Nowitzki’s Shooting a Sight for Sore Eyes

Mavs forward belongs to exclusive 50-40-90 club

By Truman Reed
June 13, 2011

The National Basketball Association Playoffs of 2011 will be remembered for one of the most remarkable individual performances in the league’s 64-year history.

Right in the middle of it all, an individual who should have considered himself fortunate to be witnessing this historic tear was compelled to call a radio sports talk program and offer the opinion  that Dirk Nowitzki was nothing more than a H-O-R-S-E player.

If that is what Dirk Nowitzki is, then the NBA ought to organize a worldwide manhunt to find more guys like him … or attempt to clone him.

At the time of this knuckleheaded call, which was likely made by someone who masters the rimshot or entertains himself by watching others do so, Nowitzki was 17 games into his playoff binge. The 7-footer was shooting .505 from the field, .514 from 3-point range, .935 from the free-throw and averaging 28.1 points per game despite being chased, tripped, pushed, grabbed and hacked by the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, who were a combined 4-13 against him and his Dallas Mavericks.

This was no fluke. Entering the 2010-11 season, Nowitzki owned career regular-season averages of 23 points and 8 rebounds. In 103 career playoff games, the native of Germany was averaging 25.6 points and 10.9 rebounds – marks achieved by only three other players in NBA history: Hakeem Olajuwon, Bob Pettit and Elgin Baylor.

Furthermore, in pressurized playoff elimination games, Nowitzki was averaging 28.4 points, 12.2 rebounds.

Refreshingly, you never hear Nowitzki beating his own drum over any of his accomplishments.

I’ve often wondered what the NBA would be like if its players were required to display a certain degree of shooting prowess in order to make a roster. Don't get me wrong, many guys can make shots, but the guess here is that games would have a better flow and be more enjoyable to play and watch.

During the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2009-10 season, Luke Ridnour was one of the most consistent players on the team’s roster and was quietly enjoying the best shooting season of his then seven-year pro career.

The humble Ridnour spoke about how grateful he was that God had blessed him with good health, enabling him to perform to his capabilities. He deflected the rest of the credit for his success to his teammates.

Listening in from the locker room chair next to Ridnour’s, Andrew Bogut politely interjected with the observation that Ridnour was on pace to have a "180" season.

If you’ve never heard this expression before, it’s probably because the feat is such a rarity.

Since the NBA introduced the 3-point field goal in the 1979–80 season, a 180 season – shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line – has only been reached by five players: Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Nowitzki.

Nash and Bird are the only players who shot 50–40–90 in multiple seasons. Bird did it twice consecutively and Nash remarkably reached the threshold four times in five seasons.

José Calderón appeared on some 50–40–90 club lists for his 52–43–91 shooting during the 2007–08 season, but, he only made 109 free throws (16 short of the NBA league minimum required to be considered the leader in this category.

To qualify as a leader in the field-goal percentage, 3-point field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage, a player has to make at least 300 field goals, 55 three-point field goals and 125 free throws. These values have been used since the 1999–2000 season. Requirements varied with the schedule length several times before that.

Nowitzki accomplished his 180 during the 2006-07 season, shooting 50 percent from the field, 42 percent from beyond the arc and 90 percent from the foul line. His aforementioned 2011 playoff numbers give him an off-the-charts composite of 195.4.

The highest 50-40-90 club season on record is 188, posted by Nash in 2007-08, which was ironically not one of the two seasons in which he was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. The Phoenix Suns guard – who spent six seasons as a teammate of Nowitzki’s in Dallas – owns the next three highest totals of 187.5, 187.2 and 187.1.

If those two ever played any H-O-R-S-E games during their years as teammates, they must have been something to see.

Ridnour’s pursuit of the 180 season, by the way, came up just short – he finished at 176.6. And he reached only one of the required three levels necessary to join the 50-40-90 club, finishing at .478 from the field, .381 from three and .907 from the line.

In the Bucks 42-year history, no player with the required number of shot attempts mentioned above has achieved a 50-40-90 season.

Several of the Bucks’ all-time best marksmen, however, compiled Bucks career numbers that compare favorably with Nowitzki’s combined field goal, 3-point and free-throw percentage regular-season career composite of 173.4.

Dell Curry posted a composite of 177.6 in his 42 games with Milwaukee. Craig Hodges posted a composite of 173.8 in his 269 games in a Bucks uniform. Others who have topped 170 include Ray Allen at 173.5, Sam Cassell at 172, Earl Boykins at 170.7 and Mike Dunleavy at 170.1.