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Layups: Stay Soft, Dirk Nowitzki

Posted by Neil Paine on June 16, 2011

Here's a great piece about Dirk Nowitzki from Deadspin's Luke O'Brien, wherein he examines the media narrative about Dirk's "soft" game. Although we were told that Dirk had acquired a tougher style of play, is that really even true?

"Instead of everyone casting about for ways to explain Nowitzki's transformation now that he has a ring, we should celebrate the fact that he hasn't transformed at all. In being exactly who he's always been, he defies the silly notion in American sports that an athlete has to don armor, psychic or otherwise, to win a title. Nowitzki has never been the guy who screams into the upper decks like a maniac after each and-one. He's never tried to be. He's one of the best low post scorers in the NBA, but you'd never know it because he doesn't play with his back to the basket like other seven-footers. Instead of dunking opponents through the rim, he's mastered a step-back shimmy to get off a soft jumper that nobody can defend and that often leads to a free throw that almost always goes in. Softly. Nowitzki doesn't charge into battle. He fades away. And he wins because of it, not despite it."

As O'Brien notes, real courage comes in sticking with an unconventional style despite high-profile failures and media criticism. Dirk's conviction in his own "soft" style eventually vindicated it, and in a perfect world the media would admit they were wrong instead of inventing a false narrative about how Dirk changed at their behest.

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153 Responses to “Layups: Stay Soft, Dirk Nowitzki”

  1. BSK Says:

    At one point during the ABC telecast of Game 6, they talked about how the "old school" Mavs were fending off the "flashy" Heat... which ignored the fact that by most definitions of style of play, the Heat and their defensive first approach were far more old school while the Mavs, led by their 7-foot, jump shooting forward and barrage of 3 pointers, were far more flashy. But, that didn't fit the narrative the media attempted to construct, which was that the Mavs were doing things the "right" way and the Heat the "wrong" way. Which is why I hate when the media attempts to construct narratives.

  2. Justin Kubatko Says:

    That's a great piece. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Keith Ellis Says:

    I liked the article, too. Since LeBron's shown himself to be an abject loser w/ no excuses like teammates to blame it on, la popular media're comparing him to three players (not Michael Jordan anymore):

    1) Scottie Pippen -- this is payback for Pippen's unpardonable sin of saying MJ was merely the Greatest Scorer recently, & not necessarily Greatest Player. Scribes won't get away w/ likening LBJ to six-rings Scottie for long.

    2) Wilt Chamberlain -- this, again, is predictable territory for the Jordanphilic press. LeBron of course will never lead the majors in Assists nor Rebounds as Dipper did. Chamberlain's two titles were more than any other non-Celtic won from 1959 to 1972.

    3) Dirk Nowitzki -- I like this one. Like Dirk, LeBron may hang around long enough for one to fall his way. Reading this article's description of Dirk's fall-away shimmy shot (called "El Flamenco" by the ESPNLatino announcers) recalled Dipper's deadly fadeaway which sometimes earned him "soft" criticism.

  4. AYC Says:

    Interesting article, but I don't quite buy the premise. Dirk HAS changed his game the last few years. He takes fewer threes and more shots from the mid to high post (are you paying attention Lebron?) From 2000-06, he attempted over 3 threes per game in 6 out of 7 seasons; the last 5 years, he has shot under 3 per game, with just 2.3/G this year and a low of 1.5/G last year. He has also been more assertive in late-game situations; Dirk was always a good clutch shooter, but he often wasn't aggressive enough in those situations.

  5. Jason J Says:

    Webber and Payton discussed this on the air on NBAtv or TNT once, and they both agreed that the difference between winning and losing, and the accolades that come along with the former and not the latter, was about teammates and coaching. They felt that they were the same players in the up seasons and the down seasons and didn't really adjust so much as get a break when good enough teammates showed up.

    I don't know how true that is since most players get at least incrementally better up to a certain age, and there's got to be some internal changes that take place between the ages of 20 and 30, but that was their take.

  6. BSK Says:

    AYC-

    While I trust your analysis to be accurate, I don't know that we can say Dirk made the wholesale changes, both on the court and inside his head, that much of the popular opinion is saying he did. Our general problem as basketball fans is that we can comprehend that a "soft" player can win a championship or that a "hard" one can seemingly "choke" one away. When Dirk and the Mavs lost in '06, we had to find a reason, which was to affirm the stereotype that 7-footers (especially European ones) who didn't play back-to-the-basket were "soft". Rather than simply say that the Heat got hot and outplayed them or received some generous calls or whatever, we had to find a flaw in the losers. The next year, when Dirk's team came out and dominated and he won the MVP, much of the "soft" label was put aside... until they bowed out in round 1. Now that the Mavs have won, we have to figure out what is different now compared to then. It can't simply be that the matchups favored the Mavs this time or that the team around him was better or that they made an absurd amount of 3's... it had to be about the newfound hardness. Again, we often construct narratives and then look for or make-up evidence to suit that narrative after the fact. While I agree that there were some appreciable differences between Dirk's game now and then, much of the commentary acts as if Dirk played like Shaq in his prime, dominating the inside through sheer force of physicality and personality. He didn't. He's tweaked his game, as all players have, though I doubt Dirk-now would have turned the '06 team from chumps to champs or Dirk-'06 would have doomed the current squad. The difference simply wasn't that big and was mired in a slosh of a million other small but appreciable differences to hold up as THE ANSWER.

