Dirk Nowitzki’s one-legged kick fadeaway is the sky hook of the modern era, an unguardable shot from an all-time great that can’t ever be duplicated because of the uniqueness of the creator.

So there would’ve been symmetry, almost perfection, in Nowitzki using his trademark jump shot on Tuesday to pass Hakeem Olajuwon to become the highest-scoring NBA player born outside the United States in the same way Kareem Abdul-Jabbar used his patented hook to pass Wilt Chamberlain in 1984 as the league’s all-time top scorer. Nowitzki’s historic basket came off a simple catch-and-shoot but he leaned back and added his little leg kick anyway, almost as a way of honoring the moment.

With 26,953 career points, Nowitzki is now in ninth place on the all-time scoring list with Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone well within his sights before the end of the season. Shaquille O’Neal could be bumped from sixth before Nowitzki completes his current three-year bargain contract and walks away in 2017.

AD
AD

When Nowitzki entered the league during the lockout-shortened season in 1999, the NBA only had 38 international players and most 7-footers still played with their backs to the basket in an effort to dominate inside. This season, the league has a record 101 international players from 37 countries and territories and big men hovering around the perimeter is now commonplace.

Nowitzki, a native of Wurzburg, Germany, wasn’t the product of some basketball factory and has trained with the same shooting coach, Holger Geschwinder, since he was 15. Teams have searched for the next Dirk for years but have never come close to finding another, which led Dallas Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle to recently urge people to appreciate Nowitzki while he’s around.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said many thought Nowitzki would be another “BWS” – Big White Stiff – when he struggled early in his career. Nowitzki helped revolutionize the game by obliterating the concepts of positions, proving that a player doesn’t necessarily waste his height by playing far from the hoop and that a power forward can still be powerful without being overly physical. He also benefited by starting his career with a mad genius Don Nelson who wasn’t intimidated by experimentation and unleashed an unusual talent before anyone understood what he could become.

AD
AD

In his 17th season, at age 36, Nowitzki remains a model of sustained productivity. Nowitzki has averaged at least 20 points in 13 of the past 14 seasons, with the lone down year coming when he was limited to just 53 games because of a knee injury.

The pieces around him have consistently changed but Nowitzki has remained consistent, in his work ethic and desire to improve, in his loyalty to the franchise that somehow only needed to sacrifice Robert Traylor to acquire him from Milwaukee in a 1998 draft night trade. That deal remains one of the greatest routs in NBA history.

Nowitzki was the third foreign-born player to win the NBA’s most valuable player award (along with Olajuwon and Nowitzki’s close friend Steve Nash) and the second European (along with Tony Parker) to win an NBA Finals MVP. Now he finally owns a distinction that will allow him to stand alone – and be appreciated for being one of the best to ever play, regardless of his birth place.

AD
AD

Rose doesn’t need to be shamed into playing

Nothing seems to inspire more irrational ire than when an injured Derrick Rose decides to rest to avoid risking a more serious injury. Rose has missed four games with two sprained ankles this season but has been roasted in Chicago and nationally for taking seemingly reasonable precautions when his ultimate objective is to be healthy when the Chicago Bulls will actually need him.

After being limited to just 10 games the past two seasons because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and a torn meniscus in his right knee, Rose hasn’t been given much leeway to overcome the mental and physical challenges of an extended layoff. And when he attempted to explain why he refuses to be shamed into playing hurt, Rose provided more ammunition to those questioning his toughness.

“I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sitting out, but I think a lot of people don’t understand that when I sit out, it’s not because of this year,” Rose said to reporters in Chicago. “I’m thinking long term after I’m done with basketball.”

AD
AD

Only Rose knows the emotional scars that have been produced by having the game taken away from him three consecutive seasons. Rose has had plenty of time to confront his basketball mortality, second-guess every action and gain greater perspective. But what gets lost in the never-ending panic and criticism of Rose is how his previous mindset might have contributed to his current plight.

Rose will have to inevitably push through some pain on his path to recovery, otherwise he’ll be crippled by fear. But minor injuries kept piling up during the lockout shortened-season in 2011-12 – the follow-up to his lone MVP campaign – and Rose kept playing through nagging ailments until he eventually blew out his knee.

That should be enough of an argument to let Rose take the necessary steps to protect himself. But if Rose is really injured, he doesn’t owe an explanation to anyone because the only antidote to the venom directed his way is to produce – and win -when he is physically able to play. So far this season, that hasn’t been a problem.

The North on the rise

AD
AD

The Toronto Raptors have benefited from having a relatively easy, home-friendly schedule but continuity might be the primary reason that the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference resides in Canada. The other seven playoff teams from last season all encountered some significant offseason changes but the Raptors brought back point guard Kyle Lowry with a four-year, $48 million contract and made some minor tweaks to boost an already energized bench with the additions of Louis Williams and James Johnson.

Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have lifted the Raptors to a perch that Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter and Chris Bosh failed to reach – alone atop the East and tied with Memphis for the league’s best record for the first time in franchise history.

At 7-1, the Raptors have already matched their win total at the time they traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento in a 2013 deal that improved their depth and allowed the backcourt to blossom. Since General Manager Masai Ujuri made that move last December, his team has gone 49-23 – a 56-win pace.

AD
AD

Toronto has padded its early record with wins over some of the league’s worst teams – Philadelphia, Orlando (twice) and battered Oklahoma City – but the Raptors dominated Washington and lead the conference in point differential (10.6).

They also have good reason to feel optimistic as the only Eastern Conference team ranked in the top 10 in both offensive efficiency (third, 109.5 points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (seventh, 100 points per 100 possessions).

AD
AD