Rick Carlisle: Dirk Nowitzki should be ranked as top-12 NBA player of all time

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We overreact, in terms of historical rankings, whenever a player completes a grand accomplishment. With the milestone so fresh in our minds, our judgment gets clouded.

The issue isn’t unique to any one player, but it really seems to affect our perception of Dirk Nowitzki.

When Nowitzki led the Mavericks to the 2011 championship, the discussion suddenly went bonkers. Is he the greatest power forward ever? Is he better than Larry Bird? Is he a top-10 player ever?

Now that Nowitzki has moved into the top 10 of the all-time scoring list, we’re doing it again.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle via Marc Stein of ESPN:

“I think there’s a certain criteria where you can say pretty much for certain that he’s one of the top 12 all time,” Carlisle said in an interview that will air Thursday night on the “NBA on ESPN Radio” pregame show.

“And that is, there’s only been 12 guys that have been 10-time All-Stars, [NBA] Finals MVP and league MVP. So I think that firmly puts him in the top 12. And then getting into the top 10 in all-time scoring validates that even more.”

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Carlisle is obviously biased. He even called Nowitzki a top-10 player all-time before winning a championship (not sure why Nowitzki drops to top 12 now). That doesn’t make the Dallas coach inherently wrong, and as a close observer of Nowitzki, his opinion should count.

But I don’t think Carlisle is right.

Here are the 12 players he refers to:

Player MVPs Finals MVPs All-Star games
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 6 2 19
Michael Jordan 5 6 14
LeBron James 4 2 10
Wilt Chamberlain 4 1 13
Magic Johnson 3 3 11
Larry Bird 3 2 12
Moses Malone 3 1 12
Tim Duncan 2 3 14
Shaquille O’Neal 1 3 15
Kobe Bryant 1 2 16
Hakeem Olajuwon 1 2 12
Dirk Nowitzki 1 1 12

Because the criteria were deliberately set to include Nowitzki, he ranks at or neat the bottom of the list in each category. He’s last in MVPs, last in Finals MVPs and third-to-last in All-Star games. Quite arguably, Nowitzki is the worst player on this list (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

But the list isn’t even fair to begin with.

The NBA didn’t begin awarding NBA Finals MVPs until 1969.

Bill Russell (5 MVPs, 12 All-Star games) won 10 championships before that. Take your pick how many NBA Finals MVPs he would have won during that run.

Bob Cousy (1 MVP, 13 All-Star games) won six championships prior to 1969. Though all six overlapped with Russell, it’s possible Cousy could have stolen a Finals MVP – particularly 1961, when he averaged 19.8 points, 10.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Bob Pettit (2 MVPs, 11 All-Star games) won the 1958 Finals, when he led the St. Louis Hawks with 29.3 points and 17.0 rebounds per game. He definitely would have won Finals MVP that year.

Oscar Robertson (1 MVP, 12 All-Star games) played most of his career before Finals MVP existed, and though he won his only championship after it did (1971, when Lew Alcindor won Finals MVP), does Carlisle really want to argue Nowitzki belongs ahead of Robertson?

Elgin Baylor played in five finals before 1969. His Lakers lost them all, but he led most of them in scoring. If there’s anyone who was a darkhorse contender to win of those unnamed Finals MVPs while playing for a losing team, it’s him.

And what about Jerry West, who never won a regular-season MVP but finished second four times?

Carlisle’s cutoffs don’t work, and left to evaluate the full picture, it’s tough to make a compelling case for Dirk in the top 12.

But top 15…