Back in June of 2017, someone was wrong on the internet. I can’t stand for that – so the following was a resolution to a question that I know has been burning in the minds of American sports fans for years. And if you think about it – I’ve only gotten more right as time has gone on in the battle of Dirk Nowitzki vs Tim Duncan!
Who’s Better? NBA: Dirk Nowitzki vs Tim Duncan
Here it is, the debate that has been raging for years…at least in the Prinz home. I will set out to prove what I have vehemently argued for, that Dirk Nowitzki is a better player than Tim Duncan. Team accomplishments aside (because is NBA Champion Chris Anderson really better than no-ring Charles Barkley? Of course not). What makes a player better than another player? A series of things. First of all, physical abilities. What is a player capable of or what has he proven he can do? Secondly, statistics. What has a player actually done? Thirdly, legacy. What will he be remembered for? This is balanced by his supporting cast. Be ready, this is a big one.
Dirk stands in at 7’0″ weighing a trim 237. He was selected 9th overall by Milwaukee in ’98 and then traded to Dallas with Pat Garrity for Robert Traylor (Top 10 worst trade in sports history).
He has logged 3000+ minutes 6 of his 15 seasons, dipping below 2000 only in his first and most recent year (2013 due to a knee injury). Even this last year he kept up a streak of 14 years in a row of 31 or better minutes per game.
He made 151 3 pointers in 2005 and has 1340 for his career at a 38% clip, this is very good – compared with sharpshooter Mike Miller: 1420 40%. Especially for a 7 footer!
Let’s compare with several others 6’10” or better…
|Name||Height||Career||Total 3P %|
|Robert Horry||6’10”||795||34 %|
As you can see, there’s never been a shooter his size. Okur shot much fewer and Wallace much less efficiently. Kevin Durant is listed at 6’9″ on BBallRef but he’s shooting 3’s at a 37% clip, virtually identical to Dirk’s career average a full 3 inches shorter.
He pulled 791 boards in 2002, 120 on the offensive glass in ’01, and has 9096 for his career. This is low for a power forward, but let’s consider two factors. First of all, he plays on the perimeter, let’s look at other perimeter forwards’ offensive board numbers:
Kevin Durant (6 years): 395 Dirk (First 6 years): 553 Peja Stojakovic (13 years): 747 Dirk (First 13 years) 1199 Once again, taking the 3 point shooting and offensive rebounding together gives you a picture of what Dirk brings to the table.
Secondly, he played with good offensive rebounders:
Shawn (the Stormin’ Mormon) Bradley [while playing with Dirk]: 796 offensive boards.
Erik Dampier [While with Dirk]: 1224 (and he lead the NBA with 334 the year before joining the Mavs)
Compared to era centers:
Marcus Camby: 2480 (while contemporary with Dirk, only leaving out his rookie season) only 400 more than Bradley and Dampier.
Yao Ming: 1233 (direct contemporary to Dampier’s career with Dirk, only 9 more!)
Andrew Bogut: 1216 (ditto but with 8 less)
So, no I didn’t put Shaq or Dwight Howard up there, but obviously, if Dirk had played with them he’d have less offensive boards but more offensive chances. Compared to average centers (and Yao, Camby, and Bogut are usually considered a bit above average) Bradley and Dampier were good rebounders.
Defensively he was nicknamed “Irk” because he had no “D” early in his career. Is this fair? Let’s take a look.
His peak at defensive win shares was in 2002 at 5.3, career total at 50.9 (that’s 3.4 a year)
Other similar players with a similar build or defensive responsibilities:
- Kevin Durant (who is the best comparison physically I know of) is at 21.9 thru 6 seasons (3.65)
- Mike Miller: 19.4 for his career
- Mehmet Okur: 21.3 for his career
- Chris Bosh: 30.1 (3 per season, most would have Chris as a better defender than Dirk but not the numbers)
- Kevin Garnett: 87.4 (4.85 arguably the best defensive PF ever)
This, in my opinion, shows Dirk is possibly a below-average defender but actually contributes more than people give him credit for. Was he ever a 1st team all-D candidate? No, but he wasn’t somebody you could pick on either, which was his reputation. But why did he get this reputation? Let’s try to dig deeper…going through the game logs I found each instance these premier power forwards faced Dirk and the results (I am leaving Duncan off till the conclusion).
Garnett vs DAL ’98-’13: Reg Season: W-L for Garnett (17-22); <10(1); 11-20(12); 21-30(22); 31-40(4)
Playoffs: W-L for Garnett (0-3); <10(0); 11-20(1); 21-30(1); 31-40(1)
Webber vs DAL ’98-13: Reg Season: W-L for Webber (11-10); <10(2); 11-20(10); 21-30(7); 31-40(2)
Playoffs: W-L for Webber (9-3); <10(0); 11-20(3); 21-30(6); 31-40(3)
Rasheed vs DAL ’98-13: Reg Season: W-L for Sheed (16-15); <10(6); 11-20(15); 21-30(6); 31-40(4)
Playoffs: W-L for Sheed (3-4); <10(0); 11-20(5); 21-30(2); 31-40(0)
I could show more, but I think this is sufficient. I didn’t confirm Dirk played in every one of these games, so it’s possible some of the numbers don’t apply, but here’s what I see in these games. Webber killed Dirk in the playoffs, but on the whole, Dirk kept him at or below his averages. Garnett got his 20 a majority of the time but Dirk crushed him in the playoffs when it mattered most. Sheed was characteristically streaky, but again, never was able to bust out against Dirk in their two playoff match-ups. What this doesn’t show, but if you were to look at the game logs you would notice, Dirk (and Dallas’ D) got stronger as he got older. Granted, Webber and Sheed aged fast, but even Garnett didn’t score more than 28 after the first 5 seasons. All this to say, Dirk was/is an average defender, and coupled with his elite offense is better than Duncan. Need more? Let’s continue.
