Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest shooting big man of all time. That opinion is apparently controversial to Karl Anthony-Towns who stated:
“I’m the greatest big man shooter of all time. That’s a fact. You can see the stats. I ain’t got to play like no one else. Everyone trying to find themselves to be the second version of me when I’m the first version. I don’t got to be the second version of someone else. I’m already an original. I don’t have to be a duplicate of someone else.”
Towns originally made these claims to The Athletic in December but has not backed off of them. They gained some steam after he won the three point contest during all star weekend. Towns was the second tallest player ever to win the three point shootout. Dirk was the tallest. Towns is a fantastic shooter, regardless of size. He even has a statistical argument as the best three point shooting big man of all time. But three point shooting is not the only kind of shooting.
Kevin Durant, who does not have a claim to this throne only because he does not identify as a big man, dismissed Towns’ statements. Durant said:
“Dirk is the greatest big man shooter of all time,” Durant said. “Although I respect KAT, it’s Dirk Nowitzki. For KAT to say that, come on. … Dirk is the best big man shooter”
Towns plays in an era that more heavily follows analytics so his shooting numbers are more efficient. The true shooting percentage for the NBA as a whole has never been lower than 55.2 percent since Towns’ rookie year. The true shooting percentage of the league as a whole was below 52.0 percent four times in Dirk’s career.
Thus Towns’ true shooting percentage of 62.4 is less dominant when compared to Dirk’s 57.7 percent than it initially appeared. Towns still holds an edge because his true shooting percentage was 12 percent better than league average but Dirk’s was only eight. This includes the end of Dirk’s career when he could barely move, while the league was becoming more efficient as a whole. Towns will have his own decline phase which will bring down his numbers eventually as the league continues to trend towards more efficient offenses.
Free throw shooting is one of the best judges of pure shooting ability, as it is the only form of shooting where all other things are truly equal. Towns is a career 83.4 percent free throw shooter with a career high of 85.9 percent. Dirk had a career free throw percentage of 87.9 percent and exceeded Towns’ career high in 16 separate seasons.
The next thing to look at it is the variety of shooting from both players. Towns is elite around the rim and shooting straight away threes. Those are the only places on the court he takes a high volume of shots on. Dirk was elite from virtually EVERYWHERE. Kirk Goldsberry utilized one of his heat maps to show the difference.
Greatest big-man shooter of all-time? I'm with KD, it's Dirk for me.— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) March 24, 2022
This is part of why Dirk was so much more successful in big moments. Towns’ game is more predictable. Take away those two areas, and there is little left for him to do. Towns averaged only 15.2 points while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor, 27.3 percent from three and 73.9 percent from the free throw line in his only playoff appearance thus far.
Dirk is arguably the greatest midrange shooter in history. He is the leading scorer over the past 25 years at each distance from 12 to 20 feet. It is unlikely that Towns will ever be the leading scorer from any distance because he is not quite the volume shooter some of the young guards are, nor is he the paint destroyer that Giannis Antetokounmpo is.
Dirk was unfairly chided for subpar playoff performances early in his career, but he never averaged fewer than 19.1 points per game in any playoff series. He had five series in which he averaged at least 29.9 points per game which is roughly double Towns 15.2 points per game in his lone playoff series. Dirk hit iconic shots in the playoffs. He is the only player in the history of the NBA to lead a 50 win team in scoring 10 seasons in a row.
The biggest shot Towns has taken in his career was the shot he took at Dirk when he pronounced himself the greatest big man shooter of all time. Until he hits some big shots that matter, it is downright disrespectful for him to even compare himself to Dirk, let alone place himself above Dirk. Dirk is still the best shooting big man of all time.