Pure Scorers

Mavs Nowitzki takes his place among NBA’s scoring greats

Dirk Nowitzki earns his place as one of history's great pure scorers, says George Blaha.
J. Dennis/Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
It’s too bad our fans didn’t get a chance to see Carmelo Anthony this week when the Knicks made their only visit of the season to The Palace. Fans who really follow the league and know how hard it is to put up numbers know they missed somebody special. Guys who can score almost at will continue to be rare. But the nice thing is, even though Carmelo wasn’t able to play The Palace, one of this generation’s other great scorers, Dirk Nowitzki, will be there on Friday night when Dallas plays the Pistons.

He’s still coming back from a knee injury, but when you look at Dirk, not only a former MVP and a Finals MVP and world champion, you’re looking at a guy who averaged 25 or more a game four different times in his NBA career. I remember Isiah Thomas talking about Kelly Tripucka and the kind of player he was and he told me that people should respect Kelly more than they do. “He averaged over 25 a game once. Do you know how hard it is to average over 25 a game in this league?” Isiah told me.

And you know that with Isiah’s feel for the game – not only as a great scorer and all-around player but also as a setup guy – he knows what he’s talking about in terms of scorers. I’ve seen so many different guys who can score the ball, but never more than a handful each season who were certifiable scorers.

One of the guys who jumps out at me as one of the most magical players I’ve ever seen is Pete Maravich in my first season in the league. He averaged over 31 points and five assists that year and won the scoring title. “The Pistol” was able to overcome double and triple teams regularly. Joe Dumars said he was his idol growing up and that pretty much says it all.

Pete Maravich was one of a kind and probably doesn’t get enough attention as an all-time NBA great player except for those who read stories about him. But, believe me, if you ever saw him play you’d be blown away.

When I think back early in my career, guys like Elvin Hayes and Adrian Dantley and, of course, the Ice Man from Detroit, George Gervin, jump out. Dick Motta once said of Elvin Hayes and later of Mark Aguirre, who Dick had in Dallas and became an NBA champion in Detroit, “If I’m coaching a game and I stop at the bank on the way and can guarantee I’m going to get 20 points to start the game from one player, that gives me a whole lot more confidence than a lot of coaches have when they start.”

Elvin was one of those guys for Dick and Mark Aguirre was later. Guys who were also virtually unstoppable scorers from that era would include English, Dantley and Gervin.

The Ice Man won four scoring titles in five years, including the day that David Thompson scored 73 at Cobo Arena in the last game of the year – a game I was privileged to broadcast – and they woke the Ice Man up from a nap in New Orleans and told him how many points Thompson had scored.

He said, “Seventy-three? Wow-ee. What do I have to score to win the title?” They told him he needed 58 points to be the scoring champion that season and he had 53 of them by halftime. He stopped at 63, but the Ice Man probably would have scored 80 that day if he needed that many.

We had the privilege of having Adrian Dantley in Detroit, another flat-out great scorer. He would have been the MVP of the 1988 Finals if the Pistons had won that seven-game series against the Lakers as opposed to having the controversial foul called on Bill Laimbeer in Game 6. AD won two scoring titles in four years and averaged over 30 three times.

He was probably the most sophisticated scorer I’ve seen in that he knew exactly what he had to do to slice up the guy who was guarding him. He overwhelmed them with his strength, yes, but he really overwhelmed them with his smarts. Adrian could score on anybody. He did most of his scoring inside and he was barely 6-foot-5, which shows how impressive he really was.

Everybody who followed the Pistons in Isiah’s early days knows how good Bernard King was for the Knicks. No matter how many you scored, if you were up against Bernard King, he’d score more.

A couple of interesting guys who come to mind that maybe the aficionados will remember are Dale Ellis and Eddie Johnson. Dale Ellis, who did so much of his scoring from distance, was one of the best shooters I’ve ever seen and one of the most consistent shooters/scorers I’ve ever seen. When you can do that at 6-foot-4, you’ll impress me every time.

Eddie Johnson played with Mark Aguirre at Westinghouse High in Chicago and later starred at Illinois. He scored over 19,000 points in 17 years in the league and never played in an All-Star game. Don’t ask me why. He was one tough cover.

You can’t talk about great scorers without at least mentioning Michael Jordan. He’s considered by many to be the greatest player of all time because he was a great scorer. Seven straight scoring titles – that’s almost unthinkable. With the other things he was able to do defensively and in the win column, it adds up to clearly one of basketball’s all-time greats, but mainly he hung his hat on his scoring.

I’ve always said they do keep score in these games and it’s hard for somebody who isn’t a significant scorer or at least a somewhat capable scorer to help his team unless he has some incredible gifts in another area.

We’ve had two in Detroit, great winners in first Dennis Rodman and then Ben Wallace. Those guys basically never thought about scoring, but changed the game in other ways. Bottom line, if you can’t score you better be great at something else if you even want to get in the game. And if you’re a certifiable scorer, it’s always going to be hard for your coach to take you out of the game.

If you look at the leaders in scoring and minutes played, you’ll see there are a number of guys who are among the best in both. Kevin Durant comes to mind immediately. This guy is a heck of a player. He’s got some George Gervin in him, some Bernard King, probably some Alex English and maybe ever a little Dominique Wilkins and probably five or six others, but what Kevin Durant is more than anything, he’s a scorer. It’s hard for Scott Brooks to take him out of the game.

When you look at the top scorers in the league, there are only five guys who average 25 or more: Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and James Harden. Of those five, the newcomer is James Harden and he’s a great story. Now that he’s out from under Kevin Durant’s shadow and able to rack up big numbers every night – including the first night of the year when he beat the Pistons at The Palace – those kind of guys are worth their weight in gold and they are fun to watch.