  7. AYC Says:

    He's replacing one dubious narrative with another of his own choosing. Dirk stuck to his guns and refused to change his game? I don't think so. He did change his game in the ways I mentioned before. They weren't wholesale changes, but then, he was already a great player. I don't remember anybody saying Dirk should try to be Tim Duncan on the low block. The "soft" label had less to do with being a shooter, and more to do with allowing himself to get manhandled in his first finals appearance.

    Both narratives have an element of truth to them. Dirk HAS improved, but the biggest difference between now and 06 is all the Mavs players who weren't there then: JKidd, Marion, Chandler, Barea, Peja, etc.

  8. huevonkiller Says:

    I disagree with the premise of the article. Not playing elite defense does hurt teams. The reason Tim Duncan is in Dirk's league is because of D, and usually defensive oriented teams win titles. The media is always too reactionary after a win or loss.

    #3 Keith that was a pretty factually inaccurate post.

    Keith you need to pace adjust, Wilt isn't in the same league with Assist %. He averaged 8.6 once at a much faster pace and significantly more minutes. LeBron is the more well-rounded and dominant player at their peak. And he played in a much more integrated era, not an opinion.

    I didn't know Jordan won anything before 28 years of age, LeBron has had a superior career to ringless Jordan, I know that for sure. He's 27 next year and I don't see the Heat going away.

    Teams that win 50+ games for a decade should win multiple titles. One is a disappointment, one isn't even LeBron's goal. The Colts are a disappointment to me and I say this as a long time Colts fan. Peyton Manning is my favorite NFL player too.

  9. huevonkiller Says:

    #7 The biggest problem with the Mavs was defensively, superstar perimeter players continuing to go off on them in 2006.

  10. BSK Says:

    AYC-

    Great point. But which narrative is closer to the truth? Dirk is fundamentally the same player and person as he was in '06 or Dirk has reinvented himself inside and out to become a champion? Part of the reason Dirk was manhandled in '06 and not in '11 was because the earlier version of the Heat had tons of size and strength and this one didn't. So, yes, he didn't get manhandled, it is hard to immediately jump and conclude he didn't allow himself to be manhandled.

    The truth lies somewhere in the middle. But our media in particular and society in general doesn't like the middle. It doesn't like gray areas or nuance. It wants heroes and villains, good guys and goats. It wants a reversal of output to be the result of a reversal of input... A Dirk-led Mavs team lost to the Heat in '06 and a Dirk-led mavs team beat the Heat in '11... something must be vastly different about Dirk! It is not unique to basketball but is exceedingly frustrating no matter where it is. If a couple of Dallas's off balance 3's clang off the back iron or Dirk has 2 or 3 4th quarter free throws rim out, it is very possible that Miami is the champion now. Does that change anything about Dirk? No. Would the media be fawning over the "new Dirk" in spite of the loss? Hell no.

  11. AYC Says:

    The difference between great teams is marginal, so small improvements in a star's game could be the difference between winning it all and losing. But of course, the improvement of the rest of the roster mattered more. That's not the part of O'Brien's article that I disagree with; I don't buy the whole "Dirk defiantly refusing to change his game" narrative

  12. k Says:

    Dirk, soft? Yes.

    But the good thing is -- for Dirk, mind -- that this is only a microcosm of today's NBA.

  13. k Says:

    From the article: "No, when it comes to that necessary yielding quality, Nowitzki has them all beat. Without question, his is the greatest triumph of softness in NBA history. And in the end, isn't that the really successful American story? You know, the one about how the immigrant assimilates and changes us for the better, not the other way around."

    Yes, watching the NBA move away from 90s defensive balance -- where hard fouls and defensive enforcers weren't verboten -- in a ploy for a bigger worldwide market-share, dependent on becoming a Flagarant Touch Foul league, has been captivating.

    But is this an American Success Story, or just more Keynesian outsourcing?

  14. Jerrod Says:

    I really don't get everyone's love for Wilt. Statistically he was dominant and he was, absolutely, the most athletic and explosive player in the league. But his statistics are inflated because he vaingloriously played to put up big numbers. He has good assist numbers simply because he decided he wanted to lead the league in assists, not because he wanted to win.

