We’ve all traveled many miles together to get to this point. There were few setbacks, but many questions, and now we have absolute authority to answer who the best starting five in the Dirk Nowitzki era is. That’s 20 years. TWENTY. Dirk sits on the Iron Throne.
If you somehow stumbled upon us for the first time, catch up here with: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V. The bracket is below - and let me take a moment to give a special shout out to Dan Const, for some baller bracket graphics along the way.
As always, we want to hear from you - so vote in our poll, and comment down below if you have a different winner! Now to hand out a trophy:
#5 vs #2
#5 2010-11 (57-25, .695):
- Jason Kidd
- DeShawn Stevenson
- Caron Butler
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Tyson Chandler
JORDAN: When we started this, I’m not sure I thought ahead enough to predict these two teams as our finalists. But I’m glad they are because they represent two fairly distinct styles and eras within Dirk’s time with the Mavericks. In many ways, these two seasons are the pinnacle symbol of both Don Nelson and Rick Carlisle as well. Though both teams found high levels of success, they certainly did it in their own way.
For the Carlisle squad, they weren’t quite so offensively top heavy as your 02-03 unit Sam. They also weren’t scoring at as high a rate (61.3 points per game from starters vs. 75.8 points per game). We could both make arguments about the bench support each team had. But what I can say is this: for the 10-11 starters to neutralize their opponents’ fast paced offense, it will require Stevenson to disrupt the perimeter. And outside of LaFrentz’s ability to stretch the floor Sam, I think my team matches up pretty well defensively.
#2 2002-03 (60-22, .732):
- Steve Nash
- Michael Finley
- Adrian Griffin
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Raef LaFrentz
SAM: I think that is all very well said, Jordan. While the 10-11 starters succeeded in leading that team to a championship, as I’ve previously mentioned, the 02-03 starters, in my mind, led a championship contending team that faced unfortunate injury luck. Don Nelson’s small ball, run-and-gun style was ahead of it’s time, and almost delivered a title, disproving many skeptics. I agree with you, Jordan. The 10-11 group has the defensive personnel to cause concern in the 02-03 starters ability to do what they do best: Blitz the heck out of teams offensively.
But we still have to ask ourselves if it’s enough. The 10-11 group relied on Dirk beating mismatches, timely threes and defensive stability. Look, Dirk wasn’t known for his defense in ‘03 or ‘11, so the Dirks are getting buckets in this match-up. But surprisingly, the 02-03 team was the second best team defending the three point line that season. That takes away significant offensive games from players like Stevenson and Kidd. Do you think the 10-11 starters can still score enough to keep up? I feel like Chandler would play a big part in this match-up. What do you think?
JORDAN (2010-11): Yes, if the 02-03 team chooses to press out to the three point line, I’m expecting a lot of actions for Chandler off the pick and roll. Like this and this. The gravitational pull that both Chandler and Dirk cause on pick and rolls should free up Kidd to either penetrate in the lane or kick it back out. And there’s no one better to be making those kind of distribution decisions like JKidd. I think there would be enough scheming for the Mavericks to find their offensive rhythm. But like I said before, my question is how much LaFrentz stretching the floor will pull Chandler away from the basket, which is the core of the defensive success the title team had. Head-to-head it would be an uphill climb for the 10-11 group, simply due to the athleticism the 02-03 unit brings across the board. I think if we were to consider the full roster depth, the 10-11 group would stand a better chance. But this five-on-five might be a different story, Sam.
SAM (2002-03): I don’t think this has been mentioned through this series, but LaFrentz was canning 40 percent of his three point attempts that season. Granted, he was only taking about two per game, he was still enough of a threat to influence Chandler’s defensive impact. Let’s flip that and ask how LaFrentz would guard pick-and-rolls. Could he negate Chandler’s lob threat in the half court? Probably not, so there is a real give-and-take dynamic occurring.
The more I look at these match-ups though, the more the 02-03 group’s talent seems to prevail. You’re right in the sense that the 10-11 group matches up well, but for one game, I can’t see them slowing down a Nash-led offense with shooters at almost every position. If the game slows, this group has two go-to scorers in Dirk and Finley. They’re not turning the ball over, meaning they are likely to get a good shot most possessions. Add in the fact there are three shot creators in this lineup, and it seems the 10-11 group would have to play flawless defense to slow the 02-03 guys down. Basically, the 2010-11 team needs an off night from the 02-03 lineup to have a chance, and statistically, that doesn’t seem likely. For those reasons, I’m confident in crowning the 2002-03 starters as the best starting lineup Dirk has played with.
Who is your champion?
This poll is closed
Winner: 2002-03 Mavs
Shoot the confetti cannon, we have a champion!
And still, we were left with one more question: what did we learn from dissecting the last 20 years, and what does it tell us about the future of the Mavericks?
Sam: Going through all the starting fives of the past 20 years resurfaced a lot of thoughts for me. I don’t think I properly appreciated the Mavs of the early 2000s. I am 24 years old, so a lot of those seasons are fuzzy to me. But all of those playoff series against the Kings and Suns will stick with me forever. To this day I haven’t seen anything quite like it. I also wonder how differently Dirk would be viewed had he won a title in 02-03 at 24 years old. Critics used the “soft” label as a crutch for much of his career, so the narrative would be completely different. I think that’s my biggest takeaway from it all. We obviously don’t know how certain events impact the future, but the Mavs were a few unfortunate bounces away from being three-time champions. Sometimes it pays to be lucky than good.
Jordan: I think that’s spot on Sam. The first half of Dirk’s career would be viewed very differently, even if one of the 2002-03 or 2005-06 seasons would have ended differently. I moved to Dallas in 2001, as I was entering high school, and those early Mavs teams were iconic to me. So it certainly has been fun looking back. Like I said early in this series, it was unsurprisingly clear from the beginning that the Mavericks’ success over the last 20 years is entirely tied to Dirk’s career arc. And what a run it was: 11 straight seasons with 50+ wins (12 50-win seasons overall) and a title.
But what can we glean from this for future Mavericks success? Well, it never hurts to have a generational talent. But going deeper, having go-to scorers/creators at the point guard and wing, plus one solid multi-positional defender will go a long way. Having a reliable center is a bonus. Yes, who finishes the game is what really matters, but the starters set the tone every night - and that can’t be discounted.
Slowly but surely, the Mavericks are finding those pieces to build the next era.
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