As most of the basketball-watching world debates where Kobe Bryant ranks among the all-time greats, I wonder whether Dirk Nowitzki’s title as the premier European product is secure.
Spaniard Pau Gasol is gaining ground on the big German.
Back-to-back titles for Gasol don’t bump Dirk down a notch. While Gasol deserves all the credit he gets for the championships – he is the fifth man in NBA history to average 18 and 10 in consecutive title runs – it’s a safe bet that Dirk would own a couple of rings if he teamed up with Kobe.
But the career numbers of the Euro greats aren't too far apart. Dirk has a significant scoring advantage (22.9 ppg to 18.8 ppg), but Gasol has edges in rebounding (9.0 to 8.5), assists (3.2 to 2.7) and blocked shots (1.7 to 1.0).
Gasol also has a better field goal percentage (.521 to .473), but that’s primarily due to the fact that Dirk is an elite 3-point shooter and Gasol rarely ventures out to that range. There’s never been a 7-footer with Dirk’s guard-like skills. Gasol’s game is more Kevin McHale-like with his arsenal of low-post moves, although he also has an effective midrange game.
Dirk, who turns 32, should still have at least a few superstar seasons in him. It’s not his game is based on explosiveness.
The same is true for Gasol, who turns 30 next month. And he’s peaking, becoming much tougher over the last two years. He averaged 11.3 rebounds this season, a number never approached by Nowitzki.
Dirk still has the title as the best European basketball player in history, but now he’s got a legitimate challenger in Gasol.