Today came Dirk Nowitzki and the power forwards.
The ESPN expert panel ranked the Big German as the third-best power forward in league history, behind only Tim Duncan and Karl Malone. Nowitzki finished ahead of Dennis Rodman, Pau Gasol, Elvin Hayes, Bob Pettit, Kevin McHale, Kevin Garnett, and Charles Barkley. For reference, Malone is the only power forward ever with more career points than Nowitzki.
While rankings are admittedly only rankings, and the opinions of these guys carry only as much weight as you choose, it’s still cool to see Nowitzki rated so highly among the greatest players of all-time at his position. One could argue that, perhaps more than any power forward in history, Nowitzki revolutionized the position to the extent no other player can match. Seven-footers didn’t shoot jumpers before Dirk came along, and now the NBA is a 4-out league in which power forwards have become perhaps the most important players on the team; championship contenders have 4s who can stretch the floor and keep the offense moving. That wasn’t the case before Nowitzki stepped into the NBA.
It’s amazing, though, if you think about it, what winning the championship in 2011 has done for Nowitzki’s reputation around the league. For so many years, it seemed like only those watching him on a nightly basis in Dallas knew just how good he really was, while national media and fans around the country often characterized him as a choker or soft, and contended that a team led by a jump-shooting big man couldn’t win a title. Obviously none of those three arguments hold water anymore, and now you can’t scroll five tweets through your Twitter timeline without finding someone with something complimentary to say about Nowitzki and his impact on the game. Some would say “what a difference a championship makes,” but that title should have changed nothing. Dirk was incredible before the championship, and he’s remained a legend after it.
At this point, it’s hard to see Nowitzki moving up or down any other all-time rankings like these in the near future, but he can still move up the all-time scoring list. Currently he’s sixth behind Wilt Chamberlain (5th), Michael Jordan (4th), Kobe Bryant, Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Should he continue playing beyond the two years remaining on his contract, the German has a decent shot at passing Chamberlain. It would be poetic, as Nowitzki changed the foundation of the league almost as much as Wilt the Stilt.