stems from the fact there’s very little data that suggests Dirk’s performance declines in the playoffs, and a great deal (eg, Murph’s win-shares statistics) that shows that his playoff performance 1) is exceptional and 2) if anything, is better than his regulare season statistics.

    Numbers, please.

    Posted by flacito | May 10, 2011, 8:26 am
  15. hmm…

    Posted by Jeff | May 17, 2011, 9:29 pm
    • unbelievable game tonight. A few more like this and a ring, and we’ll be rewriting the history of the Big German

      Posted by Brown Mamba | May 17, 2011, 9:33 pm
      • It wouldn’t surprise me if the narrative of Dirk’s career changes if he dominates the playoffs like he did tonight and wins a title this year.

        I mean after the 1984 Finals Magic Johnson had the nickname “Tragic-Magic” But after the 1985 Finals he erased that memory (and the subsequent titles he won). I for one can’t believe how on fire he was. 12/15 is ridiculous and 24/24 is even more impressive.

        I don’t know if anyone else noticed but the last play with about 12 seconds left, they inbounded the ball to Kidd and he immediately tossed it to Dirk, then after Dirk gave it back to Kidd he tossed it to him again – I think he was hoping OKC would foul Dirk so he’d reach the 50 point mark. But you got to hand it to him – Not only did he control the game offensively by scoring efficiently, he got 4 different OKC players in foul trouble to the point they had to play James Harden and Thabo Sefelosha on him.

        Posted by Adam | May 18, 2011, 12:41 am
  16. Hey Marcos,

    I bet you feel like a dumbass now huh. Look how Dirk destroyed LA and how he killed OKC in his first game.

    I like how you mention that he has played with all these ”Hall of Famers.” He’s playing with Kidd years after his prime, Steve Nash when he was chubby and wasn’t benefiting from D’antoni’s system. He has played with dominant centers like Shawn Bradley and Erick Dampier for 90% of his career.

    Come on you moron. This is the first time he has had a big man worth a damn. You really think that if you swap out Kobe and Dirk, Dirk wouldn’t have more rings right now?

    Posted by KoolAidMan | May 18, 2011, 8:42 am
  17. Now Dirk is one his way to the Finals again. Let’s just hope that Dwayne Wade doesn’t get a zillion phantom calls, and gets to the line more than Dallas in two games in the series like he did in 2006. And though it’s not his fault he got every call, Dallas had a title stolen from them. If you disagree, you didn’t see the series or you walk around with your eyes wide shut.

    Posted by Kyle | May 26, 2011, 12:12 am
  18. Time for a Dirk column update. Adding World Champion and NBA Finals MVP.

    Posted by Ben Denison | June 12, 2011, 9:43 pm
  19. Update your column to include, 2011 NBA Finals MVP and World Champion. And state how, HE PUT HIS TEAM ON HIS BACK and won the title.

    Posted by H. Paul Bass | June 14, 2011, 7:35 pm


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