Today it is ho-hum, a seven footer who shoots threes as easily as he breathes. But in 1998 it was a thing. Radical. You needed a visionary like Don Nelson who traded up to get Dirk Nowitzki to make this Dirk 21 career excellence possible. Dirk was drafted by Milwaukee and then traded. His rights and the rights to Tractor Traylor were exchanged .The players drafted before Nowitzki were Michael Olowokandi. Bust. Mike Bibby. Nice career, made it to the Western Conference Finals. Raef LaFrentz. So-so big guy. Antawn Jamison. Good not great player. Vince Carter. Still balling at the age of 40+. Will probably play until he’s 50. Carter has played in 1400 NBA games. Larry Hughes was the pick right before Dirk. A defender two guard. And then Dirk, skinny and German.
His rookie year, Dirk made 20% of his threes and if social media had been around then he would have been crucified. Year two, he upped his percentage to 37%. Year three, 38%. Year four, 39%. Notice the trend. Better and better and better. Year five, he was attempting 5 threes a game and 37% and that is the secret about Dirk Nowitzki who is always hailed as a three point shooter. He really wasn’t. He was a three point shooter for someone his size. But that wasn’t his everything.
The facts. Dirk was a 40% three point shooter five times in his career. In 2005-06, he attempted 3 threes a game and 16 twos. In 2006-07, he attempted 2 threes a game and 15 twos. In 2009-10, he attempted 1.5 threes a game, and 17 twos. In 2012-13, he attempted three 3-pointers and ten 2-pointers. Last season, he attempted 4 threes and 5 two’s. That was the closet Dirk came to being just a three point shooter.
Kristpas Porzingis has had a season where he attempted 6 threes a game. Dirk has never come close to that. So why is Dirk labeled as a three point shooter only?
Because at 7 feet comfort on the perimeter was an anomaly in 1998 and 1999 and 2000. The league was built on 7 footers. George Mikan. Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Artis Gilmore. Dikembe Mutumbo. Yao Ming. Shaquille O’Neal. Patrick Ewing. Robert Parish. David Robinson. Hakeem Olajuwon. Big men were on the block getting rebounds, scoring on put backs and dunks and layins. They didn’t venture out the paint and many weren’t explosive enough on pick and roll to cover the perimeter and then get back to their man.
Dirk changed that. He spaced the floor and allowed for power forwards to camp out behind the three point line and launch. But this idea that the modern centers are three point shottakers is ridiculous.
The Warriors have a 7 foot center, Damion Jones. In 2018-19, he attempted 0 three point shots. The Nuggets have a 7 foot center, Nikola Jokic. He attempted 3.4 three point shots this season and made 30% of them. The Blazers have three 7 footers: Meyers Leonard, Zach Collins, and Jusuf Nurkic and none of them are any good making threes. Collins attempted 1.6 threes, Leonard 1.8 threes, and Nurkic barely spaced the floor with his 0.4 threes. The Rockets have a 7 footer named Isaiah Hartenstein who barely played.
So exactly where is the revolution? The top 4 seeds in the West, except Denver, are doing it without a 7 footer spacing the floor. Even though Jokic is a threat, he’s not Dirk or Porzingis behind the arc.
We need to call the Dirk revolution exactly what it is. A basketball player with the ability to make threes but a game not based on it, nor was Dirk- and this is what gets forgotten in the 3-point maina- dominant because of it. He revolutionized offenses by having a front court player who is a threat trolling the arc. It make defenses second guess themselves. But the league isn’t top heavy with 7 footers who shoot threes. It’s a myth.
Just as it is a myth that Dirk’s game was based on his ability to make threes. In his career, 50% of Stephen Curry’s shots are threes. In his career, 21% of Dirk’s shots were threes. Putting him in the three point box diminishes everything he was.
He was everything though.
14 All-Star Games. 16 Player of the Weeks. 6 Player of the Month honors. 3 Top-5 finishes for MVP. One MVP. 3rd most games and minutes played in NBA history. 8th most field goals. 6th most free throws ever. 5th most defensive rebounds in NBA history. 6th most points. 6th best Offensive Win Shares in NBA History. 8th best Win Shares in NBA History.
He also shot his shot and took threes. Of the top four scorers all time, Dirk took more threes than Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Karl Malone combined. He didn’t take more threes than Kobe Bryant. LeBron James will pass Dirk in three point attempts next year. He’s only 172 behind him.
Don’t undercut Dirk’s talent just because the game has changed. He was as versatile as much as he was smooth and that is why he will be in the Hall of Fame.