    Besides, he was dominated by Russell, who actually played for his TEAM, not himself.

  15. Keith Ellis Says:

    #8 Huevon wrote: "you need to pace adjust, Wilt isn't in the same league with Assist %. He averaged 8.6 once at a much faster pace and significantly more minutes. LeBron is the more well-rounded and dominant player at their peak. And he played in a much more integrated era, not an opinion."

    Assists aren't credited thanks to "pace" or what's normally labelled Tempo. They happen Per-Game & not Per-Minute. They also occur on a shifting set of circumstances. Time was if a player took a dribble before hitting the J, Uncle Wiltie got no dime. Huevon, you need to era-Adjust. Examine Assists-per-Bucket nowadays compared to 1967. LeBron's well-roundedness never extended to the Off Glass; Dipper routinely snagged double-fig O-Rebs each nite. The Sixers' ball went thru the post; Cunningham, Greer, & Chet weren't standaround ho-hums hoping for a catch-&-shoot whilst The Man juked & jived.

    Simple math tells us the pre-ABA NBA indeed was a blackballing league, but it had just ten or so teams in an era boasting of a much deeper talent pool than we enjoy today. Here's some ancient history -- the cusp of the Baby Boomers were starting school when Brown took on the Board. Russ, Bellamy, Reed, Thurmond, & Zelmo were there along w/ Dippy when the Boomers washed into the bigs & Chamberlain's game as well as his contemporaries' remained none the worse for wear. I haven't heard anyone deride Jackie Robinson's ROY & MVP for having played against white guys before, but shortsightedness about our past knows no bounds; why not extend it to basketball? One reckons future generations will chuckle over the present-day notion that LeBron's league is "more integrated" because it has Dirk Nowitzkis instead of Bob Pettits or Larry Birds, AK-47s instead of Dave DeBusscheres & Bobby Joneses.

  16. AYC Says:

    "Keynesian outsourcing?"

    Apparently your grasp of economics is even worse than your basketball knowledge....

  17. anonymous Says:

    It would be hard to argue that the league isn't 'softer' than it was in the 90's, but I think there's another reason for this besides the rule changes. Are we to believe that Stern jumped on the steroids issue before it even entered the league? We may never know, but judging from the way it progressed in other sports, and from the fact that no one today is as buff as certain guys were in the 90's, I'd say it's quite likely the league was juiced then (at least more so than now).

    I wonder what the average weight is today versus 1997?

  18. P Middy Says:

    read this earlier this morning. Glad to see it shared here. My favorite post-finals piece of writing thus far.

  19. Mike F Says:

    Dirk did change his game.

    In those closing moments this year he was most successful going to the glass. In '06 those would have all been jumpers.

  20. Keith Ellis Says:

    Anon asks -- "I wonder what the average weight is today versus 1997?"

    Haven't checked this for some years now but can attest that in 2003 the average height of an NBA player was one-half inch taller & a dozen lbs heavier than in 1973, the year Wilt shot 73% & led the bigs in Rebounding.

    "Nineties brutality" was nothing compared to the goings-on of Sixties-thru-Eighties. Once the arc was shortened in 1994 (MJ hit nearly half his career HRs over the short fence), the NBA firmly became a stand-around jumpshooter's league, hence "softer."

    The Mavs must be the slowest-footed champs since 1953. Dwyane Wade is no DT-SkyWalker, but he blocked as many shots as the big guys in the Finals. You keep wondering watching these games -- where are the windmills who used to protect the paint?

  21. AYC Says:

    Excellent point Mike. I mentioned that Dirk plays the post more, but I didn't mention that the quick dribble drive has become a big part of his more aggressive post game. Though not known for quickness, Dirk is an excellent ballhandler, and has a lot of success with scoring inside off the dribble because defenders have to play the jumper.

  22. AYC Says:

    "Dwyane Wade is no DT-SkyWalker"

    Are you sure about that Keith?

    "Once the arc was shortened in 1994 (MJ hit nearly half his career HRs over the short fence), the NBA firmly became a stand-around jumpshooter's league, hence "softer."

    The league moved the line back to the old distance by 1997.

  23. Mike F Says:

    They should move the arc back even further.

    The 3pt shot is too valuable currently

  24. Keith Ellis Says:

    AYC (#21) -- D-Wade blocking Nowitzki's bunnies in both the '06 & '11 Finals indeed recalled DT rejecting Bill Walton down low, but Wade doesn't have a 44- (or 48-) inch vertical leap a la Thompson.

    Re the shortened arc -- when it was fiddled with in 1994 all of a sudden Louis Dampier's 25-year-old HR marks went by the wayside. Michael Jordan, who shot 50%-43%-37% from the shortened arc, dropped to a woeful 24%-19%-29% in his last three years but the league never looked back on its heave-habit, even after returning the arc to its ABA distance.

