When we talk about Dirk Nowitzki’s impact on the game of basketball, the conversation often goes in a number of directions. Is he a top-20 player all time? Where does he rank among foreign-born players? What about his place among the game’s best power forwards?
Well, ESPN has added another talking point to Dirk’s legacy by ranking the top 74 individual seasons by an NBA player. I have to admit, when I first began to scroll through the article, I was prepared to X out of the tab in a huff, a lover scorned. It’s not rare that Dirk can sometimes be overlooked in lists like this that focus solely on the most gaudy, individually successful seasons. That sounds crazy considering the man won a league MVP, but we’re in a bit of a strange place in history right now — post retirement but pre-hall of fame induction — where what people remember most vividly about Nowitzki are the team’s rebuilding years that came at the end of his career.
All that said, the Kevin Pelton over at the Worldwide Leader saw fit to include Dirk on their list, slotting his 2005-06 effort in at the 43rd best individual season of all time; the year prior to his MVP season, ironically (it also very much weighted post-season success into the formula).
It felt pretty great to see Dirk’s name mixed in with seasons from such universally heralded names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, and Wilt Chamberlain (all of whom had multiple entries, including a number of seasons ranking above Nowitzki). However, I must admit, any time there’s a list like this one, there’s one name I always, always check against Dirks: Kevin Garnett. In this case, ESPN named Garnett’s 2003-04 MVP season the 32nd best individual season.
Nowitzki and Garnett, along with Tim Duncan (seasons #38 and #13), are intrinsically linked as a byproduct of being a trio of all-time great power forwards who played in the same era. Anyone making a good faith argument can recognize that Duncan has the rings and prolonged success to give him a leg up on Dirk and Garnett in most instances, but the Nowitzki vs Garnett comparisons can get contentious. There is an argument to be made that KG perhaps had a higher single peak than Dirk did, but, as was mentioned at the top, Dirk’s longevity, MVP caliber play, and 2011 ring will always keep him just a notch above KG in my book (and in my heart), so I won’t get too upset about Garnett’s higher ranking here.