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…

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).