Postgame: Dirk Nowitzki

Mavs F Dirk Nowtizki talks about moving into the top-10 of the NBA's all-time scoring list, the win over the Jazz and more.

Dirk Nowitzki passed Oscar Robertson Tuesday night for 10th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He’s shot up the list this season, beginning the 2013-14 campaign sitting 18th all-time behind Jerry West. But after putting together one of the most efficient seasons of his career, Nowitzki has entered the pantheon of the NBA’s greatest scorers ever, a place he rightfully belongs.

Each member of the legendary top-10 is known for a move or moment unique to that player. For example, post moves are named after Hakeem Olajuwon (the Dream Shake) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (his famous sky hook), the league’s all-time leading scorer. Shaquille O’Neal is known for his strength and size, Michael Jordan for his relentless intensity and incomparable clutch gene, and Karl Malone for his proficiency in the pick-and-roll game. It’s known by now that Nowitzki’s biggest contribution to NBA lore is his iconic one-legged fade, but that’s not where the dialogue about Nowitzki’s greatness should end.

In fact, not only does the German belong in the conversation about the greatest scorers ever, but in some instances the talk should start with him. A case could be made that Nowitzki is the best shooter ever. For example, of the top-10 scorers ever, Nowitzki’s career three-point percentage of 38.3% leads the group, and his stranglehold on that lead isn’t going anywhere for a while — Bryant’s second-place mark of 33.5% is the only number remotely close to Nowitzki’s.

Here’s a seven-footer who has scored almost 27,000 points in his career primarily by shooting jump shots. No one else has done that. The three-point line wasn’t around when many members of the top 10 were in their prime, and half of the group is made up of back-to-the-basket centers, anyway. That said, Nowitzki has still made better use of the three-point line than many players in league history (only 22 players have hit more long-range bombs than the Big German), and his seven-foot frame makes that fact even more astonishing. What’s more, That Dude’s 87.9% career mark from the free throw line leads all in the top 10 by a healthy margin — Kobe Bryant’s 83.8% sits second place behind Dirk’s mark. If we’re talking about pure shooting ability, the conversation starts and ends with Nowitzki.

But what do some of the more advanced stats say? If you’re really looking to split hairs to determine where a player belongs in any subjective all-time ranking, it never hurts to delve a little deeper. And if the conversation makes it past relatively generic stats like three-point and free throw percentage, the conversation favors Nowitzki even more heavily.

Top-10 Scorers All-Time by True Shooting Percentage

Player Career TS % Field Goal %
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 59.2 55.9
2. Shaquille O’Neal 58.6 58.2
3. Dirk Nowitzki 58.2 47.6
4. Karl Malone 57.7 51.6
T-5. Michael Jordan 56.9 49.7
T-5. Moses Malone 56.9 49.1

Of the top-10 scorers ever, Nowitzki’s true shooting percentage — a single stat that measures the overall shooting ability of a player, including his three-point and free throw efficiency — sits third behind only Abdul-Jabbar and O’Neal. Those two players made their money in the paint and, to a lesser degree, at the free throw line. However, of the six players in the graphic above, only Jordan played on the perimeter as often as Nowitzki. Maintaining a high level of efficiency becomes increasingly difficult the further you are from the basket, and what’s most impressive about Nowitzki’s consistency throughout the years is that a very high percentage of his shots come between 10-18 feet from the basket, an area on the court considered to be the least-efficient to shoot from. Simply put, his one-legged fade isn’t the only impossible thing he makes look easy.

When sorted by offensive rating, a stat used to measure a player’s general offensive efficiency and productivity, Nowitzki shines even more brilliantly. The only top-10 player ahead of Nowitzki in terms of offensive rating is Jordan, and that’s not a bad player to sit right behind. The gulf between Nowitzki and the rest of the field is four points, which might not seem like much. However, within the context of offensive rating, a four-point gap is Grand Canyon-sized.

Nowitzki has finished 11 seasons with an offensive rating of 115 or higher. This season will be his 12th, and only John Stockton and Reggie Miller have accomplished the feat more. (For reference on how shockingly efficient Nowitzki has been this season, his 119 offensive rating is his highest mark since the 2006-07 season, the year he won the Most Valuable Player award.)

Top-10 Scorers All-Time by Offensive Rating

Player Career OffRtg
1. Michael Jordan 118
2. Dirk Nowitzki 117
T-3. Karl Malone 113
T-3. Shaquille O’Neal 113
5. Kobe Bryant 111

This is by no means an all-encompassing look — we’re just dissecting a sliver of information. But based solely on a quick glance at these and a few other metrics, Nowitzki’s place among the league’s greatest all-time scorers is no fluke. Not only has the German enjoyed a lengthy career, but he’s played at such a high level for so long that he’s raised the bar for gauging greatness in non-centers. He’s redefined the power forward position and, if we’re judging by stats, Nowitzki is one of the best offensive players in league history. He truly is one-of-a-kind.

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