Last week the lead to this article was predicated on the notion that Kevin Garnett has been at least as good and historically important as Kobe Bryant. In my comments section this notion wasn't initially well received, to put it mildly, but in the end I feel like we had some good conversations and all came away respecting each other's point of view.
Well, since we're already here, and some of you already question my sanity, I'd like to point out another player that may not have been QUITE as good as the Tim Duncan/Shaquille O'Neal/Garnett/Kobe group... but was awfully close. With the possible exception of Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki is the most consistently overlooked mega star among those that follow the NBA.
Let's get the warts out of the way first: yes, Dirk won the MVP while leading a 67-win #1 seed only to lose in the first round of the playoffs. No way to sugarcoat that one. And yes, the year before that Dirk's Mavs lost in the finals after building a commanding 2.75 to zero lead in the series before letting Dwyane Wade's Heat steal game three then sweep the next three contests. Those two events are black marks to be sure on Dirk's resume. But you shouldn't let those two trees make you miss the forest of excellence that has been Nowitzki's career.
Now that we've hit the lowlights, let's look at some of the brilliant things he has accomplished over the past 11 years.
John Hollinger, inventor of the PER stat, ranks Nowitzki fifth in the 2000s - just behind Duncan/Garnett/Kobe/Shaq. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, inventor of the WARP stat, ranks Nowitzki fourth in the 2000s, just behind Garnett/Duncan/Kobe. Wayne Winston, one of the pioneers of the advanced +/- stat, also ranks Nowitzki fourth in the 2000s, this time just behind Garnett/Duncan/LeBron James and ahead of Kobe. According to the Win Shares stat on basketball-reference.com, Nowitzki actually ranked FIRST among NBA players in the 2000s just ahead of Garnett/Duncan/Kobe.
So the stat geeks (like me) love Nowtizki.
And that isn't even mentioning his non-advanced-stats highlights like the MVP award, leading his team to nine-straight 50-win teams (only Tim Duncan can make that claim this decade), or that he's one of only five players in NBA history to average 25+ points and 10+ rebounds in the playoffs for his career (others: Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor, Bob Petit). In short: Dirk's resume is spectacular.
So why doesn't his name resonate as an all-time great among the casual fan? A few reasons. First, he's never won it all. That's huge. Second, like Duncan and Garnett he plays a non-glamour position. And like Duncan, he doesn't have the electric personal charisma that would make non-Maverick fans gravitate to him. His game of jumpers and skill doesn't lend itself to Sportscenter. And like it or not, his lasting impression on the big stage is that he came up short to Wade.
I once blogged that Nowitzki is this generation's Charles Barkley, and I still find that to be his best stylistic/impact comp. They are the only two big men since the NBA/ABA merger to win an NBA MVP and go 0-for-1 in their Finals appearances, as well as the only members of the category to never make an All Defense team. In both cases their teams had better records and home-court advantage in the Finals, but eventually lost to teams with a dominant wing scorer that their defenses couldn't stop. As with Barkley, defense has been Dirk's Achilles heel.
Be that as it may, Nowitzki is still one of the greatest players of this generation. And bringing it back to the fantasy world, Nowitzki joins Kobe as the only elite superstars drafted in the '90s that you would still consider taking in the first round of your fantasy league. Dirk is ranked slightly ahead of Kobe by both average and totals in the Y! rankings this season, and because Dirk never seems to get injured and has a game in which athleticism doesn't really matter he should continue to stay at the top of the rankings moving forward. Maybe he's never been quite to the mountaintop, but he's just a step from the peak, and deserves more credit among the general public than he tends to get.
Situations to Watch and Quick Hits: All Star Edition
The All Star break dominates this time of year, because for any player battling injury the smartest thing to do is sit out and take the extra week to heal. As such, let's just rapid-fire through some of the impact players that seem like decent bets to sit until next week and the consequent fantasy ramifications.
The really interesting player, though, is Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko was a top-5 player several years ago due to his unique do-everything style that was heavy on the defensive categories, but he had really fallen off in recent years. He's been on fire since regaining his starting job a couple of weeks ago, though, and has once again been contributing about five combined steals and blocks in addition to mid-teens scoring and solid rebound/assist numbers. If he can keep up this pace he can literally win the title for some teams that got him on the cheap.
Anthony Morrow (42% owned): As mentioned above, Morrow is in a great place to take advantage of injuries to Monta Ellis and Corey Maggette. He exploded for 33 points and five treys in only his second game back from injury (his first start), and had scored 24 points with four treys in the last game before he got hurt. Golden State loves scoring and shooting from long-range, and Morrow epitomizes both.
Ryan Gomes (31% owned): As mentioned above, Gomes has replaced Kevin Love in the starting lineup and is taking advantage of it. He has scored in double-digits in six straight games, averaging 2.5 made 3-pointers per game in that stretch. Most importantly, the Timberwolves are on an improbable four-game winning streak so they should stick with this lineup and these player roles for the foreseeable future.
Ty Lawson (23% owned): Simple math. Chauncey Billups out equals great numbers for Lawson. Lawson popped for 25 points, four assists, four boards and a trey in this most recent iteration of Billups injury, and he is almost a must-start until Billups returns.
Earl Watson (9% owned): Watson won't get you huge numbers, but he's a starting point guard in a potent offense and is a reasonable threat for double-digit assists on any given night, like the 11 he notched in the last game before he missed two games for personal reasons.
Nazr Mohammed (8% owned): This recommendation comes with an asterisk, as putative starter Tyson Chandler is expected to return soon from a 22-game injury layoff. But, Mohammed has been locked in of late, with three double-digit rebound efforts in his last five games including a 23-point/17-board explosion against the Lakers.
Article first appeared 2/9/10