Tuesday, June 14, 2011

16 comments Dirk - The Best Player in the NBA?

Here's the link to Dime, in case you're feeling traffic friendly.

Anyway, to the post.

My NBA fanhood boils down to a series of moments. Michael Jordan’s shove of Bryon Russell. Allan Houston’s Game 5 floater against the Heat to send the Knicks to the second round of the ‘99 playoffs. LeBron James’ 48 points against Detroit in Game 5 of the ’07 playoffs. The Kobe to Shaq alley-oop in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The Ron Artest Game 7 three-pointer in last years’ NBA Finals, followed by a ceremonial salute to his therapist.

Of course these aren’t the only memorable moments to transpire over the past 13 years, but they’re the ones that stick out to me. They’re the ones that replay in my head when I reminisce. I can recall where I was, the emotions, the movements, everything. In 1999, I was parked on my bed, eating a box of wheat thins as was my go-to, childhood snack ritual. My love of the game stemmed more from a star-struck demeanor than any particular appreciation of the inner workings of basketball. When Houston nailed that shot, of course I was happy. My brother and father had bred me to become a die-hard Knicks fan. But watching Allan Houston run down the court, furiously throwing his fist through the air in celebration, showed me something I was otherwise oblivious to. These players cared just as much as I did. They weren’t merely manifestations of the N64 games I religiously played. Happiness, frustration, disappointment and satisfaction were all a part of my youth basketball leagues, so why couldn’t they exist in the NBA?

When Dirk savagely cut the heart out of Oklahoma City in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, I knew I had witnessed one of those moments. Some of my friends had just moved into a new apartment – the television was on the floor and we were sitting on alarmingly uncomfortable wooden chairs. But Dirk’s inspiring play lessened my discomfort because everyone around me knew what was happening. Is this for real? We knew Dirk was great, but he had never displayed that extra gear. The one that heightens your sensitivity to your every surrounding. After the comeback was complete, we sat in stunned silence. The room was pulling for Oklahoma City, but no one was pissed about what had happened. In ten minutes, Dirk was beginning to carve out a new place for his legacy.

But one moment is not enough to define a career. No matter how many times I relive throwing my wheat thin-filled hand in the air, it won’t elevate Allan Houston to Hall of Fame status. It takes a compilation of legendary moments or a transcendent playoff performance culminating in an NBA championship. After Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, we knew that the latter was possible. The former, however, is hardly possible. For the past 13 years, Dirk’s career has essentially passed us by without anyone noticing. As analysts, we constantly preach consistency. And that’s exactly what Dirk has provided. 11 50-win seasons, at least 23.0 PPG for seven straight years and an unchanging, ever-deadly jump shot. Throughout his NBA journey, we’ve known what we’re getting with Dirk. Not outstanding, but just on the cusp. That’s why we’re enamored with the Kobe’s, D-Wade’s and LeBron’s of the NBA. They may not be as consistent, but they’re capable of the unthinkable. Just when we think we’ve figured them out, they take it to a whole new level of absurdity.

Every element of Dirk’s game is planned an executed. When he walks on the court, it feels like every step, dribble, spin or shot is fine tuned to his exact specifications. He plays basketball like a weekend warrior – perfecting his jumper because he has no hint of athleticism. And so we want to root for him. But Dirk’s ascension has been, for the most part, frustrating. He’s a 32-year-old star unwilling to embrace our open arms. The more love we show him, the more he runs away. His press conferences are short. When the Mavs clinched the Western Conference Finals, Doris Burke awkwardly searched for him on national television. Where was he? In the locker room. He quietly slipped away, allowing Mark Cuban to bask in the glory. In his attempt to deflect the attention, he only caused more to head his way. Look at how Dirk’s focused on an NBA title, not a conference title. Look how humble he is. Look how unassuming he is. Less than a month ago, these were the traits of losers. Now that he’s won the title, it’s the mark of a winner.

The truth is that we never know how bad a superstar wants it until he gets close. Dwyane Wade flew around the court with reckless abandon. LeBron James can sugarcoat it all he wants, but he disappeared Dirk, however, ambled up and down the court with an air of certainty. He was the only player on the court that, when he touched the ball, my senses enhanced. Just the mere threat of a basket left me on the edge of my seat. On the rare occasions that he missed, my heart sank. I was shocked and disappointed. Even though my mind knows that he’ll miss over 50% of his shots, my heart was unwilling to accept this reality. That to me is the mark of greatness. He was the only player on the court whose failure was completely and utterly unexpected.

So where does Dirk go from here? He’s got his title, he defeated evil. Yet he’ll never get the credit, no matter what we do. He’ll always be the sub-plot to the LeBron James storyline. But take a look at the raw facts. As much as we love to praise team chemistry over individual stars, these Finals did come down to individuals. Late in the 4th quarter, it was LeBron, Wade and Bosh vs. Dirk and Jason Terry. On paper, the outcome is certain. But all but once, the Mavs won. Dirk won. A Miami victory would have finally validated our long-held belief that LeBron is the best on the planet. But instead of clarifying, these Finals complicated.

Somehow it still feels like Dirk stole LeBron’s mantle and the question of the NBA’s best player is relatively obvious. Still, the question has to be asked: Is it time to rid ourselves of the pre-conceived notion that LeBron is the best? Dirk beat LeBron with less help, plain and simple. If we measure greatness by winning, Dirk won. If we measure greatness by doing more with less, Dirk won. So who’s to say that Dirk is not the best player on the planet right now? What more does he have to do? All I know is that I don’t have an answer.


brent daniels said...

