Since coming into the league in the 98-99 season, Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki has been overshadowed by the likes of Paul Pierce, Mike Bibby and Vince Carter. He didn’t have the fancy dribbles or no-look passes or the insane windmill dunks. He had a decent jump-shot, which wasn’t enough to make up for his lack of defensive skills. He was seen as merely a tall German playing a rough American game.
However, as the years went on, Dirk flourished in Don Nelson’s up-tempo style of play. He improved his shooting and rebounding nearly every season since he’s been in the league. The only knock on him was his defense. There were numerous claims that Dirk was ‘soft’ and couldn’t handle playing with the big boys.
Currently, the Dallas Mavericks hold the NBA’s best record (41-9) and has arguably one of the league’s better defenses. Dirk’s emergence this season as a leader, both offensively and defensively, is one of the main factors as to why the Mavericks are top in the toughest conference in basketball. It also helps that he’s averaging 25 points and 9.4 rebounds per contest.
Dirk’s versatility is unparalleled across the league, giving Dallas that extra edge over other teams. There is no 7-footer in the league who can stroke it from behind the arc and put on the floor as gracefully as Dirk.
His arsenal of offensive moves leaves opposing teams lost on defense. He can break a zone with his jump-shot and easily post-up his defender on a man defense. Dirk is too quick for other power forwards and too big for the small forwards. The Mavs know going into a game that whoever is guarding Dirk, they will have the mismatch, whether it be in the post or out on the wings.
Dirk’s game has grown substantially over the course of the past three seasons. Not only has he improved his offensive game, but on the defensive end he has taken his biggest strides.
If the Mavericks were to lose Dirk, their team would completely crumble. Dirk is the main piece to this puzzle. Surrounded by a solid supporting cast, Dirk has led an otherwise sub-.500 team farther than anyone could ever imagine. And he did it without other big name stars on his team.
Steve Nash has Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and a plethora of other talented players. It helps when you have star forwards to run the wings with you. Dirk does not have that luxury. He plays a solid floor game and in doing so, makes his teammates better.
No, he does not average 10 assists a game. What Dirk brings to the table is the intangibles. He rebounds and outlets or even brings the ball up the court himself. He makes the pass that leads to an assist. He kicks it out to teammates in double teams. And in doing all of these things, he makes his teammates better. However, it is because of the versatility and skill that Dirk possesses which make Dallas just that big of a threat.
After last year’s heartbreaking defeat to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, the Mavericks seem poised to make this year their year. With a tenacious defense and a fearless leader, the Mavericks could be bringing the championship to Dallas for the first time in franchise history.
It would just be that much sweeter if Dirk would be able to raise his MVP trophy alongside the Larry O’Brien trophy as well.