In anticipation of Dirk Nowitzki’s 22,000th career point, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a long column last week on the longevity of today’s NBA players. The short summary: age is no longer cutting careers short and many NBA veterans, including Nowitzki, are changing their places in history as a result.
Simmons is right. Last night Nowitzki picked up his 22,000th point (and 16 more) and moved into 24th on the all-time scoring list. He did it in less than 1,000 games and before he even turned 33-years-old.
But if a random basketball fan were asked to rattle off the five best players in the NBA today, Nowitzki would almost certainly not be mentioned. Despite his impressive career, Nowitzki has never developed a cult following like many of the NBA’s greatest players. He is overshadowed on his own team by its owner, and he doesn’t have the boisterous personality to draw attention off the court like the NBA’s most recognisable superstars.
Still, his offensive prowess is matched by few. Nowitzki has averaged 23.0 points per game over the course of his 13-year career and has not dipped below a season average of 23 ppg since 2003. This year, he’s actually shooting at a far higher percentage than any other season in his career, and his 3-point percentage is also the third best its ever been.
At some point, age will begin to catch up with Dirk, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen any time soon. A lockout next year could derail his career, but if he averages just 20 points per game over the course of two more full seasons (and the rest of this year), he’ll move into 13th on the all-time scoring list. If he does it for a third year, he’ll move into seventh (assuming Kobe Bryant continues to climb the list).
Dirk could climb into the top five in scoring when all is said and done. But because of his relatively tame personality, un-flashy game, and his era, Nowitzki will never be considered among the greatest players ever, even though he might one day deserve it.
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