I always think there is really no way to figure this out. The only thing we can say for sure is the Mavs were the best team this year. Best player can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. I have a really hard time comparing people who play different positions. Also when we say best player, defense is totally left out a lot of the time. I would say right now Dirk is the best PF, Wade is the best SG, Howard is the best C, Paul when healthy is the best PG, and James is the best SF, but Dirk is by far the weakest defender of any of these players. I don't really know and I agree with you its hard to figure out.

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J.S. said...

LeBron is still the best player in the NBA, but I admit my confidence in that truism is a little shaken. I was thinking about this the other day and my list is;

Deron Williams

Bengoodfella said...

Brent, it is nearly impossible to figure this out. The best player in the NBA right now is probably still LeBron James, though if you switched he and Dirk this year is there any question the Mavs would have failed to win the NBA title? There is no way the Mavs with LeBron are able to win the title, at least that's my opinion.

J.S., you have Howard up pretty high and some may argue with that. He's very good, no doubt, but I would probably put Dirk above him at this point. Still, not a bad list at all. Though I would also put Paul above Deron Williams.

J.S. said...

He's so far ahead of anyone else defensively it's not even remotely an argument. So, how a player that far ahead of the rest of the field isn't meant to be in the top two baffles me. He was also 11th in scoring this year, despite the rep he gets on that end - Dirk was 10th. Pau Gasol (52.9%), Dirk (51.7%) and LeBron (51.0%) were the only other members of the top 25 to comfortably clear 50%...Howard shot 59.3%.

I loved what Dirk did these playoffs, truly, and he's an offensive marvel, but he's 33, and Howard is 25, and I'm not sure, ring aside (and Howard will have one by 33 I'm certain, somewhere) how you could possibly make the argument Dirk is better. I could go on about this for pages and pages, I nearly had cartoon steam out of my ears about the MVP this year. Derrick Rose is the fourth best point guard in the NBA for Christ's sake.

J.S. said...

I also have Rondo ahead of Paul, for what it's worth.

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., I'm not a huge Howard fan for various reasons, but I recognize what a great defensive player he is. I am guessing people would take Dirk over Howard at this point, though it may be partially be a reaction to the Finals.

Rondo over Paul? I don't agree with that. Rondo is a step below Chris Paul. Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. I do like Rondo, but I wouldn't put him in the same category as Chris Paul.

J.S. said...

Better rebounder, better man on man defender, comprable facilitator (though I have to admit I was impressed with what Paul did this year with an atrocious offensive team), more resiliant, bigger, stronger, younger better post player. More unique in terms of his hands and wingspan. The only thing Chris does better is shoot, and he's hardly some marksman from out there. And I was outraged Paul didn't win the MVP in 2008...I have a long and storied history with being furious at NBA writers with the MVP.

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., I will give you the better rebounder and younger part. I am a fan of Rondo, no doubt about it. Not even counting shooting, I think Paul is a better facilitator and an equally as good defender. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

I am just shocked Paul isn't widely considered the best PG in the NBA. He's only a year older than Rondo and has proven he can play at a high level on a mediocre team.

My real concern is how much I am going to overrate Kyrie Irving. I love him. I will need to temper my expectations for him.

J.S. said...

Thinking about it, Paul probably is a better facilitator. I think Allen's work off the ball and Pierce's general man on man skills make that pretty easy for Rondo, mind you, Garnett cannot create his own shot at all any more, and on the break, Rondo has no equal amongst point guards. The extra 1.5 assists per game Rondo accumulates is probably enough to call this about a wash, there's not enough here to make it decisive either way.

However, and I say this with muchos respect for your opinions on sports, Paul equally good as Rondo defensively? That's absurd to me. Certainly in the passing lanes, these are the two best in the league, but Rondo is much stronger, is much longer, and is just better on his man. The fact is, Paul is weak, and can be abused in the post by Miller, Williams, Rondo types with regularity. He makes up for this by his incredible work taking the ball away, but Rondo does this, stays in front of his man, traps better, and holds his own in the post - he literally does it all defensively as a point guard.

Years ago I wouldn't have given a shit about this at all - point guards were all about offense and centres all about defense, but considering Dirk is like the second best post player in the game (unbelievable really) and so many point guards are these huge scoring weapons for teams now, Rondo's brilliance here really makes him incomperable.

Also, Rondo may wander mentally through the season, but he's breathtaking in big games, and is way less injury prone than Paul. It's close, and thinking Paul is better is certainly defensible, but I really do strongly disagree; Rondo is a one of a kind.

As for Williams, simply the most complete floor leader in the NBA, stronger than any other point guard and the best fourth quarter guy in the league - bar none as far as I'm concerned.

Just thought I should give a full account of my opinion.

J.S. said...

We should have a roundtable on this, defending and attacking each others picks, would be awesome fun :D

Reza5150 said...

Dirk IS the best player in the NBA right now.

It is about clutch time and that is him.

Who wrote Lebron?? Come on, did you watch the finals? It is that simple.

Do you think they would have said Jordan was the best if he lost in the finals each year.

Don't believe the hype.

Bengoodfella said...

Reza, I guess if clutch time is the only criteria then Dirk would be the best player in the NBA for this year. I don't know if clutch time is what being the best player in the NBA is ALL about, but it certainly is a big part of it.

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Aaron said...

Dirk is plenty athletic and was extremely athletic when he was younger. You're just looking for a counter to the 'roided out james and are using the 'Dirk is white so he must not be athletic' angle.

And he's been doing what he did this postseason for years. it's just people are finally noticing it because his team finally came through and helped him out for a change.

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