Return of the King

Posted by David Hopkins on February 26, 2013 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read


“I have decided, human… I will allow you to attempt to save your world.” – Galactus, Devourer of Worlds

The term “franchise player” gets thrown around too often; even though a certain player might be the best player on the team, that doesn’t automatically make him the face of the franchise. To me, a franchise player is a person so thoroughly invested and associated with the team that you couldn’t imagine him without them and them without him. These players were far more common in the days when players didn’t move around as often, but a few franchise types still remain.

Dirk Nowitzki the quintessential example, partially because the Mavericks haven’t had any players who come close to rivaling what he’s done for this team.

Today, I spent a few minutes looking through my Mavericks Media Guide. Obviously, Nowitzki’s many team records are skewed in part by the sheer number of games — 1,081 — he’s played in Dallas. Brad Davis is in second place with 883 games. Keep in mind that Nowitzki could reasonably play another four or five seasons in Dallas, so it may be a long time before another player gets remotely close to matching Nowitzki’s totals during his time here, if ever again.

Among all Mavericks, Nowitzki has the most points with 24,134. To understand how impressive this number is: Nowitzki is #5 on the all-time scoring list among players who have only played on one team.

It is worth noting that Mark Aguirre still has the record for most points in a season 2,330 from his 1983-1984.

Nowitzki has the record for the most points in a game (53), in a half (34), in a period (29), and in an overtime (14).

Nowitzki ranks tops in Mavs history in three-point field goals (1,275) and free throws (5,997), and holds the team record for the longest streak of consecutive free throw made (82).

Nowitzki also has more total rebounds than any other Maverick with 8,734, though James Donaldson still sets the bar for the most rebounds for a single season with the 973 he collected during 1986-1987. Donaldson also retains the record for most rebounds in a game with 22, with Nowitzki just one rebound behind at 21.

All records involving assists and steals still safely belong to Derek Harper.

Shawn Bradley has the record for blocks among Mavericks with 1,250. Nowitzki has 1,029 and might be within range to take this one before he retires.

Dirk has the most All-Star appearances of any Mavericks player, and he’s the only Mav to ever be named the the league MVP. It should also go without saying that Nowitzki brought postseason relevance back to Dallas. He helped the Mavericks win two Western Conference championships and their first NBA championship. “Helped” isn’t even the right word. If you watch some of those games, he pulled those fourth quarter rallies from somewhere deep in his soul and willed the universe into shifting the Mavericks’ fortune.

With all of that noted, I’ll now state the obvious: Nowitzki is a once-in-a-lifetime player.

Retiring his jersey number is a no-brainer. My apologies to Sam Perkins, Brian Howard, and Terry Tyler who also wore #41 as a Maverick. Building a bronze statue of Nowitzki in front of the American Airlines Center seems likely. Heck, make it gold.

Nothing that I’m sharing should be all that surprising. Nowitzki is the franchise. You know this. So let’s migrate to the present, where it’s been difficult to watch Nowitzki wearied by the load of carrying the Mavericks through their season slump.

Nowitzki is first and foremost a scoring threat. His career average of points per game is 22.7 (25.9 during playoffs). In, 2010-2011, Nowitzki had 40 out of 73 games (55%) where he scored above his career average. In 2011-2012, Nowitzki have 29 out of 62 games (47%) where he scored above this career average. And most disheartening: this season, Nowitzki has only had 4 out of 26 games (15%) where he’s scored above his career average.

If we look at player efficiency rating (PER) — which I’ll admit to being a fan of as far as single-value metrics go — Nowitzki has a career average efficiency rating of 23.52. This number puts him at #16 all time, right above Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant, right below Hakeem Olajuwon. To me, this sounds about right. I know the legion of Kobe Bryant fans would beg to differ. But if I could have Bryant or Nowitzki on my team for the duration of his career? For many reasons, this being one of them, give me Nowitzki.

Nowitzki’s best season was 2005-2006 with a PER of 28.1, putting him at LeBron James and Michael Jordan PER levels. His marks have naturally dropped in recent years — 23.4 in 2010-2011 (at his average), 21.7 in 2011-2012 (a noticeable drop) and then 18.2 during this season (an even bigger drop). To put this in perspective, the only time he’s had a lower efficiency rating was his first two seasons in the league, 12.8 and 17.5.

Yes, Nowitzki was/is recovering from knee surgery. The past two seasons may very well be statistical outliers in another otherwise consistent record. And of course, the season is not yet over.

Sunday’s game against the Lakers might be our glimpse into his comeback. Nowitzki scored 30 points, 13 rounds, and was 4-for-4 from three-point range, good for his first double-double of the season. More encouraging was the slam dunk on a fast break, some nice post moves, a primal yell, and his trademark fadeaway. The Mavericks lost the game, but they may have regained their franchise player.

Welcome back, Dirk. We hope.

David Hopkins is a freelance writer – a regular contributor to D Magazine and Smart Pop Books. He’s still working on a lengthy basketball-related cover feature for the Dallas Observer. One day, he’ll be finished with it. Follow David on Twitter at @davidhopkins.

  • Hank

    Larry Byrd? smh

    • David Hopkins

      “Bird.” Changed. I type faster than I think sometimes.

      Here’s my source on career PER.

      Larry Bird was absolutely amazing, but his chronic back problems diminished an otherwise sterling career. I would still put Nowitzki at his prime over Bird–and the stats seem to indicate this. And yet, there were things Bird did that couldn’t be quantified on the stat sheet. Bird had an ability to anticipate his opponents, to read the court, and demoralize the other team.