clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dirk Nowitzki Passes Larry Bird on All-Time Scoring List

Who knew 13 years ago that a kid from Würzburg, Germany would eventually be "The Franchise" for the Dallas Mavericks?  Who knew that very same kid would eventually pass Larry Bird on the All-Time Scoring List?  Whether you saw it happening or not, the moment finally arrived on Tuesday night.  It was the game against the Orlando Magic where everyone saw the Dallas Mavericks sharpshooter pass the Boston Celtics legend for 25th place on the all-time scoring list. It was fitting that he recorded career point No. 21,792 with a transition three pointer and that created the separation between Nowitzki and Bird.  It's another milestone that Nowitzki can add to his impressive resume, indisputable proof that he's one of the greatest players of his generation.

Dirk Nowitzki started the season hot and has continued with his filthy shooting pace for the season.  Nowitzki is shooting 55% from the field this season.  He's on pace to post a career-high for field goal percentage in a season and to finish above 50% for the second time in his career.  The highest percentage he's ever shot in a season was 50.2% in 2006-07.  That year, Nowitzki was named the league's MVP after he was the only player in the NBA to shoot 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range and 90% from the foul line. 

To further explain how great Nowitzki's shooting has been this year, he has had 10 games in his career in which he's shot at least 80% from the floor, with a minimum of 10 field goal attempts.  4 of those games have come during this season.  He did so on 11-13 (85%) shooting on opening night against Charlotte, 12-14 (86%) shooting in San Antonio, 8-10 (80%) shooting against the New Jersey and 10-12 (83%) shooting against the Utah.  The New Jersey and Utah games were back-to-back outings.

"He's on a great run," Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said on Nowitzki's torrid shooting this year.  "A guy with his kind of skill-level and his dedication to the game, guys like him are capable of it," Carlisle continued.  "There are only a few guys in history that are capable of this - (Larry) Bird, Kobe Bryant, (Michael) Jordan.  Dirk has done it a few times this year and there's a few other but there aren't many."

Now, when you look where the scoring stud ranks amongst other league leaders, he's in the top 15 in the league in terms of shooting percentage.  Comparing him to league leading big men like Dwight Howard, Lamar Odom and Al Horford, Dirk Nowitzki is well within their range while shooting at least four to five additional shots per game.  When you take him in the land of the perimeter shooters such as Kobe Bryant, Paul Kevin Durant and Ray Allen, Nowitzki is shooting significantly better than them while shooting around the same amount of shots as those players.  That basically tells you that Nowitzki is a "global" shooter, you can compare him amongst the perimeter and inside shooters and the man can hang with either group.

Nowitzki attributes the overall shooting performance this season to, "just not forcing much." 

"Sometimes, in the past, we were force-feeding it to me and I had to make stuff happen," said Nowitzki.  "I'm just letting the other guys do their thing and when it's open, I'm going to shoot it.  I understand there will be some nights where I've got to do a little more, create a little more for myself.  I don't feel like I have to force a lot right now."

We all know the story of the Nelson's, Don and Donnie, pining over Nowitzki and finding a way to acquire the German forward before the Boston Celtics could take him in the 1998 NBA Draft.  The Mavericks made a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks swapping picks.  Dallas got Dirk Nowitzki and Pat Garrity and Milwaukee got Robert "Tractor" Traylor in a deal that can now be labeled one of the most lopsided deals in NBA history.  As he came into the league, Nowitzki had to battle two big stigmas: the "soft" label for European players and being a seven footer, the stigma that he was meant to be a player predominately used in the painted area.  Over his career, Dirk Nowitzki has revolutionized the power forward position with his unique style of play and his unique flair of making shots.  When storytellers look back, they will all have to say Nowitzki goes down as one of the greatest pure shooters the league has ever seen. 

The blonde bomber has frequently been compared to Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird as both are considered prolific scorers and among the best shooters of all-time. To further add to the comparisons, both Bird and Nowitzki are three-point contest champions and excellent free-throw shooters. The two players have also won the Most Valuable Player award, making Bird and Nowitzki the only players in NBA history to win both the MVP and the three-point shootout.

Larry Bird had a more developed all-around game and was a better rebounder, defender, and passer. Bird's passing numbers are significantly higher than Nowitzki's with Bird reaching upwards of 7 assists/game in several seasons and Nowitzki having a career high average of 3.1 per game in 2004-2005. "Larry Legend" came into the league and was an immediate star by winning Rookie of the Year honors, while Nowitzki, who entered the league three years younger than Bird, took some time to develop.  Now, Nowitzki's scoring pace has caught up to Bird's, but his rebounding still falls somewhat short; Nowitzki has never averaged more than 10 rebounds/game in a season, while Bird, in the first six years of his career, never averaged fewer than 10. 

Rick Carlisle has a unique perspective on the two players.  Carlisle was Bird's teammate during a three year stretch (1984-1987) that was arguably the prime years for Bird in terms of statistical and personal achievements.  On top of that, Carlisle is now in year three of coaching Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.  It's a three year window where Dirk is in the midst of his overall prime.  "They're are a lot of very close similarities (between Nowitzki and Bird)," said Carlisle.  "Dedication to the game, meticulousness of preparation, love and respect of the game and a high level of respect for team and winning.  And, putting winning above any individual stuff, that's something that's there with both guys." 

