Up With the Greats

Dirk Nowitzki quietly climbs record books during his most efficient season ever

Nowitzki quietly climbs record books during most efficient season ever

Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki recently passed Moses Malone to move into seventh place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Photo by Danny Bollinger

While the Dallas Mavericks have spent the past couple of months sorting through new players and integrating Rajon Rondo into their team dynamic, Dirk Nowitzki has quietly climbed the NBA’s most prestigious record book.

Monday night in Brooklyn, Nowitzki passed Moses Malone to move into seventh place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. After finishing with 15 points in the overtime victory, Nowitzki had 27,412 career points. Of course, it was Nowitzki who hit the game-winner in overtime for the Mavs.

Malone became the third Hall of Famer Nowitzki passed on the all-time list, after Hakeem Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes. Nowitzki needs a little more than 1,000 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal to move into the No. 6 slot. Count on that happening next season.

 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal. Nowitzki belongs with them.

This is the rare air that the quiet German occupies as he nears the midpoint of his 17th NBA season. It’s a stratosphere of NBA legends ahead of him. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and O’Neal. Nowitzki belongs with them.

And yet, sometimes, it feels like we have to ask for permission to include Nowitzki in the conversation. He doesn’t define himself by bravado or salary. He took a pay cut this season to give the Mavericks room to attract new players.

He doesn’t need the praise — or, if he does, he doesn’t act like it. He doesn’t have a plethora of national endorsements, even though the locals know he has the personality for it. Doubt it? Go to YouTube and search “Dirk Nowitzki, Game Day.”

Recently in an ESPN the Magazine article, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony said that he wanted to have the “appearance of success” in his off-court endeavors. Nowitzki doesn’t have the appearance of success. He has actual success, including a NBA championship. Yet Anthony — a player that has never sniffed the NBA finals — gets far more attention.

Nowitzki may get to another NBA finals before Anthony gets to his first if the Mavs keep trending up.

The Rondo trade has had the desired effect. It has improved the Mavs’ overall perimeter defense. In fact, the Mavs as a team are allowing five points fewer per game since Rondo came to Dallas from Boston.

Integrating Rondo into the offense will still take a bit more work, but the Mavs have the weapons to weather the transition. It’s a brutal Western Conference; the Mavericks could win 60 games this year and still end up in fourth or fifth place. Two games separated the top three teams in the Southwest Division as of Wednesday, a division where the Mavs are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for first place.

But one could argue that Nowitzki is playing some of his most efficient basketball as his career winds down. Yes, his scoring average is down 3.3 points from a year ago. But he’s also asked to do less, and he’s being given less time on the floor.

He’s averaging less than 30 minutes per game for the first time since his rookie season, and the rest of his numbers — from shooting percentage and rebounding to shots attempted and free throw percentage — haven’t taken a noticeable dip. He is finally receiving the kind of rest that another contemporary, the Spurs’ Tim Duncan, has been getting for the past three years.

An efficient, less weary Nowitzki should make for a fresher Nowitzki when the postseason arrives, one in which he might more closely resemble the 2011 Nowitzki that dominated the postseason.

But even if he doesn’t, his spot in NBA history is secure. He’s made sure of that over 17 incredible seasons and secured it further with a patented clutch Dirk 3-pointer Monday night, a shot we’ve seen so many times we somehow take it for granted.