The 2018-19 NBA season was marked by the retirement of two sure-fire Hall of Famers, and the decision of one of the greatest of them all to join a middling team in L.A.
German-born Dirk Nowitzki was a quiet, unusual sort of revolutionary. He was the first truly effective European star; the first to earn an MVP award and carry his team to the title. Along the way, his amazing long-range shooting changed NBA tactics completely. Low-post scorers are now almost extinct — forwards are now expected to be able to stretch the defense from outside, and Nowitzki is the one who set that in motion.
His final year was forgettable, ambling around the court at half-speed, a marginal figure on offense and invisible on defense. In the end, it cost him 0.30 points in his final rating (29.80), but he still slots in between Bob Pettit (30.11) and Charles Barkley (29.69).
Where Nowitzki was a look at the future, Dwyane Wade was a throwback. Coming out of Marquette in 2003, he was the archetypal post-Jordan two-guard. He could do all the things coaches wanted out of the position — score, create for others, play tough defense and hit clutch shots as the clock wound down.
Nowitzki and Wade met twice in the finals, each winning as the improbable underdog. Fittingly, they’ll go into the hall together.
LeBron James isn’t near retirement yet, and is still ascending where no one has gone before. After the 2017-18 season, he had passed Michael Jordan (36.27) and Wilt Chamberlain (36.87) as the top basketball player in my rankings. I expected his relatively lackluster 2018-19 to maybe make him slip a bit, but while his 160-game average fell two-tenths to 22.27, his overall ranking still rose to 37.07.
He already has almost 200 more games than Jordan. LeBron has a head start since he went into the NBA straight out of high school, and Jordan missed almost two full years to play baseball, and LeBron still has years left on his odometer. Barring multiple seasons like the one Nowitzki just had (I doubt it), Wilt and MJ are safely in the rear-view mirror. The question now is whether LeBron can catch Pelé (37.67) and WG Grace (37.69) at the overall top spots.