The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#6: Dirk Nowitzki)

10.20.09 9 years ago 30 Comments

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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#6: DIRK NOWITZKI, Mavericks

Whoever came up with the line, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” should have made a fortune off advertising royalties — and they just happened to coin the phrase that has defined Dirk Nowitzki’s career.

Going into his 12th NBA season, Dirk is headed for the Hall of Fame. He’s got a League MVP under his belt, nine All-NBA selections, eight All-Star nods, career averages of 22.7 points (25th all-time) and 8.6 rebounds, and a resume full of big-time clutch moments in the postseason and regular season. But still, when his name pops up in discussions of clutch players, the first word out of several mouths is “choker.”

“Forget just the game-winners — of which he has plenty — and count the backbreaking daggers Dirk hits on a regular basis. I’m talking about those times when Dallas is up by five on the road, the opponent is rallying, and Dirk sticks a three to take all the air out of the building. And how many guys in the NBA would you rather have shooting those end-of-game free throws when the opponent is fouling to try and stay alive? Clutch, after all, doesn’t just happen when there’s five seconds left.”

I wrote that paragraph last season as part of my argument for placing Dirk ahead of Chris Bosh in the “Who’s Better?” series, and in a lot of ways, it was also the early foundation for this series — when I first put down on paper and really started paying attention to the fact that being clutch means more than just hitting buzzer-beaters; that being a go-to guy is a full-time job and not just a situational thing.

As much criticism as Dirk gets, his numbers are actually higher or even across the board in the playoffs than in the regular season. In 97 postseason games — which includes one trip to the NBA Finals and two Western Conference Finals appearances in an era where the West has been tougher and deeper than ever — Dirk has averaged 25.5 points and 11 rebounds, and his shooting percentages (45-36-87) are only slightly lower than usual.

Few players on this list can claim to be the greatest of all-time in any single facet of the game; Dirk holds status as the best shooting big man ever. And it’s not just a nice title, it’s the foundation of his attack. From last season’s Dirk defense:

“From 25 feet and in, he’s a consistent finisher with a plethora of moves (best up-fake in the League) that make him a lethal scorer against any defender (best fadeaway in the League). Whoever is in front of him, Dirk can drop buckets and create mismatches. If his jumper is off, he can go inside and/or get to the line, where he’s automatic.”

Since the 2000-01 season, the Mavericks have won 50 or more games every year. They’ve lost in the conference Finals to Tim Duncan‘s San Antonio dynasty, and in the NBA Finals to D-Wade and Shaq‘s Miami title team. They have been one of the most successful NBA franchises of this decade. Throughout that run, Dirk has been the franchise guy. That alone warrants him high ranking, but if you can see clearly past the “choker” label and look at what Dirk really does between the lines, you’ll understand why he’s near the top.

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7. Brandon Roy
8. Carmelo Anthony
9. Chris Paul
10. Deron Williams
11. Vince Carter
12. Joe Johnson
13. Danny Granger
14. Steve Nash
15. Kevin Durant
16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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