  25. AYC Says:

    If Thompson was a better leaper, it wasn't by much....

    Wade: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15MQcrsVY4Q

    Thompson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6OsKy1c5A0

  26. Kyle Says:

    Dirk has changed his game quite a bit. In 2006, he wouldn't have had the dunk where he went around Bosh to give them the game winning lead, or have two layups for game winners. He'd shoot a 3 right after missing one in the clutch part of the game. He matched both LeBron and Wade point for point in the 4th quarter, that's insane.He rebounds less(which is one reason for his longevity.) He has players around him like Tyson Chandler, Marion, and Kidd all who attack the glass, and Dirk gets big ones. He actually developed a postup game, but like a few have said, it's at the high post about 15 feet from the basket. A few off his pin point passes in traffic or off the dribble would have been turnovers by charge or steal. He is a better defensive player now(still not great), but has a team that actually knows how to make stops in the 4th quarter.

    Odd that no one's mentioning the officiating in 2006, and while they still choked letting the officials beat them... Wade got treated like he was Jordan(without being touched.)

    Tim Duncan is better on defense, but Dirk is absolutely a far more clutch player who is indefensible. Which brings me to this, he also added a go-to shot that he can pull out of his a** at any time and make. Every great player needs it, and it's as tough to guard as Kareem's sky hook. In 2010, Dirk absolutely lit up Tim Duncan, but didn't have the help he got. Dirk absolutely destroyed him in all but game averaging 27 while shooting almost 55 percent and going 40-42 from the line. Tim Duncan averaged 18 ppg at 50 percent and shot under 50 percent from the line. Sometimes when you're the only all-star on your team, you're gonna get knocked outta the first round a few times.

  27. Ricardo Says:

    "I really don't get everyone's love for Wilt. Statistically he was dominant and he was, absolutely, the most athletic and explosive player in the league."

    Because he was awesome during a time when one team had practically an entire wing of the Hall of Fame on the roster for 10 years.

    "But his statistics are inflated because he vaingloriously played to put up big numbers."

    You lifted that whole line from Shakespeare's sonnet, "Neither Screen Nor Roll", didn't you?

    "He has good assist numbers simply because he decided he wanted to lead the league in assists, not because he wanted to win."

    Then Wilt must have been crushed in 1969 and 1972, when his teams went 68-13 and 69-13 respectively. Poor Dipper - he tried so hard to avoid winning championships, and yet he inadvertently ended up on two of the best teams of all time.

    "Besides, he was dominated by Russell, who actually played for his TEAM, not himself."

    More people should emphasize the word "TEAM" in such discussions. If Russell had played for his team, that would have been impressive enough. But four capital letters?!? Damn, that guy was a WINNER. (see, I'm learning how to debate)

  28. k Says:

    "Apparently your grasp of economics is even worse than your basketball knowledge...."

    I don't think you understand the joke. Rather like George Bush "saving" capitalism through socialism, the way in which Keynesian theory carries on is through the idea of government intervention conflated with a globalist ideology that now calls for no barriers to cheap labor, e.g. outsourcing.

    The joke would be, in an allegorical sense -- and as response to the article portion I quoted -- that the NBA promoted and controlled for the ascension of certain foreign players through rule changes. The point being that the change came largely through manipulation beforehand, not as a revelation equal to or simply *as* Nowitzki's play in any type of insular sense; an idea that is as naive, in this instance, as it is fulsome.

    "It would be hard to argue that the league isn't 'softer' than it was in the 90's, but I think there's another reason for this besides the rule changes. Are we to believe that Stern jumped on the steroids issue before it even entered the league? We may never know, but judging from the way it progressed in other sports, and from the fact that no one today is as buff as certain guys were in the 90's, I'd say it's quite likely the league was juiced then (at least more so than now)."

    That's plainly miserable logic so far as cause and effect.

    Is it possible that steroids were dealt with? Certainly.

    But what we're seeing as far as the softness of this league also clearly has little to do with how 'built' these guys are; the idea that a player like Stockton used PEDs is ludicrous.

    As parallel, someone like Lebron would feature quite prominently as a freakish example of steroid use if he was playing in the 90s.

    The argument -- assumption -- that PEDs were responsible for the mentality of the NBA pre-2000s, dating back to a league that was far more physical not only in the 90s but also the 80s, 70s, 60s and even 50s rather undermines this standard from any vantage, particularly as an element of what the NBA had always been.

    And finally, the fatuousness of your argument -- that is, not only that PEDs were present, but that they could be argued as major causal value for the NBA's physical effect -- is clear simply by *watching* the game. While you're busy, at least as argumentative basis, trying to measure the players' abs, all a logical viewer has to consider is 1) how controlled every instance of physical contact now is and 2) consider the game's Nanny-state, sanitized rule book that calls for flagrants and technicals in a manner similar to a pee-wee league rather than one featuring professional athletes. With rules like this, juicing itself would be a practical non-issue as far as physical contact in any type of grueling standard or consistent basis.

