In the spring of 1998 when Dirk Nowitzki of Germany was drafted with the 9th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks, no one in the room every thought to say: “Someday Dirk will pass Shaquille O’Neal on the all-time scoring list”. That sort of thinking would have been laughed at and mocked. Shaq had just ended his sixth NBA season. He averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds. Dirk was depicted as a player with “possibilities” given his seven foot height and sweet shooting touch. But international players had routinely struggled in the NBA, particularly scorers. Drazen Petrovic was the last scorer to wow the league and he passed away tragically in the summer of 1993. There had been a five year drought that Nowitzki stepped into.
Nearly two decades later, the Nowitzki the Bucks didn’t think enough of to keep- the Bucks received Robert “Tractor” Traylor in return- is 30 points away from passing one of the top three scoring big men of all time.
There’s Wilt. There’s Kareem. And there’s Shaq. Shaq dominated his era in a way no big man ever had other than Wilt and his offensive identity was unparalled for his size. After a 19 season career, Shaq closed the chapter on his NBA sojourn with 28,596 points.
Entering tonight’s game, Dirk Nowitzki has 28,567 points.
His 29th point tonight against the Raptors in Toronto will tie Shaquille O’Neal. Notwizki’s 30th point will put him in 6th place on the All-Time NBA scoring list, dropping Shaq to 7th.
Dirk Nowitzki has scored more points than Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Reggie Miller, Jerry West, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley.
Once he reaches sixth place, marking him as the best European scorer the NBA has ever employed, the only players more dominant in putting the ball in the hole will be Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar.
Could Nowitzki catch Wilt?
Wilt has 31,419 points. Nowitzki would have to play an additional two seasons after this one at a 17 point a game clip without missing any action, which would put him at the cusp of 40. Nowitzki is a jump shot shooter. The body stops at some point. The legs rebel.
That Nowitzki has excelled to these heights has been an exercise in consistency. The Mavericks only had to be patient his first year when he averaged 8 points a game. His second year he averaged 17.5. Then began a 20+ points per game average that would last 12 straight years. In 2012-13 Nowitzki’s scoring dropped to 17.3. But the next year he was back at 21.7.
A beautiful scorer who is often imitated because his shot is never blocked, Nowitzki translated his scoring into tangible achievements: A NBA title (2011), A NBA Finals MVP (2011), A NBA MVP (2006), A 12-time All-Star participant (2002-2012, 2014-15), All-NBA first team selections (2005-07, 2009).
One more achievement is on the way.
photo via llananba