Kevin Garnett recently revealed the top five power forwards of all time in his opinion. Garnett was being humble by leaving himself off the list, but anyone who has followed his career knows that he thinks of himself ahead of at least two of these players.
The excuse for leaving himself off is understandable. But there is another omission that is glaring, especially to this Dallas Mavericks fan. Dirk Nowitzki is without question one of the top five power forwards of all time. Karl Malone is the only power forward to have scored more points and no other power forward can match Nowitzki’s combination of an MVP, Finals MVP, and 30,000 career points.
Garnett was no stranger to Nowitzki’s greatness. Nowitzki and his Mavericks absolutely destroyed Garnett in their only playoff matchup. Nowitzki averaged 33.3 points, 15.7 rebounds and staggering shooting splits of 52.6 percent from the field, 72.7 percent from three and 88.9 percent from the free throw line on the way to a three-game sweep in the best of five series.
Given the dominance of Nowitzki in this series, it is possible that Garnett has repressed the memories. Garnett was a fantastic player, and like Nowitzki was charged with a Sisyphean task of pushing a team with less talent up a mountain to contend with both the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs dynasties during the early 2000s Western Conference.
Common discussion would have you believe that Garnett was saddled with rosters which were far inferior to Nowitzki’s during this time. That is incorrect. Garnett played with more talent than most people remember. He played with Chauncey Billups, Wally Sczerbiak, Sam Cassell, Terrell Brandon and Latrell Sprewell among others. Nowitzki played with Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Jason Terry, Nick Van Exel and Antawn Jamison among others. That talent gap is a good bit smaller than common discussion would have you believe.
Both players eventually broke through to win a title, but they did so in different fashions. Garnett abandoned his rock and his mountain to form a Hydra in Boston with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. All three are inner circle hall of famers who were surrounded with a solid supporting cast.
Nowitzki never abandoned his rock or his mountain or the city of Dallas. Nowitzki eventually pushed the rock over the top of the mountain in one of the most inspiring and joy inducing championship runs in NBA history with the 2011 title. That run really does inspire thoughts of a mythological hero when one considers all that Nowitzki had to overcome. The Mavericks began the playoffs with a hinderance as Caron Butler, who had been arguably their second-best player, was out for the year. They dispatched the Portland Trailblazers in six games despite a healthy Brandon Roy and Lamarcus Aldridge combination which would be remembered more fondly if not for Roy’s injury issues.
Then they faced the first titan along their path. The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off back-to-back titles and were dominant with size. The Lakers had a multi-skilled hall-of-fame power forward from Europe in Pau Gasol and an intimidating group of size that could turn their opponents to stone. Like Perseus attacking Medusa, Nowitzki and the Mavericks used a mirror(their own multiskilled hall-of-fame power forward) and a sword (their three-point shooting) to destroy the Lakers. The Mavericks swept the Lakers and ended a dynasty.
The Mavericks then faced the Oklahoma City Thunder who were basically a basketball Chimera. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and a young James Harden provided the three heads of the Chimera, but once again the Mavericks and Nowitzki, this time cast as Bellerophon were able to prevail. Nowitzki put on perhaps the greatest display of pure shooting and contested shot making in basketball history during this series, especially in Game 1. Nowitzki scored a staggering 48 points on only 15 shots as he made all 24 of his free throws.
Finally, after defeating those monsters, the Mavericks still had one monster to defeat. The Miami Heat and their “big three” of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had formed their own Hydra. Nowitzki and the Mavericks used the fire of their perseverance and grit to eliminate each of the three heads in route to a six-game series win and Nowitzki’s only championship.
The Mavericks 2011 championship truly was a hero’s journey for Nowitzki and the culmination of over a decade of strife and toil. The bitter taste of those failures is what made the victory so sweet and why Mavericks fans will go to such lengths to protect Nowitzki’s legacy.
Nowitzki should be ahead of Garnett on all time power forward lists, but it is an understandable argument and the two are often compared. The issue with this list is not Garnett believing himself to be better than Nowitzki, it is believing Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace to be better.
Tim Duncan is the best power forward ever. Karl Malone is the third all-time leading scorer and was a beast on both ends. Charles Barkley was a force on the court who very nearly beat Michael Jordan in his prime before he became a TNT host. Rasheed Wallace was an incredibly talent who never fully realized his potential. Chris Webber was the same, though he came much closer than Wallace.
If you ask NBA fans from the time about Wallace, their first memories will be of what he could have been and technical fouls. If someone is referring to how good someone could have been, there is an inherent understanding that they were not actually as good as they could have been.
Pure point totals are not always a way to distinguish between players but a good way to explain how far Wallace is from Nowitzki in terms of legacy is to review their respective point totals. Nowitzki had 31560 points in his career. Wallace had 16006 points in his. This means if Wallace had repeated his career and exactly the same things he did during his actual career, he would only have 452 points more than Nowitzki did.
Webber was a truly special talent. He matched up with Nowitzki often in the early 2000s and his Sacramento Kings team was one of the most fun teams to watch. But the caveat of what could have been also hampers his legacy. Wallace was a fantastic defender, but Webber was a liability on that end. His case is purely based on offense. He barely scored more than Wallce, ending his career with 17182 points. That number again looks paltry compared to Nowitzki’s as if doubled it would result in less than 3000 more points than Nowitzki’s actual career.
Nowitzki will not say anything about this list. He doesn’t have to. If someone says that Lebron James is better than Jordan, Jordan might very well respond. But if someone says that Donovan Mitchell is better than Jordan, he is unlikely to say anything. This is because to respond means that the initial comment is at least worthy of consideration. In this case, the idea that Webber and Wallace deserve to be higher is so ludicrous that Nowitzki even acknowledging the idea would be to give it more legitimacy than it deserves. Nowitzki was in a different class than Wallace and Webber. And despite what Garnett said, he is clearly one of the top five power forwards of all time.