Dirk Nowitzki is undoubtedly one of the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball, but perhaps most importantly will go down in NBA history as a player that helped revolutionize the power forward position.
There were numerous teams during free-agency this summer that spoke of and were in search of a ‘stretch 4’ caliber player to add to their respective squads. We saw Chris Bosh receive a max offer from the Houston Rockets, Kevin Love in high trade demands and the Miami Heat add Josh McRoberts all because their greatest strength is their ability to stretch the floor.
This past season there were 19 power forwards that shot above 35% that attempted at least 20 shots from beyond the three-point line and 28 that shot above 30%. In the 1997-1998 season, the year before Dirk was drafted, there were ZERO power forwards that shot better than 35% from three-point land and only FOUR that shot above 30%, Antoine Walker, Keith Van Horn, Danny Ferry, and Chris Webber.
Nowitzki is an oddity in the league, a 7-foot German power forward who has made his living shooting midrange jumpers and three-pointers. During the 2011 NBA Finals LeBron James called Nowitzki’s one-legged fade away the second-most unguardable shot of all time, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky-hook.
There’s nobody in the league that has quite replicated Nowitzki’s shot, but taking a look at other perennial All-Star power forwards in the league Nowitzki’s style of play is evident. Kevin Love can shoot 38% from three-point land while LaMarcus Aldridge is deadly from mid-range. Even Chris Bosh who’s repositioned from power forward to center has expanded his shooting range over the years.
Bosh is on the record of saying: “Dirk is one of the pioneers of big guys shooting. Once you saw him shoot the ball, you think OK, I can shoot good too. I don’t have to be 6-foot-6 and down to be able to step back and shoot. I want to be able to go outside. I don’t want being seven feet tall to limit my game.”
Before Dirk was in the league power forwards were not called upon to shoot the three ball much less be efficient at it. Hall of fame power forwards such as Charles Barkley and Karl Malone used their post-up moves and some of their mid-range game to be effective. They used their strength and physicality to dominate their position during their era, two qualities that Dirk is exactly known for throughout his career. Dirk used his athleticism differently, he used height and versatility to become not just a shooter, but the most versatile offensive big man of his era.
A lot of credit has to go to former coach Don Nelson who saw the vision of what Dirk could bring to the power forward position that nobody else before him did. But Dirk didn’t want to be merely a spot up three-point shooter and over the years added a post-up game along with the ability to attack off the dribble. Nowitzki is a threat from anywhere on the basketball court unlike any power forward we’ve ever seen.
Nowitzki has not only received praise from his peers but even the legendary Michael Jordan who mentioned Dirk along with Kobe, LeBron, and Tim Duncan as 4 modern-day players who would have succeeded in his era.
There was a lot of talk this past season of Mount Rushmore’s of the NBA and across all sports in general. One thing is for sure, Dirk is definitely one of the first names when you think of greatest power forwards, European players, or even one of the most influential players in recent NBA history.
One day when Dirk hang up his jersey he’ll be able to reflect on how great of an impact he left on the game of basketball, but for now it’s all about championships and adding to his historic legacy.