    Your argument, then, is one of sophistry at best. It's not an issue, today, of guys playing at less phyiscally-direct level because they all choose to, but because they aren't allowed to play the way in which prior generations of players were.

    Anything to avoid the obvious or logical answer it would seem. I could see you working at a Washington thinktank. Hell, maybe you *are*.

  29. k Says:

    "More people should emphasize the word "TEAM" in such discussions. If Russell had played for his team, that would have been impressive enough. But four capital letters?!? Damn, that guy was a WINNER. (see, I'm learning how to debate)"

    The Russell argument is easy enough to turn around, anyway.

    For someone to look at team-result, then attempt to give almost all the credit to a supposed TEAM player like Russell, is the type of heterodoxic argumentation that is so dishonest it destroys itself.

    For, if as starting point, the ideal is to be a part of a TEAM, and no bigger than that TEAM, how can Russell get the majority -- if not ALL, as is so often the case -- credit for what that TEAM accomplished?

    The logic of this argument, then, isn't to promote team play through the player, but to use the team play argument to have a single player supersede the team altogether.

    Russell is an example of a player that gets the best of both worlds: nearly all the credit for a dynasty, with little consideration of his individual numbers -- their lack -- and thus contributions within that earlier strata.

    Pretty much the inverse of Wilt.

    The metaphysics, and meta-arguments, of championships and dynasties.

    The obvious point, of course, is that it Wilt was the better player, while Russell played on the better teams. Of course, the Russell forces will immediately try giving him all credit for those teams, while also bragging about the *team concept* Versus *star hype*.

    All without any sense of irony.

  30. sean Says:

    Can one be a 'better' player... WITHOUT being better for the 'team'? Tough to prove, but a concept that deserves some consideration, IMO. Can a 'better' player deploy himself in a manner that is NOT most beneficial to the team's welfare? If so---then is that 'better' player truly better? Perhaps he is more 'talented'? But the accolades slow down after that? I think that some 'better' players may have wasted/ do waste their 'talent' (from a team play concept) by not doing what the team needs most from them------thus compromising their affect. Hard to quantify... but some of this is at the heart of 'greatest' discussions or 'better than' discussions---and rightfully so.

  31. Keith Ellis Says:

    Wow, Mr K -- you da man! What you said.

    Corollary to the earlier ironies: Over history the NBA has named several "All-Time" assortments of teams, players, & coaches a la the Top Fifty etc of 1997. On the last occasion the NBA handed out a single Greatest Team of All Time award, honorees were the '67 '76ers. Of the eleven-or-so Greatest Players of All Time (in 1981), a group which included new arrival Julius Erving, the Greatest Individual Ever was officially recognized as Bill Russell.

    So, officially from the infallible NBA league office, Wilt's Team was the Greatest Ever & Russ IS the Greatest Ever. Dipper must be smiling up in heaven over that eternal arrangement.

    Hey Kyle (#26) -- Duncan's too long in the tooth for Dirk to be bragging about "lighting him up" in 2010! They along w/ Kevin Garnett are easily the Top Trio of ABA/NBA power forwards to star at the same time, & for so long. Altho for a one-season flash of youthful brilliance I'm partial to Doc, McGinnis, & KY's Issel in '73.

  32. AYC Says:

    "Rather like George Bush "saving" capitalism through socialism, the way in which Keynesian theory carries on is through the idea of government intervention conflated with a globalist ideology that now calls for no barriers to cheap labor, e.g. outsourcing."

    K, I think you're the one doing the conflating here. There's nothing uniquely Keynesian about globalization/outsourcing. You're just spouting more right-wing propaganda

  33. AYC Says:

    PS I agree with you about Wilt v Russ though.

  34. Keith Ellis Says:

    That's cool, AYC. The DT "career" highlights didn't include any action w/ a BiCentennial ball, so ya gotta be a little skeptical! OTOH, give Dwyane Wade a red-white-blue orb to swat or dunk & his Excitement Factor would rise by 50%, too.

    Agreed that Dirk's slow-motion dribble/dribble-spin-to-the-basket move this year isn't recalled from '06. Nowitzki's '010 playoff FTA-frequency was down a wee 3% from 2006 compared to D-Wade's 17% drop due to different officiating methodology.

  35. Bill Says:

    The Russell vs Wilt comparisons all need to be filtered through the lens of Russell playing on a team with *8* HOFers, which is more than Wilt played with in his career. Indeed, on the basis of pure team talent, Russell's Celts underperformed. They played a lot of close Finals against Lakers teams that weren't as talented as the Celtics' bench.

