When Dirk Nowitzki first came in the NBA, a lot of things were looking different compared to how they are now. 1998 was the year in which he got drafted, at age 20, by the Milwaukee Bucks, but immediately sent to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade that involved Robert Traylor, another rookie who was picked by the Mavs only to ship him to Milwaukee in the exchange. Little do they know what they have done at that time, and maybe now they would not have done the same thing, if we take a look at Dirk’s career compared to the one of… Robert Traylor.
In the early stages of his career, Steve Nash was playing point guard for the team, and they went from a rebuilding mode team to a playoff contender team in a matter of a very few years. The 2000-01 season marked the first time that they made a playoff appearance after 10 years of drought. This was only Dirk’s 3rd year in the league, and he averaged 21,8 PPG and 9,2 RPG while shooting 53% from inside the arc, in the regular season. Come playoff time, they managed to get past the Utah Jazz in the first round, but then lost to the Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. However, he averaged 23,4 PPG and 8,1 RPG throughout those series, while being only 22 years old, and this was only the beginning of what was about to come for the Mavs franchise. Jumping right in the next season, he was first selected as an All-Star in 2002 with 23,4 PPG and 9,9 RPG, almost a double-double for the entire season, and the people around the league started to acknowledge him as a possible future superstar of the league, even though Europeans weren’t looked as being capable of leading a team as the main go-to guy. Even though Steve Nash was obviously the engine of the team in those early days of Dirk’s career, the German native put up big numbers season after season, playoff after playoff, but the end point of their relationship was in 2004 when Dallas exited the contest with a 1-4 loss against the Kings in the first round. Being a little bit frustrated with the situation at that moment, Nash choose to leave the Mavs, joining Phoenix Suns instead, but the strong relationship between him and Dirk didn’t change because of that decision. The interesting thing was that right after that season, Nowitzki registered one of his best seasons in points, rebounds, steals and blocks per-game, with 26,1, 9,7, 1,2 STL and 1,5 BLK. They met up in the Conference Semifinals, and many thought that the Mavs-Suns match-up will be seen for some time in the springtime of the year. This time, Nash and the Suns won the battle, beating them 4-2.
The 2005-06 saw Nowitzki peaking the best point of his career at that time, reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in both his and the Mavs franchise history, after getting past… the Phoenix Suns, beating them 4-2. In that regular season he established his career high in points-per-game, with 26,6, a thing that lasted until present. In the playoffs, though, he was a monster, scoring 27 per-game with 11,7 RPG, 2,9 APG and 1,1 STL, leading the Mavs until the last part of the contest, where they faced the Miami Heat, which had Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal teamed up back then. Unfortunately for Dirk’s legacy, the team lost in six games to a much better team from the roster depth point of view.
Despite of the loss, Nowitzki didn’t let that to get under his skin, and came back even stronger in the next year, this time winning the regular season MVP in a tight battle with other superstars, such as Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and LeBron James. Even though Kobe had 31,6 PPG, 5,7 RPG, 5,4 APG and 1,4 STL and a lot thought at that time that he was a little bit robbed in that ladder, because Dirk had 24,6 PPG, 8,9 RPG, 3,4 APG and 0,7 STL, but the Mavericks had the best record in the entire NBA, right after they played the Finals, and that was the decider. There was a little disappointment when the post season came, because the expectancies were very high for them, given all the factors that surrounded the Mavs team, Dirk winning the MVP, Dallas having the best record in the NBA while coming after a Finals appearance. Things didn’t go quite well, despite of all that, and they ended up losing in the first round against the Golden State Warriors in six matches.
After they have gone through some roster changes in the following seasons, losing two times in the first round, coming off of a lower seed, the best was yet to come, and there were not too many specialists that could have predicted what was about to happen with the Mavs in the 2010-11 season. Coming into that year after another disappointing loss in the first round against the Spurs, the expectancies were not very high for the Mavs organization, even if there was a little bit of pressure here and there in the locker room. They ended the regular season on the second place, with a 57-25 record, and they went on a incredible run in the playoffs, starting with the Portland Trail Blazers in a clean sweep and then going on further beating the number 3 seed Lakers easily, in five games. In the Conference Finals they were about to face the red hot Oklahoma City Thunder led by some of the best young prospects of the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Yet again, people didn’t expect Dallas to move past them, but they battled against the odds and managed to secure a Finals spot. Coming from the East were none other than the Miami Heat, who just acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh at the beginning of that season to go alongside Dwyane Wade. A lot of, if not just all of the people around the league thought that they would form a dynasty there, but not many were all right with LeBron’s decision to form a super-team, because of him losing year after year to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. When the time had come, Dirk Nowitzki, the kid coming from Germany who nobody thought that he will do too much coming into the league, beat 3 All-Stars and the self-entitled “king” almost single-handedly, given the fact that half of his roster was composed of role players above 30 years old. Hell, the point guard position was ran by a 37 years old Jason Kidd, while Jason Terry was the shooting guard, aged 33. This was Dirk’s best post season, having averages such as 27,7 PPG and 8,1 RPG throughout the 21 games that they played. In the Finals, he had 26, 9,7 and 2, leading all of them in points and rebounds, all of that at 32 years of age, and this year cemented him as a legend of the game, not only because he won a ring (the first one in entire Mavs history), but HOW he won it and against who.
After that historical season, the Mavericks took a little step back and finished the season 7th in the West, followed up by a first round exit, being swept by the Thunder, who played the Finals that year. Slowly, the Mavs organization began to enter in a rebuilding mode, because Jason Kidd retired and many of the old players just couldn’t keep up their game at that high intensity anymore, and it was something that everyone understood, if they look at the age of Shawn Marion, Jason Terry or Devin Harris. They struggled in the next season also, and they didn’t even make the playoffs in 2012-13, only managing to secure a playoff spot in the next three years to come, exiting every time in the first round, then not making it again for two straight years.
If we take a look at Dirk Nowitzki’s career, we can say that not only he has revolutionized the position of the “stretch 4”, with his one-legged fade-away that became his signature move, but he certainly opened the doors wide for the players who came from overseas, as the organizations begun to have more credibility in the abilities of them back in the 2000s. He is currently 7th in the all-time scoring list, only a few points away to get past the great Wilt Chamberlain, and the best European player in NBA history for now, no doubt about that.