Friday, 26 August 2011


In my top 100 players in NBA history article, Dirk Nowitzki's ranking at number 18 caused mixed feelings amongst readers. Some people (i.e. Mavs fans) have applauded me for recognising his achievements while others have slated me for putting him ahead of legendary power forwards like Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett.

Here is a breakdown of the top 10 power forwards of all-time according to my rankings (which, lets remember, are based on the rankings of other publications such as Slam and Bill Simmons and, therefore, not necessarily my own opinion, although I tend to agree with them).

1 - Tim Duncan (8th)
2 - Bob Pettit (16th)
3 - Dirk Nowitzki (18th)
4 - Karl Malone (19th)
5 - Charles Barkley (20th)
6 - Kevin Garnett (24th)
7 - Elvin Hayes (33rd)
8 - Kevin McHale (34th)
9 - Dolph Schayes (40th)
10 - Jerry Lucas (54th)

(Note: For the sake of the list above, I'm listing Moses Malone, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens and Wes Unseld as centers)

Just seven places separate Nowitzki, Malone, Barkley and Garnett, proving how close they are in terms of talent and achievements.

I've read the arguments against Nowitzki being the best of the bunch and I'll use this as an opportunity to respond to those comments.

You've only ranked Nowitzki ahead of the Barkley and Malone because his recent accomplishments are fresh in the mind, haven't you?

Firstly, it's worth noting that, of the players in my top 100 rankings, eighteen of them played the majority of their careers in the 1990s while only sixteen played mostly in the 2000s, which suggests there is no bias towards more recent players.

Secondly, if anything, I'd argue that Nowitzki's exploits in the 2010-11 Playoffs will actually grow in legacy as the years go by. It's a real shame that many fans are so reluctant to accept it as a monumental moment in NBA history. Open your eyes. You've missed a trick.

Kevin Garnett has a ring too. Surely that counts for as much as Nowitzki's championship ring?

Trust me, I'm a huge KG fan, but come on, his championship ring doesn't count for as much as Nowitzki's. If LeBron James wins a ring next year, will that count as much as one of Jordan's? Probably not, since he sold his soul to the devil and joined Wade (and Bosh) in Miami. Now, I'm not saying Garnett did anything wrong by joining the Celtics in 2007 - he deserved a change of scene after years of loyalty in Minnesota. But winning a ring by joining forces with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen isn't nearly as impressive as chipping away year-after-year with a ragtag bunch of Mavericks in Dallas before finally winning a championship.

(Now, if Garnett had won his ring in Minnesota, then we'd be talking).

As for Nowitzki's championship, it has to go down as one of the most well-earned and hard-fought accomplishments in NBA history. The 2010-11 season was one of the most hotly contested in years and the Mavs emerged at the top of the pile.

Along the way, Nowitzki's Mavs swept the defending champion Lakers (which was - and still is - a seriously underrated achievement) and defeated an impressive young and athletic Oklahoma City Thunder team. But of course they saved their best for last, beating a Miami Heat team who will probably go on to win plenty of championships in the future.

Nowitzki's performances in those games was nothing short of legendary. I'll let the video highlights do the talking.

Karl Malone would have TWO championship rings if he didn't have the misfortune of running into the best player of all-time (Michael Jordan) in the Finals, right?

Sure. And Nowitzki would have two rings if the referees didn't give Dwyane Wade a helping hand in 2006. Your point?

But Malone has the second most points in NBA history and made 11 All-NBA 1st Teams, aren't you underrating him?

If we only used those two accomplishments, then Malone would be ranked ahead of Michael Jordan too. It's not all about career longevity you know, although Malone should be applauded for doing it night in, night out. It's not like Nowitzki is an inconsistent, injury-prone late bloomer though, isn't it? Dirk has led the Mavs to eleven straight 50+ win seasons and counting. Even Malone can't match that.

What about Barkley? He was a far better rebounder than Nowitzki and you won't find a more unique player.

Granted, Barkley was the best rebounder out of the four. He was also the worst defender. Nowitzki is underrated in both those areas, especially defensively. Barkley was certainly fun to watch and, you're right, he was a unique player. Then again, I haven't seen too many 7-foot jump-shooting Germans, have you?

But Nowitzki's defense doesn't come close to Garnett's, does it?

You're right, Garnett is easily the best defender out of this group of players. He's also proved over the years that you wouldn't want the ball in his hands at clutch time and that he struggles to lead his own team past the first round of the playoffs. Every player has a weakness. Garnett was - and still is - a phenomenal talent. But could he take over a game like Nowitzki? I haven't seen it.

What about the statistics? You do realise that Garnett averaged 24.2ppg, 13.9rpg and 5.0apg at his peak, right? That blows anything Nowitzki did out of the water.

And Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50ppg once but still didn't win a championship that season. Look, I'm not saying statistics aren't important - of course they are - but there is more to basketball than filling the box score. I'm sure Garnett would trade any of his accomplishments (statistical or otherwise) for the season that Nowitzki just had in 2010-11.

If you were drafting a team from scratch and you had to choose one of these 4 players, who would you take first? Not Nowitzki, right?

If the rankings were based purely on 'who would you draft first?', then LeBron James would be first overall, Ralph Sampson would be in the top 10 and George Mikan would go undrafted.

But the rankings are about more than that. You need to factor in as much as possible: personal accolades, team accomplishments, statistics, legacy, awards, etc.

When you do that, Nowitzki has the edge over Malone, Barkley and Garnett. Just.


  1. its not like garnett wasn't one of the best passing pfs ever, or had garbage teams around him, or had cassell and perkins go down the few years he had a real shot at a title (not to mention 09 when if he himself were healthy the celts were still the best team in the league). come on. dirk was on the best team in 2006 and 2007, but not 2011, even though he was probably the mvp (and as epic as he did play against a gasol-less lakers and an inferior thunder team, and the heat, miami still had to collapse for dallas to have a shot). while garnett might not take over a game at the end, his defensive presence combined w/ the fact that his offensive game is still fantastic gives you a better chance of winning games and championships.

  2. Garnett got to the WCF on his own team. All Validity lost.

  3. So did Dirk in 2006 and in 2003 on his own team

  4. Here is what Dirk haters are not going to want to hear....

    Dirk is already ahead of these guys...albeit Barely.

    Whats going to happen in the next 4 or 5 seasons when Dirk is still an elite player?

    Where is debate in 2015?

    What happens if the Mavs win another title, or make another deep playoff run to the WCF or Finals?

    Kevin Garnett vs Dirk will not even be close anymore.

  5. I agree with you. It's unlikely that KG will lead the Celtics to another championship, but Dirk certainly isn't finished yet. He'll be in the hunt for an All-League 1st team selection and MVP honours next season... not to mention another deep playoff run. That would really help cement his legacy.