Drafting European players has always been a roll of the dice for NBA teams. While they often bring a unique skill set and immeasurable potential to the United States, their game doesn't always translate to the flow of the NBA.
Then, there's Dirk Nowitzki.
A 7-footer who possesses the ability to stretch the floor, Nowitzki is one of the most physically imposing players to ever step foot on NBA hardwood.
He single handedly dispels the notion that all European players are soft. He's that reason that you hear almost every year leading up to the draft that a team will select a European import in the hopes that he can become the next Dirk Nowitzki. Yet that player hasn't come along, perhaps he won't for a long time.
But as illustrious as Nowitzki's career has been, Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was undoubtedly a victim of the moment on ESPN's First Take on Monday when he boldly proclaimed that the big German is one of the top 10 players of all time.
"In my opinion, he's a top 10 player in NBA history because of the uniqueness of his game and how he's carried this franchise on his back for over a decade," Carlisle said, according to ESPN. "He's just right. He's leading the team. His shot-making is great. He's passing the ball great. He's one of the guys that's directing traffic for us defensively."
Most of Carlisle's points can't be disputed.
Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks since being traded to them, along with Pat Garrity, for Robert Traylor on the night of the 1998 NBA draft — a move that the Milwaukee Bucks are surely still kicking themselves for.
He's a 10-time All-Star, has been named to the All-NBA First Team four times and has an MVP to his credit. He's averaged 23 points per game over the course of his 12-year NBA career, while averaging 8.4 rebounds, and has brought the Mavericks to the playoffs every season since 2000.
But despite the resume that Nowitzki has built up since becoming a starter in 1999, the one glaring omission is an NBA title.
Each season, it's been about assembling the perfect pieces around Nowitzki, and taking it from there. There's been Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard and now Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler, among others.
But throughout all of owner Mark Cuban's moves, Nowitzki has been the one constant on the Dallas roster. Unfortunately for Dallas fans, it's a constant has yet to yield a championship, only heartache.
When Nowitzki missed time earlier this season, a rarity for the usually stable star, the Mavericks looked depleted, losing seven of nine. But just five games after returning, he led the Mavericks to 10 straight wins.
It's obvious. As Dirk goes, the Mavericks go.
But while Nowitzki's career postseason numbers are comparable to his regular season averages, the 32-year-old simply hasn't been able to seal the deal when necessary.
During their 10-straight playoff appearances from 2000-2010, the Mavs only made the NBA Finals once, in 2006, when they fell to the Miami Heat in six games.
This year could be different for the Mavericks, especially considering how easily they dethroned what was expected to be their biggest threat, the Los Angeles Lakers. But if Dirk and Co.'s previous playoff runs have taught us anything, it is to believe it when we see it.
Yes, Rick Carlisle, Nowitzki is a surefire Hall of Famer. He's one of the most unique talents the game has ever seen, and he has carried the Mavericks franchise for over a decade. The only problem is that Nowitzki hasn't carried them quite far enough.
So until he does, it's hardly appropriate for him to be mentioned alongside the game's all-time greats.
Where do you think Dirk Nowitzki ranks among the NBA's all-time greats? Share your thoughts below.
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