As you may have heard, the greatest Dallas Maverick of all time, Dirk Werner Nowitzki, will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame tonight. It’s the latest and greatest honor for the Big German, an accomplishment he recently called “the top of the mountain” in regard to his legendary basketball career. Although someone as magnificent on and off the court as Dirk deserves his own personal Hall of Fame, tonight he’ll be sharing the honor with two other basketball icons and also Dwyane Wade.
Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, and Wade are the other players set for induction in the 2023 class, forever etching their names next to Nowitzki’s in the history books. Funny enough, all three of these players have a ton of history with the Maverick great. As fellow generation-defining superstars, Nowitzki crossed paths in the playoffs with each fellow inductee on multiple occasions. In the regular season, Nowitzki matched up with this trio a total of 124 times.
Most of us who have followed the Mavericks for a while have countless memories of these battles. Each side had their highs and lows. But, even accounting for fan bias, it’s clear to me that Nowitzki had the most impressive career out of the 2023 class. With that knowledge in mind, I thought it would be fun to crunch the numbers to see just how Nowitzki fared in these head-to-head matchups.
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Tony Parker
Division rivals Nowitzki and Parker met 53 times in the regular season and 28 times in the playoffs. Parker won the regular season matchup 30-23.
Nowitzki (regular season): 20.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, .8 SPG, .8 BPG on .453/.382/.906 shooting splits.
Parker (regular season): 16.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.7 APG, .7 SPG, .1 BPG on .458/.303/.7523 shooting splits.
For most of their history, Parker’s Spurs had Dallas’ number. Parker was one of the more annoying players I’ve ever rooted against. He seemed to never miss a shot from inside the paint and routinely destroyed the Mavericks with floaters, teardrops, and scoop layups. But despite Parker’s team success, Dirk still dwarfed him from a raw production standpoint. Part of this was Parker’s role as second banana to Tim Duncan, but the disparity in counting stats still skews impressively in Nowitzki’s favor.
The playoff record between Nowitzki and Parker is dead even, with each player winning 14 games in their 28 meetings.
Nowitzki (playoffs): 23.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, .6 BPG on .488/.224/.917 shooting splits.
Parker (playoffs): 20.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 4.8 APG, .9 SPG, .1 BPG on .478/.250/.730 shooting splits.
Unsurprisingly for two hall of famers, both players raised their game in the playoffs. Nowitzki and Parker each increased their scoring while being more efficient from the floor, a tough feat to pull off. The most surprising thing here is Dirk’s awful three-point percentage, a shockingly low number for him. Parker was never a threat from three but actually wins the battle here somehow. Just chalk that up to a small sample size oddity, as the league was a different place back then and Dirk shot just 49 threes in the entire 28-game sample. Parker’s Spurs defeated Nowitzki and the Mavericks in 2001, 2003, 2010, and 2014, while Dallas emerged victorious in 2006 and 2009.
Though Parker won three more titles and bested Nowitzki in more playoff series, his team also featured two additional Hall of Fame teammates and a legendary coach in Greg Popovich, a fellow 2023 Hall of Fame inductee himself. Parker was a crucial component of the Spurs’ dominance, but Dirk definitely did more with less. And Parker recently gave Dirk his props, proclaiming his former rival as “the GOAT of European basketball.”
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Paul Gasol
Two players that have been endlessly compared to each other over the course of their careers, Nowitzki and Gasol faced off for 48 games in the regular season and eight in the playoffs. Nowitzki won the regular season battle 27-21.
Nowitzki (regular season): 21.6 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.7 APG, .9 SPG, .9 BPG on .467/.336/.859 shooting splits.
Gasol (regular season): 17.3 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, .4 SPG, .9 BPG on .510/.400/.754 shooting splits.