  36. Kyle Says:

    Sup Keith, if you could put Barry on there(he was in the NBA though) I'd agree. Dr. J and Issell were greats... Barry has been the scoring champ and a Finals MVP in the NBA. But just think how great he would have been in the ABA had he not had to sit a year due to the court ruling. So one year wasted after leading the NBA in scoring and almost beating the 76ers who had Wilt and a few other all-stars(they lost the first game in overtime in Philly, and game 6 by 3.) He still ended up leading the ABA in ppg in the regular season and playoffs. Only Dr. J had him beat in the player efficiency rating. I don't know how this isn't the first time I forgot that Barry was really great. I guess it's he could occasionally be a greedy douchebag.

  37. Ken Says:

    Jerrod said..."Besides, he was dominated by Russell, who actually played for his TEAM, not himself." really Jerrod? Go take a look at the head to head stats for the games they played each other.

  38. John Bateman Says:

    Dirk did not change that much but his team and the league changed.

    First, I have always said that if Dirk had a Big Man, he would have a better chance to win. He has had Bradley, Lafrentz, Dampier etc... They just were not good enough. When they got Haywood last year, I felt he was the best center that Dirk had. Then they got Tyson Chandler (who is better than I thought). Chandler is the best center that Dirk has ever played with. Remember early in his career, Dirk was the center on the tema. I did not think they would win a championship because I felt the pieces around him were getting old but Chandler is in his prime.

    Second, the league has changed, the players that Dirk could not beat (Duncan, SHaq, Garnett have gotten older and their games have slipped a lot faster than Dirk's, of course Dirk is at least 2 years younger than them. Also, the league has not really developed any big men in the last 10 years except for Howard (Stoudimere and Gasol are good but not as good as Dirk). There is no one in the league his size that can stop him now (though Durant seems to be that man eventually). When Dirk was on that court with Miami, he was much bigger than any other Heat player. Now that he had Chandler with him, everything fell right for him.

  39. Bill Says:

    Durant's a small forward, and even skinny for a 3. He was getting punked by Jason Kidd, let alone capable of bodying up someone Dirk's size.

  40. huevonkiller Says:

    #15

    Uh Keith, yes every stat is affected by pace. More possessions = more everything.

    Wilt's assist rate isn't in the same league. LeBron's game is much more defensive-oriented too, he probably defends every position. The leagues aren't even close to being the same on defense.

    Hard to have a deeper pool of talent when the entire league discriminated against the most important culture and group of people.

  41. Keith Ellis Says:

    Huevon, here's something else affected by Tempo, or what you're calling "pace" -- Stamina. It's one thing for LeBron to snag ten Rebs & proclaim himself a triple-doubler, but quite another for Big Dipper to muscle his way to 27 boards per nite, 80 games per year, in a compressed season lasting one month shorter. Sloth of game belies the slow thinking that plagues rather than enhances pro bkb since the Fratellos et al began micromanaging play-per-possession. The Nineties Star System has had a longer-lasting impact on pro bkb than the oldtime "discrimination" being raised. When was Wilt really discriminated against -- on the court or in those track meets? Maybe Walter Dukes was, and that's why he fouled out so often. W/out "discrimination" Darryl Dawkins could've bowled over opponents and been as big a star as Shaq. In his day the Dawk couldn't stay on the floor, just as the Big O couldn't get an Assist if his teammate took a dribble -- but John Stockton could & LBJ can.

    Time was innovative pioneers like Dipper (first C to lead the bigs in Assists) or Drazen or Dirk (first German to hit 20-40-50-90 pro plateau) were lauded for overcoming "prejudice" based on race, goonful height, or country of origin. Somehow some youths today have been taught a LeBron James is a priori superior than his elders because LBJ was *not* discriminated against -- turning Jackie Robinson's achievement on its head!

    As to the talent pool, when Big O won at Attucks twice as many Hoosier boys played highschool hoops as do in Greg Oden's Indiana. Just as US-born Blacks have largely abandoned baseball (no more Willie Mayses & Hammerin' Hanks), the US-born Whites quit playing basketball in droves (no more Mr Clutches and Bill Waltons). Anyone who wants to claim the "world" bkb-playing community equals out the decline in bkb-playing StateSide, have at it. The "world" will never equal the excellence & consistency in hoops displayed by the USA from the Thirties into the Eighties.

  42. P Middy Says:

    There's a million ways to go back and forth on this. Yeah, they had stamina, but up to the point that Wilt and Bill were running the league, how many athletic seven footers had ever existed in the Association? Two? Does Mikan count as a third? It's easier to get stats when folks are physically incapable of covering you.

    Comparing players from different generations is pretty much a fruitless exercise. Let the great ones be great in their own context and leave it at that, IMO.

