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What to expect from Dirk’s 20th season

Only five players have played 20 NBA seasons or more. How will Dirk’s 20th match up?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At this late stage in his inevitably hall-of-fame career, Dirk Nowitzki is no stranger to hitting landmarks few in the history of the NBA have hit. Dirk is only the 6th player ever to score 30,000 points. He’s seventh on the all-time games played list (and has played more games for a single team than any other player in NBA history). He’s ninth all-time in total field goals made, fourteenth in three-pointers made and seventh in free throws made. He’s also eighth in win shares, if advanced stats are your thing.

So it comes as no surprise that he is coming up on another huge milestone this season, joining another exclusive historical NBA club. The 2017-18 season will be the twentieth NBA season for both Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter, making them the sixth and seventh person to do so. The only other players to do it were Robert Parish, Kevin Willis, Kevin Garnett, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant. So what should we expect? How did those other five guys perform in their twentieth seasons?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  • 10.1 points per game
  • 22.9 minutes played per game
  • 47.5 field goal percentage

The 1988-89 season was Kareem’s twentieth and final season, and he started all 74 regular season games he played for the Lakers that season. His twentieth season was pretty damn good for the 41-year-old center. He started every game he played and averaged nearly 23 minutes per game. That’s way down from his career average of 36.8 minutes per game, but still a reliable contribution from a starter.

However, his stats went down pretty drastically from his nineteenth season to his twentieth. His scoring dropped from 14.6 points per game to 10.1, his rebounds dropped from 6 to 4.5 per game and his effective field goal percentage dropped from 53.2 percent to 47.5 percent. This was the only season in his entire career that his eFG was under 50 percent.

Robert Parish

  • 3.9 points per game
  • 14.7 minutes played per game
  • 49.8 field goal percentage

Parish played nearly his entire career in Boston, but his final three seasons were spent as a nominal starter and rotation player for Charlotte and then Chicago. Before playing his last season as a minor bench contributor for Michael Jordan’s fifth championship Bulls team, he spent his twentieth season starting 34 of 74 games for the Hornets.

Parish was a very, very different player for the Hornets than he was for the Celtics. His stats dropped dramatically across the board from his eighteenth to his nineteenth seasons, when he moved to Charlotte. In his twentieth season, Parish played almost 15 minutes per game and started half the games he played, but he was a shell of his former self. His 3.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game were a pale comparison to his career averages of 14.5 and 9.1.

Kevin Willis

  • 3 points per game
  • 11.9 minutes per game
  • 38.9 field goal percentage

Willis is the obvious outlier on this list. While he was a reliable starter for much of his career and obviously had a long and productive career, he was not a superstar like every other player in the 20+ seasons club. He only ever made one All-Star Game and one All-NBA team (the third team in 1992).

At 44 years old, he was also the oldest player to ever play in the NBA (other than someone named Nat Hickey, but I’m not counting him because his final game was in 1948, when the NBA had a team in Providence, Rhode Island for some reason). While he only played 21 seasons, he missed the 1988-89 season due to injury and retired in 2005, after his twentieth season. However, he was drawn out of retirement by Mark Cuban a year later to play his 21st season with your very own Dallas Mavericks. He only played five games in 2007 as a late-season addition for the conference best Mavericks, but hey, respect to a 44-year-old playing any games at all.

His twentieth season saw him return to the Atlanta Hawks, where he played the bulk of his career. He played in 29 games, starting five of them, and averaged 3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game. He was something of a non-factor on an Atlanta team that only won 13 games that season.

Kevin Garnett

  • 6.9 points per game
  • 20.3 minutes per game
  • 47 field goal percentage

Much like Parish and Willis, the Big Ticket stuck around in the NBA for a few seasons after it became clear he could no longer contribute much on the court. His scoring average dipped precipitously after his eighteenth season. His rebounding numbers stayed decent, however, and just about anyone with the Timberwolves will argue that his presence on the roster and in the locker room were more valuable than his on-court production.

He spent the majority of his twentieth with the Brooklyn Nets before being traded back to the Wolves, where he spent the first twelve years of his career. He only played 47 games that season, but started each of them. When he did play, he averaged 6.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game. He stuck around one more season after that and saw his averages cut in half.

Kobe Bryant

  • 17.6 points per game
  • 28.2 minutes played per game
  • 35.8 field goal percentage

Kobe is an outlier on this list for several reasons. First, he’s the only guard to play twenty seasons (although Vince will be the second next season). Second, he played significantly more minutes per game than anyone else on the list in his twentieth season. Third, the Lakers basically tanked that season in order to make everything about the Kobe retirement tour, and he was given free rein to gun for points in all 66 games he played.

His final three seasons were marred by injury, but 2016 saw him return for his final gasp of glory. He averaged 17.6 points in 28 minutes per game, but his scoring was insanely inefficient. He shot 35.8 percent on nearly 17 attempts per game and hit only 28.5 percent of his three-pointers. Still, he’s the only person on this list who spent his twentieth season as the unquestionable star of his team, and he was the only one to spend all twenty seasons with one team.

What about Dirk?

Next season Dirk will join Kobe as the only players to have spent twenty NBA seasons with one team. Disregarding Kobe’s outlier of a retirement “going out with a blaze of glory” tour, a common thread among the four big men in the 20+ seasons club is a decrease in minutes played, a nominal starting position and career low in statistics across the board.

But there’s still hope!

Looking back at this list, I feel like Kareem is the best comparison for Dirk. In all likelihood, Dirk will start this season, and he played 26.4 minutes a game last season and averaged 14 points per game, very similar to Kareem’s nineteenth season. Dirk is still one of the better rebounders on the Mavs, for whatever that’s worth. Like Kareem, I’d say that 22 minutes a game and 10 points per game are a good expectation for Dirk next season. Hell, with Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry running pick-and-pop with Dirk in a wide open offense with Nerlens Noel as a roll man threat, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that Dirk maintains or bests his 14 points per game from last season.

A girl can hope, anyway.