There’s your “Where Amazing Happens” commercial for next year.
Out of nowhere, the 2011 NBA playoffs have been defined by the wholesale reevaluation of Dirk Nowitzki‘s place in NBA history and the acknowledgement that he is a truly transcendent player.
If Dirk wins a title — where the smart money should be given how well the Mavs are playing, the matchup problems they pose for Miami, their regular season success against the Heat and the 2006 revenge factor — then all of the sudden, he’ll vault into the Jerry West-Hakeem Olajuwon-Julius Erving-Moses Malone-Oscar Robertson tier of all-time greats. That would make him as something like the 10th-15th best basketball player ever.
That’s quite a story, but lost in its shadow is one that is perhaps just as significant.
Jason Kidd could stake his claim to the title of “Best Point Guard in NBA History.”
Kidd, of course, will never be Magic Johnson, but, then again, Magic Johnson was never a point guard. He was a point forward, perhaps the only one ever — with all due respect to LeBron James, Lamar Odom and Hedo Turkoglu.
So, Kidd isn’t competing with Magic. He’s competing with Isiah Thomas, John Stockton and Steve Nash. Unless you can travel in a time machine to 2020 and discover Derrick Rose and Chris Paul ultimately measured up, nobody else even comes close.
Nash’s place in the conversation is really based on two factors. First of all, unlike his peers, he won an MVP award — and he even won two. Second, his style of play is perhaps as entertaining and aesthetically pleasing as has ever been seen on an NBA court.
Stockton is in the conversation because of his statistical superiority. He is the association’s all-time assists leader, having won a ridiculous nine consecutive assist titles. He also has the most steals ever. Most impressive, perhaps, is that advanced metrics consider him to have been the league’s best offensive player four times — including during two of Michael Jordan’s final three championship seasons.
Then, there’s Isiah — the prototype, and the only one with NBA championships. His statistics and longevity aren’t particularly distinguished, and he’s gone out of his way to tarnish his legacy since stepping off the court, but the memory of exactly how amazing he was when he played remains, and our gut instinct is to label that memory as “greatest ever.”
But, give Kidd a championship — one achieved at age 38 while playing some truly great basketball — and that label is his.
Kidd’s 2011 playoff statistics don’t look like much: 10.4 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.4 RPG, 2.3 SPG, but those numbers couldn’t be more deceiving. His points, such as the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 4, have come at the most pivotal moments. His assist totals don’t remotely reflect the fact that the Mavs roster, despite being as old and unathletic as not only any in the playoffs but any in the entire NBA, has looked incredibly dynamic and fluid at the offensive end. Dallas gets good shots nearly every time down the court, and that is nearly entirely because of Kidd’s prescient distribution. He has been the master of the “hockey assist.”
Kidd’s greatest contribution, though, has been on defense. Kobe Bryant was supposed to be the X factor that would murder the Mavs, and Kidd never once allowed him to take over a game. Russell Westbrook was supposed to be way too quick for the old man to guard, and Kidd has forced Westbrook into awful decision after awful decision. Kidd has even been tag-teaming Kevin Durant with Shawn Marion. In Game 4, that very nearly resulted in a KD triple-double — he was just one turnover away. Unbelievably, all of that has been accomplished while committing just two fouls per game.
One, of course, must put this performance into context. Kidd is doing this in the twilight of his career — one that has seen him be the league’s most complete point guard for a decade and a half. Nobody who has ever played the position has been as good of a rebounder. Nowitzki ranks 64th all-time in career rebounds. Kidd is 65th, light-years ahead of every other point guard. Nobody to play the position has ever been as good of a defender, indicated by his nine NBA All-Defensive Teams. His five first team All-NBA teams are more than Stockton, Nash and Thomas combined.
Kidd’s greatness, though, has been defined by his evolution as a player. In his early years, Kidd played with as high of a tempo as has ever been seen — and with a captivating flair and swagger. He eventually grew into a dominant all-around player, scoring efficiently, dominating defensively, rebounding like a forward and distributing and spacing the floor to perfection. During his years in New Jersey, he singlehandedly made a mediocre team a title contender and was consistently as close to averaging a triple-double for a season as anybody has been since Magic. For the record, Kidd has 105 career triple-doubles. Wilt Chamberlain had 78. Larry Bird had 59. Jordan had 28.
Finally, Kidd created the road map for reinventing your game in your late 30s. He became a 3-point specialist, resulting in his being third only to Ray Allen and Reggie Miller in career makes. He became as crafty a defender as there is in the NBA. Finally, he learned to pick his spots offensively, lowering his turnover rate to minuscule levels without seeing nearly any sacrifice in his assist rate.
Over the course of his career, he has been every type of point guard, and he has mastered them all. Even without a title, one could easily argue that he is the greatest ever at the position.
With one, though, there’s simply no argument.
The NBA playoffs have a way of creating legends each and every year. That’s exactly what is at stake for Nowitzki. If he does in fact achieve such, though, he’ll have another legend to thank for it — the greatest point guard ever.
Who is the greatest point guard in NBA history? Leave your thoughts below.