  43. Keith Ellis Says:

    P Middy (42) makes a sound point. Pro bkb in the watered-down Nineties, when the league needed to import labor & dip down into the highschool pool for talent, can't really be compared to the thick-talent era of postWar Sixties thru Eighties. We know Kobe Bryant turned out to be a better pro than David Thompson, but as rookies who could compare Kobe to NCAA-champ DT?

    If today's NBA were to contract to the eight or ten teams it had in the mid-Sixties, when Wilt was thrice-MVP in a league including big men Russ, Thurmond, Zelmo, Willis, Bells, & Jerry Lucas (assuming "athleticism" isn't a code word to exclude Lucas' prowess), could it boast of seven future HoF Centers? Granted that Big Z isn't a HoFer, but he should be. Seven-foot height has little to do w/ ability under the boards, as a long list of Rebounding champs from Stokes to Russell to Moses to Ben Wallace w/ Rodman, Barkley, Truck, Cage, Big E & others in between easily demonstrates.

    Dirk Nowitzki didn't beat the Heat because he was "taller and more athletic" than Miami's big men. Simply put, he was more talented. Speaking of, Joel Anthony is a great example of what Wilt called the "Zero Men" who became so popular amongst pro bkb coaches (see Koncak, Jon).

  44. AYC Says:

    Keith, the NBA was not better in the 60's. Have you watched footage from that era recently? There was little defense, and no such thing as "shot-selection". That's why scoring was off the charts, even though shooting percentages were much lower, and there were no 3pointers. Yes there were fewer teams, but the talent pool was also much smaller with almost no foreign-born players. It's not a matter of evolution as some people mistakenly think; evolution takes a lot longer than a generation to have an effect. No, it's all about money. The NBA is big business now; it wasn't in the 50s and 60s. All that money has served as an incentive that didn't exist before; now we have an apparatus for finding talent that we didn't have before; now we have the motivation of a million+ paychecks to motivate young players, not just "the love of the game", which doesn't pay the bills. Because of the money involved, just about everything on the court is better now than it was in the 60s: defense is better, coaching is better, shooting is better (thanks to better shot selection and the three), and the athletes--drawn from all over the world--are better.

  45. AYC Says:

    PS I'm speaking generally of course. I have no doubt that Wilt and a handful of other players from the 50s and 60s would still be great today. But the reason they were so dominant then is that they were ahead of their time

  46. Keith Ellis Says:

    AYC (44), your reckoning that $$$ = Quality can be applied to many fields. Presidents & other politicians are paid better today than they were in the past. Does that make today's Presidents & pols more capable? Ditto boxers -- are today's heavyweight champs superior to Joe Louis, or Muhammad Ali?

    The NBA has more money than it once did, but the NBA didn't build the cavernous gymnasiums Indiana's enjoyed since the 1920s and 1930s. Those investments owed themselves to cultural interest & priorities, not cash flow.

    The twin phenomena of importing foreign labor & drafting highschoolers demonstrated a shallow US talent pool rather than a deeper one. Indiana imports turkey-pluckers because we lack laborers willing to work that hard anymore. But the imports, while they are superior to the home-grown alternative, don't demonstrate superiority over turkey-pluckers of the 1960s. The "love of the game" you're scoffing at is what made Russell, West, Mullins, & Mullin great players -- not the promise of perhaps making 100K per year. The late Paul Arizin quit the Warriors & sold insurance instead of moving West. He wasn't playing for the NBA's money; he kept playing in the Eastern League for several more years. Now how many 22-ppg NBA stars do we see making the "lifestyle choice" to play in the EuroLeagues?

    A mercenary culture is rarely synonymous with Quality. Rather, the true mercenary, because he is *not* playing for Love Of Game, puts in just enough to get his no-cut long-term contract. No doubt LeBron, Nowitzki, Durant & other great players today are doing their thing because they love it -- & would be overjoyed to earn six figures for playing a game instead of sitting in an office or working in a factory. But there's every reason to believe, as you yourself say, that more pros than ever are simply doing it for the money & not in pursuit of excellence and competition.

    A simple illustration: why did the hook shot die out in the NBA, when it was the shot of choice for big men from Mikan to Kareem (& Hakeem, a classic student who played for Love of Game)? If the NBA is so "scientific" and ultra-observant, why don't pro coaches re-teach a shot tailor-made for the DeadBall style so prevalent today? Because they have to work w/ the product of AAU ball-cum-Division One, whose coaches tend to frown on the hook, that's why. The NBA doesn't operate in a vacuum. Basketball-playing has been in decline for the past twenty years, as a result of not only expansion but also cultural changes. The market for quality imports didn't suddenly "get good" because of the 1992 Dream Team, altho our vanity would have us believe so.

