At the Summit, or Close Enough

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 25, 2011 under Commentary | 3 Comments to Read

Tyson Chandler made a radio appearance yesterday with Mason & Ireland of ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, and gave his own respectable, respectful take on the lockout and its proceedings. It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from a thoughtful player like Chandler, and his lockout comments are worth a listen (or a read, via Sports Radio Interviews).

Yet what interested me about Chandler’s radio spot was his tackling of a fairly routine question posed to him by the show’s co-hosts, regarding his determination of the league’s best player. Here was Chandler’s response:

“I would go with Dirk. It’s funny, I tweeted about it and I’ve been catching the same flack about it. But I feel it’s proven by what he did last year, what he did to the Lakers, what he did to Oklahoma City, what he did in the Finals, throughout the whole playoffs Dirk just became a man possessed. He went to a whole other level offensively. People talk about what he did defensively, but he actually stepped it up better during the playoffs last year and became a better team defender. And my whole thing is if you outscore the guy defending you by 10 to 15 points, then you’re playing pretty good D.”

Is Dirk Nowitzki the best player in the NBA? Not quite. LeBron James — even after a disappointing series in the Finals — should still rank as the NBA’s top contributor, and Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Paul all have legitimate claims over Nowitzki. Generally, the #ESPNRank project was right on the money in its assessment of the top five NBA players; Nowitzki still showed incredibly well at No. 5, but he’s still a bit removed from status as the league’s absolute best.

That said, Nowitzki is dominant enough that Chandler’s opinion isn’t considered absolutely absurd. One would expect Chandler to get his teammate’s back here; I doubt I need to remind anyone that Dallas recently won the NBA title, largely due to Nowitzki’s ability to anchor the offense and contribute on defense. Considering Dirk’s playoffs performance — the most recent NBA basketball we’ve seen, mind you — Chandler’s perspective is completely understandable. The logic isn’t flawless, mind you, but Nowitzki is in an elite class that can be noted as the NBA’s best without being met with incredulity. Dirk is that good, and with trophy in hand — a foolish reason to finally acknowledge Nowitzki’s success, but alas — the entire basketball-loving world has finally recognized it.

But my question in light of Chandler’s response is this: at what point is a great player’s teammate not “obligated,” (in some sense of the word) to throw out their colleague’s name in these discussions? I’m sure plenty of Mavs would cite Dirk as the league’s best considering the postseason he just had, just as I’m sure that many Magic players would name Howard, many Hornets players would glorify Paul, or virtually every Bulls player would cite Derrick Rose. The same would undoubtedly be true for Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. But would a Clipper really introduce Blake Griffin into this discussion? Would a knick put Carmelo Anthony toe-to-toe with the best in the business? Who exactly can be included in this group worthy of coworker endorsement, and where is the brightline for teammate stumping? Or, to put it another way: which players are worthy of being in the “best NBA player” discussion, even if only as a function of reasonability?

  • Dr. Clarkus

    It's an interesting dynamic that seems to show that “line” that separates superstars with all stars. Nice article, as usual, Rob.

  • Andrew

    I don't really understand why you insist here that there are probably players better than Nowitzki.  He has showed consistently that he scores at a rate of efficiency and volume that either meets or exceeds that  of Lebron, Durant, Wade, Howard…
    Given his improved defense, he is not too far behind any of these players in terms of defensive abilities (maybe with the exception of Howard).
    Nowitzki was the only player during the playoffs who it can be said that he consistently dominated everyone.  Nobody was as unstoppable as Nowitzki in these playoffs. 
    Dwight Howard can be stopped through double teams and hard fouls.  Lebron James settles for too many jumpers that he can't make consistently.  Chris Paul isn't a great defender or shooter.
    I think there is an argument to be made that Wade and Durant are better players.  But they were not unstoppable in the way Nowitzki was this year.

    • Hermievalencia

      my sentiments exactly… if we're talking about 2011 playoffs and finals, there's no argument that the german moses dominated just about everybody….  until someone comes along and played better…., but right now, he's the best….. thanks for the post. need more of this……