Most current fans remember Gasol as the Robin to Kobe Bryant’s Batman in Los Angeles, but the first seven years of his career were spent as the number-one option for the Grizzlies. Given that context, it’s impressive that Dirk was able to best him in virtually every counting stat. Gasol’s shooting percentages from the field are better, but it’s important to remember that Gasol shot fewer jumpers and just a handful of threes, especially early in his career. Although Gasol’s Lakers seemed to always beat Dallas in the regular season, the opposite was true for his Grizzlies, and that’s where Nowitzki really made hay in this matchup.
In the playoffs, Nowitzki took Gasol to the woodshed. Dirk won all eight matchups en route to sweeping Gasol’s Grizzlies in 2006 and his Lakers in 2011.
Nowitzki (playoffs): 28.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, .8 SPG, .5 BPG on .536/.533/.889 shooting splits.
Gasol (playoffs): 16.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.5 APG, .8 SPG, .5 BPG on .429/.000/.745 shooting splits.
Oof. This is a massacre. With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that Nowitzki swept each of Gasol’s squads. Here you have one player willing his team to victory with god-like performances and another putting up pedestrian stats. Nowitzki raised his game to elite levels while Gasol’s production actually fell off from regular-season meetings. Given this disparity, it’s insulting that Nowitzki was ever compared to Gasol. During the Lakers' back-to-back title runs, it was somewhat trendy to argue that Gasol was actually the better player. But the data doesn’t lie, and nothing could be further from the truth.
Dirk Nowitzki vs. Dwyane Wade
Here we go. The most beloved figure in Dallas Mavericks history versus the most reviled. Nowitzki and Wade played against each other 23 times in the regular season and 12 times in the playoffs. Wade narrowly eeked out a 12-11 edge in their regular season matchups.
Nowitzki (regular season): 22.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.1 APG, .6 SPG, .8 BPG on .480/.402/.913 shooting splits.
Wade (regular season): 20.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.8 SPG, .8 BPG on .454/.308/.720 shooting splits.
Nowitzki was clearly the better shooter and scorer, while Wade had advantages in playmaking and defense. It’s somewhat surprising to me that Wade has the better head-to-head record, and he arrived at that number in a strange manner. Dallas defeated Wade’s Heat 14 times in a row in the regular season from 2004-2011. Miami then responded by winning 14 out of the next 16 matchups from 2012 through 2019 and Wade’s retirement. A few of those games took place while Wade was galavanting in Chicago and Cleveland, but that run allowed him to pull ahead of Dirk in this matchup.
Every Mavericks fan knows about the playoff history between these two players. In one of the most epic basketball rivalries of the 21st century, Nowitzki and Wade split their 12 NBA Finals meetings 6-6, with each player winning a title against the other.
Nowitzki (playoffs): 24.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, .7 SPG, .7 BPG on .404/.302/.931 shooting splits.
Wade (playoffs): 30.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.1 SPG, 1.3 BPG on .502/.294/.747 shooting splits.
As much as I hate to admit it, this is a decisive victory for Wade. A lot of these numbers are skewed by the 2006 Finals when a masterful Wade defeated Dallas in six games. The controversy surrounding that series has been discussed ad nauseam, and Wade definitely had a ton of help from the officials, but his high-level play cannot be dismissed. Nowitzki struggled in 2006, too. And although the Mavericks got their revenge in 2011, you could argue that Wade was the best player from a production standpoint in that series, too. He was certainly much more impressive than LeBron James. But Nowitzki got the last laugh, capturing Finals MVP and vanquishing his longtime rival.
Mavericks fans' hatred of Wade goes beyond his destruction of them on the court. He publicly questioned Dirk’s leadership, accused him of faking an illness, and benefitted from one of the biggest NBA officiating conspiracies of all time. But Nowitzki recently buried the hatchet in the gracious manner that makes him such an incredible human being. Taking a page out of Dirk’s book, I’ll give Wade his flowers. He was an incredible basketball player. Having said that, I still think Dirk had the more impressive career, despite the head-to-head numbers. It was special to watch Nowitzki go against all of these guys, and it’s hard to imagine three more worthy adversaries for him to be honored alongside.