While Dirk Nowitzki was a proficient three-point marksman in his own right, the 7-foot German star never even averaged 5 three-point attempts per game. On the other hand, Lewis eclipsed this per-game total five times in his career.

But Nowitzki was still revolutionary. After all, he was the game’s first true unicorn.

What does that even mean exactly? Let’s find out.

WHAT MADE NOWITZKI SPECIAL?

Contrary to public opinion, Nowitzki did not earn his designation as a mythical beast overnight. Like the evolution of a Charmander to a Charizard, his metamorphosis was a three-step process.

 

Stage 1: The Play Finisher (2001-04)

In the early chapters of Nowitzki’s prime, he operated a lot like Lewis, playing off-ball next to an on-ball creator (in Nowitzki’s case, Steve Nash). During this period, a large portion of his shot diet consisted of corner threes, pick-and-pops and jumpers coming off of pindown screens.

Thanks to his table-setting companion, young Nowitzki had the opportunity to steadily acclimate himself to the rigors of the postseason, posting 25.6 points per game on 58.0% True Shooting in his first 40 playoff appearances.

 

Stage 2: The Isolationist (2005-07)

Once Nash (and later Michael Finley) left town, Nowitzki’s self-creation burden increased. His percentage of assisted two- and three-pointers decreased from 67.0% and 97.0% in 2003-04 to 49.1% and 80.2% in 2004-05, per Basketball-Reference. Those uncontested catch-and-shoot jumpers turned into arduous post-up and isolation endeavors. 

This role change had little bearing on his team’s regular-season performance, as few rosters touted the personnel to match Nowitzki's outlier size and ball skills. These weaker defenders allowed Dallas to hide the deficiencies in Nowitzki’s back-to-the-basket game.

“He won MVP [in 2007] because they had big, slow dummies guarding him, and he would just abuse those guys," said Buckner, a Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach and former teammate of Nowitzki. "He wasn’t quite comfortable posting up at the time, and we weren’t quite comfortable posting him.”