Rob Bonnette and I are eventually going to have to swordfight—and eventuality I'm comfortable with. It's about
Dirk, of course. Everybody who's a homer has this difficulty—they want to constantly defend their team and blow them up, but they lose all credibility because everyone knows that that's what they always want to do. So we'll keep this fact base. And Rob, anywhere anytime, buddy. I've been practicing at Renaissance Faires.
When you're trying to decide how good a player is, I think the bottom line question must be--could you win with that guy?
Dirk, who has never in his entire career played with someone better than Josh Howard (or maybe Steve Nash, pre-Steve Nash if you want to go there), is really, really obviously that guy. Yet the Mavericks, since 2001, have had seasons with 57, 60, 58, 60, 67, and 51. They're again gunning for over 50.
Yeah, they're disappointing in that they've never won a championship. But are you guys kidding me? Bashing on Dirk who is, without even a single doubt, the ONLY real All-Star on the Mavericks when his team has averaged FIFTY NINE wins over the last six seasons?
That's Tim Duncan numbers, and Tim has had Manu and Tony Parker for years. Don't be a fool. "But Timmy wins championships!" Yeah. WITH Manu and TP.
(Note, the author does not mean that Dirk is better than TD. TD plays defense. GOOD defense, but defense is enough in and of itself in this case)
Former NBAer Eddie Johnson threw out a list the other day of the top 25 players in the NBA. Very typical of the general lack of Dirk respect in the NBA. Dirk is 12th. Ranked above him? Paul Pierce, Chris Bosh, Tony Parker, Yao Ming, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Kobe, Lebron. Obviously I'm not going to argue with Duncan-Lebron.
But look at the T-wolves records with just KG. Look at the Heat with just D-Wade, Toronto with just Bosh, and the Celtics with just Pierce. You don't have to imagine what those things look like. You KNOW.
Go ahead, tell me Latrell Sprewell (a lifetime 18.3 PPG scorer) and Sam Cassell (averaging 19 points and 8 assists during his Milwaukee years) were so much worse sidekicks than Jason Terry and Josh Howard.
Tell me how the Celtics, who won only 45 games in the East in 2005-2006 with Ricky Davis (15 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds with them), Wally Szczerbiak (16 points), and an emerging Al Jefferson, were so much more understaffed than these Mavericks. Yeah, Pierce is all-world now. He's got Ray Allen and KG. And yeah, the Mavericks just lost to those new look Celtics—by seven points, after leading all game, on a night when Terry was out with injury, and Howard fouled out with about eight minutes to go, and shot 5-19.
For that matter, what about those Just-Kobe (and Caron Butler) Lakers?
There are times when public perception crosses over into lunacy. There is no way the history of the Mavericks is what it is without Dirk. Maybe we should stop trying to explain Dallas' success by means of black magicks. It's happened before. Hell, one year we sent Michael Finley to the All-Star Game. Because it couldn't all be Dirk, right?
Maybe instead we should call the lack of playoff success, the falling slightly short this team so often does, by its real name—Dirk can't do it all himself and this team has never had anybody else significant to help him.
The team that beat the Spurs in game seven, in overtime, in the playoffs, started these five players:
Devin Harris- (1-3, 5 turnovers, 5 fouls)
Erick Dampier (2-2, 3 rebounds, 6 fouls)
Josh Howard (7-12, 3 TOs, 6 fouls)
Jason Terry (9-20, 6 rebounds, 1 assist) (good game, Jet!)
Dirk Nowitzki (11-20, 37 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block). And, for the guy who supposedly never drives, 16 freethrows.
Their bench had Jerry Stackhouse (13 points), Keith Van Horn (9), Darrell Armstrong, and Adrian Griffin.
Come on guys. Come on. Let's see Paul Pierce do that, with THAT team, against the Spurs. Two points and no assists from your starting point guard. Six points and three rebounds from your starting center. Then, on the way to the Finals, he dropped 50 on Phoenix. Not a whole lot of fifty point games in the playoffs, huh?
Your ball, Paul.
Dirk is still a top five player in this league. At worst, top 7. He gets punished because he isn't what you expect from the four spot—he doesn't bruise, he doesn't dunk. We play "dunk" basketball, smashmouth basketball—and we hate Euro players because for the most part, they can't handle it. But you know what? Dirk has handled it. He's thrived in it. It's time to give him that respect.
At the age of thirty, with skills that age very well, he's 13th all time among power forwards in rebounding, and unless something goes terribly wrong will retire 4th all-time in points (he needs 5000 points to beat the Chuckster for third, but KG, who has somehow played 10,000 more minutes than Dirk, will get there first), and 3rd all-time in points per game. His three point percentage (of course) is far and away the best, and his total field goal percentage is ninth all-time—even more impressive considering he shoots from farther out than any other PF.
