Dirk and Retirement: 20 Years A Mav

The Achilles tendon bothered two of the greatest scorers in NBA history. Kobe Bryant never fully recovered from his torn Achilles and Dirk Nowitzki dealt with Achilles pain early in the season. Nowitzki intends to play his last year in the NBA, his 20th season, in a Dallas Mavericks uniform, 2017-18.

Both Nowitzki and Bryant exhausted their talent. While Bryant had more than jump shooting with his array of iso plays, he copied Dirk’s one legged fadeaway and brought it into the repertoire.  Bryant played an excess of 48,000 minutes. Dirk has played an excess of 48,000 minutes. Last summer, Dirk signed a two year deal that would have him playing into year number 20, same as Bryant. Bryant has always been a Nowitzki model.  Nowitzki negotiated a Bryant like $25 million the summer of 2016.

That two of the greatest scorers in the modern NBA suffered through the very same thing even as their games were holistically different is an irony and a cautionary tale for the Steph Currys and Klay Thompsons of the world. The legs tell you when it is time to quit. You don’t tell them.

Last season, Dirk passed Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place on the all time scoring list. Ahead of him are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Dirk and Bryant are the only two that didn’t play in college.

Dirk is eyeing 30,000 points which will come against the Lakers who also had a 30,000 point scorer in Bryant. On Tuesday night, Dirk will be in the pantheon of greatest scorers ever.  The meaning of the accomplishment is not lost on him.

“It’s been such a long ride. When you struggle like I did at the beginning, my first years, and there’s doubts creeping in- are you going to make it? Are you good enough? And then 19 years later you’re only the 6th guy to ever do something, that’s incredible.” (Dirk Nowitzki to Marc Stein, ESPN)

Last season was a good one for Nowitzki. He averaged 18.2 points, 44.8% and 36.8% from three. He had his best defensive rating in four years. He was the Mavs best player which was problematic from a strategic point of view. In a young league, a then 37 year old can’t be your best player.

This year, Dirk has played fewer games due to injury, only 35. It is the first time in four years he won’t play at least 70 games. His shooting has been un-Dirk like at 41% though his three ball is on par with last season, 36.5%.  His rebounds and assists have remained consistent even as he is five points off his 18 points a game of last year. He is posting his lowest offensive rating since his rookie year.

Clearly, Dirk will get the Kobe Farewell Tour, which he deserves and which no one saw coming in the summer of 1998.

Dirk Nowitzki was drafted with the 9th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks who then traded him for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The Bucks needed a big man to pair with Ray Allen. Offensive genius Don Nelson was giddy about Nowitzki after working him out. At the time, Nelson said Dirk was the best young player he had ever seen. In that same draft, Nelson drafted Pat Garrity and then traded him to Phoenix for Steve Nash. And thus began one of the Mavs greatest duos.

Dirk’s consistency and his perimeter shooting which made him an anomaly, a seven footer draining threes, changed the NBA, from a league where action by big men was in the paint to a space the floor league and an overall acceptance of perimeter shooting from big men. From 2000-2010 Nowitzki was a 20+ point per game player with his high being 26.6 points a game, in 2005-06. The next year he won the MVP.

This season Dirk is shooting 41.5% on catch and shoots and 37.8% on pull ups. He is no longer the Mavs best player but he still is Dirk. When Dirk leaves the NBA  next year, he will have made the league better than when he found it. He revolutionized the position. He won a MVP. He won a title. He was in 13 All-Star games. He won 16 Player of the Week awards and 6 Player of the Month awards He was All-NBA first, second or third team 12 times. He has played the most NBA games of any active player, the most minutes played, the most field goals scored, the most field goals attempted, the most threes made, the most field goals missed, the most free throws made, the most defensive rebounds, the most points among active players.

Twenty years is an accomplishment. It says you are a survivor. Twenty years is a testimony. It says you achieved. Twenty years is history. It says you are special.

Dirk Nowitzki. Special player.

photo via llanan