When Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant pulled up lame along the sideline early in Monday night’s game five of the NBA Finals, it was a terrible site to see for all NBA fans. Whether it’s a superstar or just a guy on a ten-day contract, you never want to see a player just immediately pull up with a non-contact injury like that was and you never want to see them clutching their heel like Durant was while sitting on the floor waiting for the team medical staff to attend to him. The fact that it was KD’s first game back in over a month because of a calf injury made it all the more painful to see.
News began to circulate late Monday night that Durant’s injury was feared to be to his Achilles and not the calf he had injured earlier this postseason in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. An MRI confirmed that suspicion and Durant posted on Instagram Wednesday that he has already had surgery. The possibility of Kevin Durant’s 2019-2020 season being wiped out before the 2018-2019 season has even ended is very real. While he is almost certain to still be offered multi-year contracts this summer for max money, the team that signs Durant will have to accept that they’re adding (or keeping) a player with a now significant injury history.
Following his MVP 2013-2014 season, Durant missed 55 games plus the postseason in 2014-2015 due to a “Jones Fracture” in his right foot. Your follow-up to what was, at that point, the shining moment of your career? Missing 55 games in a season. Tough one, pal.
Durant will be 31 when the 2019-2020 season begins with him likely on the sideline. That will make it virtually two years out of his prime cut out by injury. Incredibly bad luck that will hurt him at the end of his career as far as his standing on the all-time scoring, rebounds, etc. rankings go, but not so much on where he’ll be regarded among the best of all-time.
Here in Dallas, it’s almost hard to remember how guaranteed it seemed to be that Dirk Nowitzki would be in uniform night in and night out each and every season. Beginning with a knee surgery the 2012-2013 preseason, Dirk’s body began to break down considerably as it aged from a decade-plus of intense NBA basketball and international play during the summers. For the entire duration of his prime, however, Nowitzki was about as durable as a superstar could be in the NBA.
I am going to define Nowitzki’s “prime” as starting in his third NBA season in 2000-2001 all the way through the 2010-2011 season. While Dirk was still very good -even an All-Star twice- after the Finals run, it was clear that was his apex and it his play gradually declined from there. Even though the 2000-2001 season didn’t see Nowitzki be named an All-Star, he scored 21.8 points per game on 48% shooting overall and 39% from beyond the arc.
When you look at the eleven season stretch between 2000 and 2011 for Nowitzki, the resume is insane:
- 10 consecutive All-Star appearances from 2001-2011 (11 counting the one for the 2011-2012 season)
- 1 MVP
- 1 Finals MVP
- 11 consecutive All-NBA selections (4x First Team, 5x Second Team, 2x Third Team)
- Averaged 79.5 games per season and only in the top ten in the league in minutes played per game twice (2008-2009, 2009-2010)
I brought up that last stat because it emphasized that Don Nelson, Avery Johnson or Rick Carlisle were never absolutely running Dirk into the ground. While Nowitzki did average as many as 39 minutes per game in his age 24 2002-2003 season, he definitely wasn’t like Kobe Bryant who averaged over 40 minutes per game in a season five different times. Nowitzki could just be counted on to be there night in and night out, year in and year out for the Mavericks.
Dallas never had to deal with losing Nowitzki due to injury for any seriously extended stretch of time throughout this 11 year run that saw the Mavs win over 50 games each and every year of it and average 56 victories a season with two NBA Finals appearances and the franchise’s lone championship also happening during this time.
Although from the 2012-2013 season on Nowitzki was slightly less durable with a body with the mileage he had, his overall durability numbers for his career can’t be brought down because of that insane 11 year stretch.
One exercise I tried was to see how many times notable stars played in 75 games or more in a season (91% of games in a season, for the sake of being able to include the lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-1999 and 2011-2012). 75 games seems like a nice round number to measure a more-or-less really durable season. If you play in 75 regular season games, there might have been a minor tweak that lingered for a day or two a few times throughout the season. Maybe your coach gave you the occasional scheduled night off, but there was never an injury that made you miss an extended period of time. 91% of your team’s games? Nine out of ten games, you’ll be in uniform.
Dirk had 17 of these seasons in his 21 year career with the exceptions coming in 2010-2011 (73 games), 2012-2013 (53 games), 2016-2017 (54 games) and 2018-2019 (51 games). By comparison, Dwyane Wade had just seven seasons of appearing in 91% or more of his team’s games in his 16 seasons in the league. It’s always fun to compare Dirk favorably to Wade, but seriously: one of the most important parts of doing your job well is actually being there. Simple, but true.
Here’s how some other stars did with the same exercise:
|Player||Years playing in 91% or more of reg. season games|
|Kobe Bryant||10 (in 20 seasons)|
|Shaquille O’Neal||6 (in 19 seasons)|
|Allen Iverson||5 (in 14 seasons)|
|Chris Paul||5 (in 14 seasons so far)|
|Carmelo Anthony||7 (in 16 seasons… so far??? Probably it??)|
The point of these comparisons of durability isn’t to say Dirk is a better player than the likes of Bryant or O’Neal, it’s just to say that the Mavericks were very fortunate that they were able to go from being arguably the worst franchise in sports in the 1990’s to a perennial championship-contender because they were able to build their team around a player who did not consistently have to miss games because of injury. Again, that’s not meant to be a brag or any way of elevating Nowitzki over his contemporaries. It is, however, a major thing for Mavericks basketball fans to be grateful for. They had themselves a seven-foot future Hall-of-Famer who could always be counted on to be in uniform and ready to play throughout the entirety of 10+ year prime.
Longevity, consistency and durability. Three of the absolute keys to being an all-time great like Dirk Nowitzki.
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