That's not just good, that's historic good.
Sometimes I grow weary of the columnist life. I know how this works. If you agreed with me before this column, you still do. If you didn't, you don't. And, as all we sports fans do, you'll start with the idea that you knew everything I've said above, that none of it was or could have been eye-opening in the least—hey, you could probably quote me that game seven box score off the top of your head, right?
I'd be bothered by the rings if I saw TD winning a championship without, first, David Robinson, and then Manu and TP. If I saw KG winning one without Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. But I don't. I call it what it is—one man can only do so much.
That's the obvious knock on Dirk. Regular season wunderkind, Postseason dud. The evidence for which is more substantial than for most players: Finals loss after being up 2-0, the first 1 seed to lose to an 8 seed, and a loss to the Hornets.
Allow me then to make my case for how that's just OBVIOUSLY untrue. From most important to least, three facts:
1) A highly under-reported fact about the devastating loss to the Warriors is that that year, for whatever reason, the Warriors were the Mavs' Kryptonite. No other team in the league beat the Mavs more than once that year, in the regular season. Most didn't even do that. The Warriors did it THREE TIMES. For whatever reason, it was the absolute worst matchup for the Mavs, and all knowledgeable Mavs fans were extremely nervous even before game one. And then, of course, Avery Johnson, but whatever. I have too much rage to go there.
2) Many, many, MANY NBA fans believe that two games in the NBA finals against the Heat were stolen by the referees. Not just Dallas fans--lots of people. It's commonly held most places outside of Miami. Strangely, however, of that perception has ONLY been to disparage the Heat. NBA fans can't have it both ways--if the Heat should have lost, and had it handed to them, the Mavs should have won, and got it taken from them. The implication, of course, is that a team with guts wouldn't have gotten jobbed by the Refs. Next time you find yourself making fun of the Heat for stealing a championship, you've really gotta give Dallas more credit.
But that's mostly whining. 3, however, is a directly corellary of two.
3) Can you really be considered a choker when you GOT to the Finals? When you beat the defending champs in overtime of Game 7? And then beat the Suns? When you go, in that ONE playoffs, for games of 31-11-3-1, 36-9-5-1 (first round), 27-15-3-1, 31-10-4-2, 26-21-5-1, 37-15-3-1 (against the defending champs--the SPURS for God's sake), 37-15-3-1, 30-14-6-1, 28-17-5-1-2, FIFTY-12-3-1 (against the Suns in the Conference Finals), 26-16-4-2, 30-7-1, 29-15-2-2 (In the NBA finals)?
How is that CHOKING?
I mean really? That's one of the absolute best post seasons of all time. And even given that the Heat needed two acts of God to beat the Mavs in that series, they were still a plenty good team. Alonzo Mourning and Shaq in the center with Udonis banging around, Dwayne Wade before he started getting injured, White Chocolate, Gary Payton...
Was it choking to lose to the Hornets last year? With Dirk averaging 27-12, and even 4 assists? I mean come the hell on. The Spurs almost choked then, with way more talent, got taken to a game 7. The immortal Tim Duncan, incidentally, as clutch as they come, was 1-9 and had 3 rebounds in 30 minutes in game 1 against the Hornets. And that's another excellent point. He averaged 15 points and 13 rebounds. More rebounds, right? By one. In addition to that 1-9 game he also went 5-18 in game 4, and in the deciding game he was 5-17 with 4 turnovers. Go ahead and ask yourself what the score would have been if Dirk had done that in a playoff game.
Dirk has had ONE bad playoff series--against a team that had the Mavericks number all season, and was coached by the Mavs' old coach who knows everything about Dirk's game. And by bad, I mean 20-11. Perception is just perception. These facts mean something.
In fact they mean more than something. How exactly is a player who has always played that well in the playoffs a choker? How exactly is someone who has gotten THIS team--and again, no one better than Josh Howard at any point--to 57 wins every year? He has never won the big one, but he's never NOT brought it. In the last 8 seasons he's played in 87 playoff games, averaged over 25 points and 11 rebounds and shot 45% from the floor---37 from three. In those 8 trips to the playoffs, the Mavs have advanced to the second round 5 times. They've made it to the Conference Finals twice and the Championship Finals once. He's no Michael Jordan--but is that choking?
Just keep an open mind. Just a little bit open—and play the game. The question is "If I put player X with Josh Howard and Jason Terry—how many games do they win?" By my count, there are, at best, four players—TD, Kobe, Lebron, and CP3. That's not a bad list to be on.