- Mamadou Tall
Dirk Nowitzki: A Pioneer
Dirk Nowitzki is a part of the next class of players to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. As he approaches another milestone in his storied basketball career, let's take a look back at a legendary career that has largely impacted this game we all love.
Basketball is a global game. It took counts of game-changing talents to get us to this point. Dirk Nowitzki was one of those talents that set the way for the countless foreign players that have followed. Widely considered one of the best foreign players ever, Dirk has impacted the game in ways that can't be ignored.
Four years since he retired, you can see Dirk's fingerprints all over the game today. No one could have predicted this in 1998 when the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him with the ninth pick. The Bucks didn't see this happening, they immediately traded him to the Dallas Mavericks. The rest is history.
Dirk entered the league as an unknown out of Germany but quickly rose to the top of the crop of talent in the NBA. Standing at seven feet tall, he had the height and length of a center, but at just about 237 when he entered the league (later went up to 245) he lacked the physicality to be an imposing presence down low in that era. Dirk was years ahead of his time, not the typical seven-footer. With Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and Yao Ming dominating the front-court. Dirk broke the mold of what it was to be a successful big man in the league. As a power forward, Dirk had a better jump shot than most guards. The first true stretch-big the NBA had ever seen.
His height of seven feet combined with his shooting touch outside of the paint made him a matchup nightmare for opponents. His ability to stretch the floor when it was needed in result opened up things for his teammates. This was no more evident than his run during the 2010-2011 season, where he led the Dallas Mavericks to a championship against the Miami Heat. He did this with no other all-star on his team, up against a team stacked with all-stars.
His patented one-legged fadeaway was damn near unstoppable, so much so that many players began using the move themselves.
His influences on the NBA weren't just his introduction of stretch bigs or his one-legged fadeaway. Perhaps his largest influence on the game was what he did for talent overseas. Along with Manu Ginobili, Dirk's ever-lasting imprint on the game will be through the foreign talent we see dominating the league today. At least four of the top 10 players in the league are foreign-born players: Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Luka Doncic.
Aside from the league's consistent MVP contenders, there are many other examples of European-born players taking a page out of Dirk's blueprint. The two names that automatically come to mind are Lauri Markkannen and Kristaps Porzingis. Two seven-footers who are capable shooters. In addition to Markkannen and Porzingis, we are watching players take Dirk's blueprint and make adjustments. The likes of Kevin Durant took the seven-footer with a jump shot trope and ran with it. Today there are seven-footers who can handle, shoot, and create for themselves with the ball in their hands. The next evolution of that might be the projected 2023 first pick, Victor Webanyema.
Similarly to life, the game will continue to evolve, and the players who set the stage will often be lost in history. Dirk Nowitzki can't be one of those players lost in the sauce. His legendary status in NBA history is nothing to be scoffed at. His resume is up to par with legends. A 21-year career in the Association and he left it better than he found it. 21 years in the league and he left it with a boatload of accolades.
NBA Finals MVP
Top 75 Player
31,560 Career Points (6th All-time)
He Inspired a whole generation of hoopers and revolutionized the way the game is played. An integral piece in the evolution of the NBA, Dirk Nowitzki was a true pioneer.