Seldom do you hear the name "Dirk Nowitzki" in the conversation about the greatest power forwards to ever play in NBA history. He is one of the last guys people think about. Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Kevin Garnett have all gotten more fame and recognition in their careers. Duncan being regarded as the best ever in this position is extremely understandable; however, the rest are arguable. Nowitzki is in the discussion among them. While Nowitzki has not received the same attention as most of the other players considered to be some of the best power forwards of all-time, he should not be discredited at all for his 17 years and counting in the league.
The Dallas Mavericks have been fortunate enough to have Nowitzki as the cornerstone of their franchise. He led the team to over a decade's worth of playoff appearances. He has done it mainly by himself since has not had the luxury of having many All-Stars play alongside him in Dallas. He was a part of a fun trio with Michael Finley and Steve Nash years ago, but he has not had anyone near a superstar level in his career. He still managed to give the Mavericks a championship in 2011 with one player on the roster as an All-Star. During the course of that playoff run, he managed to lead the Mavericks past other superstars in the Western Conference and take out the Miami Heat and their Big Three in the Finals, and he was the second European player to ever win a Finals MVP award that year.
The sad part is how little credit Nowitzki really got for that series and the general playoffs that year. His stellar play and tremendous playoff run was overshadowed by the Heat and Jason Kidd. Everyone was more interested in taking note of how the Miami superstars were not able to win in the Finals, so that took up most of the attention. On the other side in Dallas, the media and spotlight was happy solely for Kidd and how he won his first ring. It is safe to say no one took in the fact that it was Nowitzki's first Finals victory as well. Nowitzki's story was hidden. Dallas fans were obviously happy for him, but the media attention he failed to receive was (and still) is disheartening.
Others also claim that Nowitzki is not a prime-time player and does not show up when it matters. Career-wise, he averages 22.5 points per game. In the playoffs, he's averaged 25.6 points AND 10.1 rebounds per game. Nowitzki might not be the greatest rebounder ever, but he is overlooked in that category. He spends a lot of time on the perimeter being a stretch-four. He is not near the rim as much as most big-men. While he spaces out the floor by a large margin, he will not be able to grab as many rebounds as the guys who are living in the key. Defense is another category where he is labeled incorrectly. Nowitzki was a terrible defender earlier in his career, but has made strides into actually becoming a very solid one. Under Rick Carlisle, Nowitzki's efforts have gone up, and he plays good team defense. He is consistent as a help defender, and he has quick hands. He has had five seasons where he has averaged at least one block and one steal per game. His career averages in each of those is 0.9. Not too shabby for a guy who has been seen as a "liability" on the defensive side of the ball his whole career.
Nowitzki is the greatest big-man shooter to ever play the game. He is a 12-time All-Star, a part of the 50-40-90 club, and a former Most Valuable Player. He has been loyal to the Mavericks his entire career, and he stuck with them despite not having the greatest talent on the roster at times. He has had his fair share of injuries a few seasons back, but appeared in 157 games these past two seasons, averaging 19.5 points per game on great all-around shooting numbers. He even led Dallas to a near-upset of the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Nowitzki took considerably less money last offseason to land more key players for the Mavs. Not too many star players do that anymore, let alone any player in general. 77 other players made more money than Nowitzki last season, with a lot of them not possessing his skill level nor his winning mindset.
The media constantly mentions that Tim Duncan has been playing so well his whole career. Well, Nowitzki is 37-years-old himself, and he is still averaging around 20 points per game at this stage in his career. Credit that to his shooting and that deadly fadeaway jumper. As mentioned, though, he is 37-years-old, and we might be seeing the last of the 7-foot German on the court within these next few years. With the small extent of credit he has received in his career, Dirk Nowitzki might just be the most underrated power forward ever.