There are a lot of similarities but Carlisle recognizes the differences, "the differences are that they play very, very different games.  They're both great shooters, both great scorers, but Bird was a small forward.  Part of his uniqueness, he was a guy at 6-9 or 6-10 that revolutionized that position during the 80s," said Carlisle.  "Dirk came along and initially it was believed he would be a small forward but within the first year or so, Don Nelson moved him to the power forward position where he really adapted his game to a skill-set that no one had ever seen before at the power forward position."

"A seven footer with the kind of shooting accuracy out to the three point line, the ability to post up, the ability to play the mid-range game and be a great one on one player," Carlisle said describing Dirk's uniqueness.  "He's one of the most resourceful guys I've seen in terms of what he's being able to accomplish in his career."

When Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban was asked about Nowitzki's imprint on the league, Cuban had strong words.  "(Nowitzki) contributes in every which way and when it's all said and done we're going to look back and know that he's top 10 (all-time)," said Cuban.  When asked about the meaning of Nowitzki passing Bird, Cuban said, "I think it's a reflection of how great Dirk is, he's amazing.  I'm just blessed we get to watch him every game."

"Obviously, that’s unbelievable to me and I really don’t know what to say,’’ Nowitzki said when asked about approaching the No. 25 spot in all-time NBA scoring, where Larry Bird resided before Nowitzki passed him by. "If someone we have told me that 12 years ago when I came into the league, and would have said, that they were out of their minds. This whole 13 years has been an amazing ride with some ups and downs but the major thing to me is still a championship and that’s still missing so I don’t care how many points I’ve got in this league. I still want that ring on my finger, so that’s what I’m trying to go for. I’ve got four more years here and hopefully we can get the job done."

Additional NBA Milestones for Nowitzki:

  • Became the only player in NBA history to register 150 three-point field goals and 100 blocks in a season (he had 151 three-point field goals and 101 blocks in the 2000-01 season)
  • Became the first player in Dallas Mavericks history to be named to an All-NBA team (2000-01), and is the only Maverick to be named to an All-NBA First Team (2004-05 and 2005-06)
  • Became the first player in NBA history who did not attend a United States high school or college to be on the All-NBA first team (2004-05)
  • Became the third player in NBA history (after Rick Barry and Larry Bird) to average 26-plus points while shooting 90% or better from the line (2005-06)
  • Notable Franchise Records for Nowitzki:

  • Most Games Played
  • Most Career Points
  • Most Career 3PT Field Goals
  • Most Career Free Throws
  • Most Career Rebounds
  • Despite the accolades, Dirk Nowitzki still has to deal with his fair share of critics.  The national media and fans of the NBA need to appreciate the greatness that is Dirk Nowitzki.  Sure, the Mavericks have had their struggles in the playoffs over recent years but imagine what the Mavericks would actually be without the Big German.  If you're not sure how that would actually play out, just look back in the dark ages for the franchise in the 1990s and that's probably where the organization would be without Nowitzki.  It's understandable that the team's greatest player should get the strongest amount of criticism but it should be noted how many times over the years, Nowitzki hasn't had the adequate supporting cast at his side.  Without that help, Dirk has had to carry previous Mavericks teams on his back and a star can only do that for so long before breaking down within a given year. 

    Just because Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton or Charles Barkley didn't win a ring didn't make them any less of an NBA Legend, the ring just adds to the aura.  A Eastern Conference scout recently said that Nowitzki appears to be like a fine wine, "he must get better with age" - that's a scary thing for the rest of the league.  Despite being in the league for 13 season, the thing that Dirk has going for him is that he's still got tread left in the tires.  

    When you take into account Dirk Nowitzki is surpassing Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list while Nowitzki is still in his prime years and not the twilight of his career, it makes the milestone even more impressive.  Nowitzki could easily finish his career in the top 10 on the all-time scoring list, surely another impressive feat to add to his Hall-of-Career. 

    "I had a lot of fun doing it and had some great teammates with me," said Nowitzki as he reflected on the milestone.  "Yeah, it was a blast but with stats like that, you're going to be more proud once you look back at your career in 10, 15, 20 years - I think that's when it's still special.  Now, I'm still chasing my dream, I'm still trying to help this franchise win.  I still feel like I'm in my prime and I can score a couple more thousand hopefully.  I think stuff like that is special once your career is over."

    When Rick Carlisle was asked about Nowitzki's overall place in the big picture of the league along with Bird, the coach echoed Mark Cuban's comments, "(Nowitzki) and Bird are both top 10 players all-time, I don't have any doubt or question about that and I don't think there will be any argument about that," he said.  "Dirk is, by far, the greatest player ever to come out of Europe because he's the only European player that's ever been an MVP in this league.  Those are really unusually great distinctions to have."

    Health-willing, Dirk Nowitzki's career still has a couple of years left before it's time to hang up the sneakers.  This season has all of the makings a magical season for the Mavericks and the German wunderkind.  Rings or no rings, no one can take away the brilliant career Nowitzki has had.  Rings or no rings, Nowitzki has never apologized for his game and has stayed true to playing the game the way he's always played it - at an elite level.  The Dallas Mavericks could have had Robert Traylor instead, they got Dirk Nowitzki.  The face of the franchise has hit many clutch shots.  You could say Dirk has hit dirks (the Scottish word for daggers).  Nowitzki will continue on his quest for the championship and he will continue to pass legends on the scoring list.  Media, fans and historians need to revel in the greatness that is Dirk Nowitzki.  For now, he has sole possession of 25th place all-time on the scoring list, it's 25th place with a bullet.