A year ago, there was no doubt that Dirk Nowitzki deserved to be considered one of the truly elite players in the NBA.
He was months removed from carrying the Mavericks to the franchise’s first title, a playoff run that marched past Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Thunder and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s Heat.
The respect Nowitzki earned was reflected by his lofty spot in ESPN.com’s #NBARank: No. 5.
Now? Nowitzki has slipped out of the top 10, landing at No. 11 in this year’s edition of #NBARank. He had one of the biggest slides on the point-based voting system, dropping from 9.67 to 8.64.
The afterglow of the title run is gone. Nowitzki is coming off his worst statistical season since 1999-2000, his second year in the league and the last time he didn’t receive some type of All-NBA recognition.
Is No. 11 too low for a legend still capable of lighting it up? That depends on whether you believe last season was a lockout-related aberration or the beginning of Dirk’s decline.
Let’s compare Nowitzki to players who have yet to be ranked. You could make a strong case for Nowitzki over Deron Williams, but coach Rick Carlisle’s pre-summer, on-the-record comment that the Mavs’ goal was to make Dirk the second-best player on the Dallas roster would be used against you. Then again, that might have just been part of a failed recruiting pitch to the native of The Colony.
Wade and Westbrook? They’re second fiddles on Finals teams — and Wade is another star whose decline might have started — but they put up better numbers than Nowitzki last season.
What about fellow power forward Kevin Love? He averaged 26.0 points per game, is the league’s best rebounder and is Nowitzki’s peer as a 3-point shooter. But Love has never even played in a playoff game, much less put a team on his back for a title run.
Knees willing, and Nowitzki says they are, No. 11 is a little low for the Mavs’ No. 41.