I’m not surprised that Kevin Durant has a great deal of respect for Dirk Nowitzki’s game. Prior to Dirk becoming one of the best players in the league, all the basketball players who were bigger than most of the other basketball players were scoffed at for not playing with their back to the basket. Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett are two of the best forwards to ever play basketball, but neither one of them viewed themselves, or played the game, like the bruising bigs before them.
Sure Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing took plenty of jump shots, but it wasn’t the same as those two. Garnett had many traditional basketball fans cursing their televisions with those 18-footers he used to take. Webber, he’d take a jumper from above the free-throw line in a heartbeat. However, Nowitzki took it further than that. He caught the soft big-man criticism worse than anyone and ended up revolutionizing the game by being seven-feet tall and raining jumpers from everywhere. Pull-up threes, one legged fadeaways, catch and shoot, both corners of the free throw circle, 18-footers in the face of a defender, he did it all.
It was Nowitzki scoring 25-plus points per game in the offensively changed early aughts era of NBA basketball that would give Oklahoma City Thunder the idea to draft the gangly Durant in 2007 to originally play him at shooting guard. In 1995, some college coach would’ve sent him to the training table with the football team and made him do pushups for any shot outside of 13 feet. When Nowitzki got to the Mavericks he had the perfect coach to get his career started, Don Nelson — the creator of Run TMC.
On Durant’s latest episode of The Boardroom, he talked about how much he admired Nowitzki’s game. Durant went into detail about what he learned from incorporating some of Nowitzki’s patented shots into his game, and also how impressed he was with how intense Nowitzki’s workouts were with his shooting coach in Germany. Durant really sounded like a fan, describing how Nowitzki would bury that back to the basket, turnaround shot, falling away on one leg. He even went out of his way to call Nowitzki the best big man shooter of all time.
“Although I respect [Karl Anthony Towns],” Durant said on the podcast. “But Dirk Nowitzki…”
Towns said in December that the stats show that he is the best shooting big man of all time. I would say they show that he’s the best three-point shooting big man who also still is a top scorer, but that’s still a no on Towns. He shoots more threes, and at a better percentage, but Dirk was a pure shooter. As great as he was, he still played most of his career before NBA teams started realizing their math was wrong, and wanted players to stop shooting the long 2-pointers that earned Nowitzki an MVP and a spot on the 75th anniversary team.
Some might think Durant should be considered the best big man shooter of all time (one of those people being me.) His co-host, Banksy, asked Durant why doesn’t give himself that title. Durant’s response was expected, “I’m not a big man.” Banksy flatly said that he doesn’t believe Durant when he tells him that he is less than 7-feet. Durant claims that he was measured at 6-foot-9 ½ before the start of this season — a half-inch taller than he was measured at the 2007 combine with no shoes. Here’s a picture of Durant standing next to Joel Embiid, you be the judge.
Durant might not be a big bodied man, but he’s a big. How else does he easily drop those hooks, floaters with no head start, and 8-footers into the basket over post defenders. Durant’s game is an evolved version of Nowitzki’s. He can say Nowitzki is a big and he’s not, but that’s an inconsistent take.
People forget because Nowitzki played for 20 years, and spent almost half of them playing at -0.5x speed, that he was quite agile early in his career. He led breaks, crossed people over, and regularly used his dribble to get to where he wanted to on the court. Nowitzki was drafted in 1998 and if you look at that draft, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce, etc. none of them were as spry at 33-years-old as they were when they first came into the league. That is a new phenomenon of modern medicine. Player’s like Durant, LeBron James, and Chris Paul still moving great well into their 30s is unusual — especially Durant following a foot and an achilles injury. Pierce was in the McDonald’s All-American dunk contest, you’d have never known that by looking at his game 13 years later when the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship.
Going into the 2007 draft, Durant’s athleticism was actually criticized. At the combine he was outrun and outjumped by not only the eventual No. 1 overall pick in that draft, traditional center Greg Oden, but also Al Horford. Durant had a 26-inch standing vertical jump as an 18-year-old Division I basketball player, and had the nerve to call Nowitzki unathletic on the podcast. Now, 15 years later, he’s much more athletic than he was then and it was noticeable when he played against Nowitzki in the 2011 Western Conference Finals.
I understand that modern big men don’t like to lumped in with the others. Garnett used to say he was 6-foot-12. That being said, Dirk Nowitzki is not the best shooting big man of all time, nor is it Karl Anthony Towns. It’s Kevin Durant, because if Dirk is a big, and Manute Bol is a big, then he is a big.