His career highs are 26.6/9.9/3.5/1.4/1.5 at 52/42/92
(those are pts/rbs/ast/stl/blk at fg%/3p%/ft%).
His peak season was was 26.6/9.0/2.8/0.7/1.0 at 48/40/90.
(Sheed: 19.3/8.2/1.9/1.3/1.3 at 47/36/73)
His career averages are 22.6/8.2/2.6/0.9/0.9 at 48/38/88.
(Webber: 20.7/9.8/1.4/1.4/2.8 at 48/30/65)
His 10 best games:
Regular Season: brutally difficult to select 10
’03 43-4-8 3’s
’07 34-10-10-4 3’s
’01 40-11-6 3’s
’02 34-18-4-6 3’s
5 best in the Playoffs: even more challenging to pick these
’06 50-12-3-5 3’s
’02 46-10-4 3’s
His finest moment:
’11 21-11-1-2st (Game 7 clincher)
He led the league in PER (Player efficiency rating) ’05-06 and finished top 10 in 10 of his 15 seasons. He’s 6th among active players and 18th all-time.
He dished out 200+ dimes 8 straight seasons from ’02-’10 minus ’09 when he only had 197. He topped out at 266 in ’07. 2923 total for his career, 196th all-time. If he hits 3000 he’ll pass the following: Greg Anthony, Johnny Dawkins, Doug Christie, Rolando Blackman, Anthony Mason, Tom Gola, Kendall Gill, Howard Komives, Antonio Daniels and Bob Weiss. He also trails former teammate Devin Harris by 3. He’s 103 behind Shaq and 32 more to Hakeem. (Garnett is at 51st all-time with 5224) (Sheed: 1 200 ast season, 1994 in 16 yr career)
He swiped over 100 passes in ’02 and blocked more than 100 shots 3 different times in his career. He sits 75th all-time in blocks and 158th in steals.
He won the MVP in ’06-07 and finished in the top 12 in voting 11 times, 3 times in the top 3. He is 7th among active players in MVP vote shares and 22nd all-time. He went to 11 straight all-star games, has been 1st team all-NBA 4 times, 2nd team 5 times, and 3rd team 3 other times. That’s all-NBA 12 of his 15 seasons!
He’s 3rd in points scored among active players, 17th all-time (top 20!) 13th in career FT%. He’s 6th among active rebounders and 4th in free throw attempts. In ’06-07 he logged a 50/40/90 which has only been done by 6 players, Steve Nash (his teammate), Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, and recently Kevin Durant. Add in Ray Allen, and you have the greatest shooters of all time (with the possible addition of Steph Curry sometime soon). That’s right, Dirk Nowitzki, a seven-footer with over 9000 rebounds is one of the greatest shooters ever.
I mentioned defensive win shares. Dirk was average in that category. Now let’s talk offensive win shares.
Dirk stands at 11th all-time, above names like Shaquille O’Neal, Moses Malone, Magic Johnson, LeBron James (for now), and someone to be named later. The 10 names above him hold really only one surprise:
7. Reggie Miller (?????)
That’s a great list.
When offensive and defensive are combined you get total win shares, Dirk is currently 13th all-time, 3rd among active, and just ahead of Kobe Bean Bryant. Because the stat can be compiled there’s also WinShares/48 min (essentially per game). Dirk is 14th, 5th among active, and just ahead of Shaq and John Stockton. Basketball reference creates a similarity comparison chart with 10 other players and shows their win shares across their careers (and the duration of the player being compared). The players rated as similar to Dirk are: LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dr. J, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Larry Bird, Bob Pettit, Dolph Schayes, and Adrian Dantley. THAT’s a list. What is…the greatest forwards in NBA history?
Interestingly, and of course conveniently, Dirk scores quite well.
Year 1: 5th…….(Duncan 3rd)
Year 2: 6th…….(Duncan 4th)
Year 3: 4th…….(Duncan 8th)
Year 4: 2nd…….(Duncan 8th)
Year 5: 3rd…….(Duncan 7th)
Year 6: 4th…….(Duncan 6th)
Year 7: 3rd…….(Duncan 4th)
Year 8: 3rd…….(Duncan 7th)
Year 9: 3rd…….(Duncan 4th)
Year 10: 2nd…….(Duncan 3rd)
Year 11: 2nd…….(Duncan 3rd)
Year 12: 6th…….(Duncan 2nd)
Year 13: 5th…….(Duncan 2nd)
Year 14: 6th…….(Duncan 1st)
Year 15: 6th…….(Duncan 2nd)
In 9 of his 15 seasons (9 straight) he contributed more to the wins of his teams than Tim Duncan did to his. Year 3, 5 and 8 he contributed much more.
Ok, so you’ve got an idea on how good Dirk is. It’s time to shift gears and present the case for the Big Fundamental.