    You mention "shot selection" -- the statistical record shows pros never shot so surely as in the early-to-middle 1980s, precisely when the last Baby Boomers entered the post-Merger league. Logic tells us the ABA & NBA rivalry years from 1967-76, particularly the first half of the Seventies, were diluted by the expansion -- but the saving grace of that era was, again, the talent flooding out of the NCAA. Once the leagues merged and the # of clubs contracted, logic again tells us Quality of play improved -- & the parity plus statistical record (e.g. FG% reflecting shot selection) supports that contention. It wasn't by happenstance that Jordan, MailMan, Olajuwon & others born in the early 1960s became champs, Finalists, & MVPs only *after* the Nineties commenced. Before them, the greatest players had nearly always been champs/Finalists/MVPs from their rookie seasons onward.

  47. huevonkiller Says:

    #41

    Keith more possessions => more points allowed. You're not really thinking very clearly on both sides of the ball.

    Keith the demographics are what I am referring to, yes the league was discriminating against the most important culture. It doesn't matter if it was partially accepting of some races, the era was very messed up.

    The league is a big business now that means people sacrifice a lot more, and there are more people in the WORLD, that care about playing Pro basketball. The advanced stats don't support your case that's the biggest reason too.

  48. Keith Ellis Says:

    Well, Huevon, you may name-call me as an "unclear thinker," but we don't disagree that the ABA/NBA era featured faster thinking & playing as a result of quicker tempo. Still, stall-ball is nothing new; see the miraculous Milan team of Hoosiers movie fame that won in 1954, beating the "most important culture's" Crispus Attucks team led by Oscar Robertson. Dumbing down basketball via clock-control was begun by micromanaging coaches lacking confidence in their personnel and spread w/ the heave-for-HRs mindset of the early Nineties. Note that altho Team PPGs from the beginning of the Sixties to the end of the Nineties dropped by 20% (from 115-120 ppg to 90-95 ppg), & FG%s were about the same (about 43-44%), individual PPGs of the Star System's featured players remained about the same. Obviously, such a reduction in on-floor activity (fewer FGAs/Rebs/Errors) meant many more pros not-working on the Offensive end & thus less Defense being played. If the NBA had a 5-second rule, all of today's extra dribbling and standing around w/ the ball wouldn't be allowed.

    If you think Jackie Robinson's ROY/MVP & stats deserve an asterisk because Jackie played in an otherwise all-white league lacking in the "most important culture," then good luck fighting the established historical record. And maybe you could name a few of the race-men who weren't allowed to compete vs Dipper or Russell -- aside from Stokes, Bells, Thurmond, Zelmo, Reed, Hayes, Unseld, Jabbar, & Lanier?

    When has "big business" i.e. largesse ever signified sacrifice? More often, corpulence (in the form of fat salaries) and complacency via no rival-league competition are formulae for decadence. Let's rewind that 96-54 Finals game from 1998 for "footage of excellence." And AYC (#44) -- I've watched the past 40 NBA Finals plus 5 ABA Finals along w/ 'em & never noticed many of my elders bemoaning the "poor quality" of the Sixties pro game. Such ideas are a recent invention viewed through a faulty rearview mirror that cautions its objects are closer to us than they appear to be.

  49. AYC Says:

    I've watched games from the 60s. The reality was a lot less impressive than the legend. Race down the court and chuck up a shot as quickly as possible was the offensive strategy. Watching Satch Sanders brick long jumper after long jumper is high comedy. A role-player like Satch would get benched in a heartbeat for attempting such shots today, but back then it was the norm. You never hear 60s announcers complain about bad; the whole concept of shot selection hadn't been invented yet!

    Meanwhile, a star guard like Oscar could put up 30 point triple doubles while showing less leaping ability than Larry Bird. A supposedly legendary leaper like Elgin Baylor was comparable to Paul Pierce, who is unremarkable by today's standards; except that Pierce doesn't throw up nearly as many airballs and bricks. A great shooter like Jerry West rarely took shots from 24+ feet, because there was no 3pt line. (Yes, oldtimers, the three has made modern players better shooters). Coaching was terrible by today's standards, as was defense

  50. BSK Says:

    AYC-

    Bingo-bango!

    The NBA needs to expand the court. Make it 5-10 feet longer and 4-6 feet wider. Make the 3 point line a true arc. The players are so big and fast and athletic that having them play on the same court as the fuddy duddies of yesteryear is akin to playing 6 on 6 back then. The court is just too crowded. And anyone who thinks otherwise is just waxing nostalgic.

    Pete Maravich is often regarded as one of the greatest offensive players and shooters of all time. People cite his 40+ points per game in college and nearly 25 points per game in the NBA as evidence of his brilliance. Yet he shot barely 44% for his career, and this was before the 3-point line which likely would have decreased his percentage. Maravich could have maybe carved out a JJ Barea type niche for himself in today's NBA.