An Additional Opinion on the MVP Race: Dirk Nowitzki

by Jeeves

I realize that talking about the MVP race is hardly groundbreaking blogging, but it is something that I want to address as the NBA season enters its last quarter. If I had it my way, the league’s MVP would simply be the best player in the league. Such a simple pronouncement takes out a lot of the opaqueness of the award and sets is up, in a historical sense, as a great barometer of whom, at any point, was amongst the best in the league. That isn’t to say that the MVP doesn’t do that now, (it does to a certain degree), but it’s often muddled by other factors. Wes Unseld was a great player; he’s a hall of famer. I don’t, however, think that he was ever amongst the very best players in the league, yet he won an MVP award. He won due to other vaguer factors that people often attribute to the award, such as which player if removed from his current team would see his team fall the farthest. I’m not trying to say one way or another if that’s the right way to look at the MVP, because there is no right way. The rules governing the voting aren’t exactly clear.

So with that at mind, I want to take a look at each MVP candidate through the prism, that it seems, most sports writers look through. That means I’ll take equal parts sheer basketball awesomeness, ability to raise teammates play, and irreplaceability (new word!) on their team. I’ll also take into account general development in comparison to past years, while de-emphasizing W-L record.

As I see things today, if I had a ballot, I would go:

1) Dwight Howard

2) Dirk Nowitzki

3) Derrick Rose

4) Lebron James

Each day this week, I’ll take a look at a different candidate, starting from the top and working my way down. Today let’s take a look at Dirk.

2.) Dirk Nowitzki

This was a tough call for me. The way I see it Rose and Nowitzki are both very close in the MVP race, at least in my eyes. The Bulls fan in me yells Rose, Rose, Rose, but if I am truly objective, I have to have Nowitzki at 2A and Rose and 2B.

The thing that immediately jumps off the page with Dirk is his shooting. He is hitting an astounding percentage of his shots. For the season he’s hitting 53% from the field and 42.5% from 3pt land which are both career highs. Amongst starters (say people who have played at least 40 games and average at least 30 minutes), he has the second highest shooting percentage of non-centers. That’s pretty absurd considering how many outside shots he’s taken. He averages 3.3 shots  from 10-15 feet and shoots 51% on them, 6.2 shots from 16-23 feet and makes an astonishing 54%, as well as 2.5 3-pointers a game. He truly is an offensive force at any spot on the court. He creates match-up problems every game which opens up shots for his teammates, especially in the pick and roll.

One of the main knocks about Dirk throughout his career is that he’s soft and not good at defense. This notion isn’t exactly true. He struggled a bit early in his career, but has always been a slightly above average defender. He’s not great and he won’t necessarily lock down your best post player, but he’s serviceable and certainly is not a detriment to his team. Defensive rating is a stat that tries to account for the number of points a player gives up per 100 possessions. The stat isn’t perfect, but it provides a tool to, at least, try and gauge these types of things. Dirk currently as a DRtg of 105. League average is 107 (and, obviously, the lower the rating, the better), which shows that Dirk is no Dwight Howard, but is still adding value on that end of the court.

Another way to analyze things is to look at Dirk’s time on the court vs his time off of it. According to, the Mavs are 18.00 pts per 100 possessions better with Dirk on the court. This represents the second highest total in the league, and accounts for both defense and offense. Also, looking at 82games 5-Man Unit breakdowns, you can see that the Mavs’ best offensive lineup includes Dirk, as does its best defensive lineup. You don’t even need advanced stats to see Dirk’s effect on the team. When he missed 9 games due to injury, the Mavs went 2-7. They lost to such lightweights as Toronto and Milwaukee. There’s the age old question of how much worse would the team be without (insert player). Though it represents a tiny sample size, it seems the Mavericks would be far, far worse.

It kills me to do it,  but Dirk, for now, gets the slight edge over Rose for the 2-spot in my rankings. The biggest deciding factor for me is just the pure efficiency with which Dirk scores. I’ll go into it in more depth tomorrow when I talk about Rose.


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