Tim Duncan Versus Dirk Nowitzki: A Matchup for the Ages


The Spurs and Mavericks kick off the season in tomorrow in San Antonio, where the Spurs will raise their fifth championship banner, and Dirk Nowitzki will see Timmy receive his Championship thumb-ring.

It is what has to be a very humbling experience for Nowitzki, simply one of the best in NBA history, who unfortunately plays in the era of Duncan.

Dirk Nowitzki is a top-ten scorer who has had a Shaq-like impact on the way his position is played, and how defenses play the power-forward.

A seven-footer with limited defensive skills, limited rebounding skills, and limited passing skills, whose offensive game erases those negatives and makes him indispensable.

Dirk Nowitzki stretches the floor to the point where defenders are forced to step so far out from the rim, that rebounding becomes a zero-sum stat.  On offense, we’ve been promised a low post game for a decade, and he has never delivered, and it has never mattered.

Dirk simply hits shots (26,785 points on 47% shooting from the floor).  Dirk does not play defense (1,095 blocks and 1,037 steals, in 16 years).  For a comparison, Kevin Garnett recorded 1,785 steals and 2,010 blocks in a similar career.

Defense wasn’t the calling card of coach Don Nelson, making absolutely sure that defense wasn’t the calling card of his star.

A focus on scoring won games in Nellie-ball, but only regular season games.  Nelson’s style earned him 1,335 wins in the regular season and only 75 wins in the playoff rounds.

Which takes me back to Timmy and the Spurs.

The yin to Dirk’s yang.

Tim’s game is as boring and Dirk’s is innovative.  Tim doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen in by-gone eras.  He simply does it better.  I’ve been shooting the ball off the glass in my driveway since I was four years old.  It’s not hard.  Facing the basket and shooting a bank-shot has to be one of the most fundamental, non-fluid, and boring ways to score.  How has the ten-foot bank shot not been phased out in the modern-NBA?

It is just as indefensible as Dirk’s one-legged fade-away is Duncan’s bank shot (9,623 made 2-point field goals on 51% shooting).  Tim holds the ball, lulls the defender to sleep with a cobra-like jab step, then rockets the ball to the top-corner, then jogs back to defend the paint.  By the way, Tim’s defense is strong (2,791 blocks and 915 steals).

These two are comparable in that they play the same position in the same era.  And that is where the comparison stops.

One had the advantage of coaching stability in a model that emphasizes defense and ball movement.

The other had a system that focused on pressing the ball and scoring, and a coaching round table and ownership regularly competing for headlines.  Both players are clear hall-of-famers, which is truly more of a credit to Dirk.

Tim Duncan is the yin to Dirk Nowitzki’s yang. Tim’s game is as boring and Dirk’s is innovative.

Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward in NBA history, in a system set up for him to be successful and experience longevity.

The stats and championship success have followed.

Dirk Nowitzki is one of the greatest players in NBA history, despite a system that would have been better suited for strong backcourt play.

One wonders what would have happened had been drafted by the opposite team.

Here are the combined measurables:1. Dirk and Timmy have 33 years of NBA experience.2. 2,442 combined games.3. 51,690 combined points (This is greater than the sum of points the New Orleans Pelicans have scored since 2008.)4. 86,208 combined minutes played.

We are nearly twenty-years into this battle, and its just as intense as ever.  After the smoke machines are turned off on October 28, and the actual game begins, the Mavs will find themselves in a prime position to escape the AT&T Center with the first win of a long season.

They have dramatically upgraded their team with the re-acquisition of Tyson Chandler and the signing of Chandler Parsons.

With Tyson back, Dirk gets the freedom to move back into the all-too-familiar role of shooter, versus the uncomfortable post-player he has been forced to become in the years following their title.  Parsons is going to stretch the floor and hit threes- which is great for Dirk Nowitzki.

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San Antonio won’t be as able to swarm Dirk on defense.  When the double-team comes for Dirk, he will have to swing the ball quickly for the Mavericks to be effective.  As we are all aware, team defense is the calling card of the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio continues to draft and develop players on a top-drawer level in the NBA.  The players are there to keep Dallas in the role of second-best team in the Southwest Division.  If the Spurs execute Pop’s plan, Spurs win, Dallas loses.

It is impossible not to be a Dirk-fan, but I will have my fingers crossed on October 28 for a Spurs win.  If nothing else we should appreciate the match up of two of the all time greats to go head-to-head once again.

Next: San Antonio Spurs vs Dallas Mavericks Game Preview