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Best Milwaukee Bucks Draft Picks: Number 4, Dirk Nowitzki

Getting a Closer Look at Dirk’s Journey, and What Could Have Been

Heat Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki, with Bucks’/Heat/Celtics’/Sonics’ Legend Ray Allen
Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Hi Bucks’ fans! Welcome to the all-time top Bucks’ draft picks, power ranked by the fan’s yourselves. We are counting down all the way from #12 to #1, and today we are moving on to discuss what could have been with what many seem to call the worst trade in Bucks’ history, whether or not you agree or disagree. That’s right, we are talking about Dirk Nowitzki, and what could have been.

Before we move on to the rest of the player page, I understand many of your concerns with Dirk Nowitzki being on this list. Remember, this is about who David Stern called at the podium that night, not about who played for this team. Dirk is and will forever be a Dallas Maverick, but that doesn’t change the fact that it will always say “drafted by the Bucks”. And I know many of you will say there is no “what if” because it was already done, but until the trade goes through and the players pass their physicals, Dirk belonged to the Bucks. So at least pretend here, what if Robert “Tractor” Traylor or Pat Garrity failed their physical?


Dirk Nowitzki was selected 9th in the 1998 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, out of Germany. According to basketball reference, Dirk was the best player in his class according to win-shares, and it actually wasn’t close. Paul Pierce and Vince Carter both trailed by over 50 wins, and they are to-be Hall of Famers. He’s also 8th overall, and second highest among players in this list.


Dirk is a 14-time All-Star over 21 NBA seasons, all with the Dallas Mavericks. He was a 2011 NBA Champion, notably beating LeBron and the Miami Heat in a legendary run. He was an MVP in 2007, and a 4-time All-NBA first teamer. He averaged over 20 points per game in 12 seasons, and finished his career with 16th on the all-time scoring list. His similarity score is akin to Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Julius Erving.


Dirk does not have any success on the Bucks, since he was traded on draft day for Tractor Traylor. Looking back, trading Traylor for just Pat Garrity seems like a fair deal, but it seems like the Bucks would have just let Dirk slide further back in the draft anyways (maybe we take Paul Pierce then?). Traylor went on to have minimal impact on the Bucks, and I don’t think he would really be remembered if he was not a part of this trade. Traylor has a similarity score compared to current NBA player Mike Muscala.

What if Dirk Nowitzki played for the Bucks though? In the 1998-99 season, Tractor Traylor was the starting power forward for the Bucks with his five points and four rebounds per game, and essentially Tyrone Hill was the better power forward on the roster. He had a similar season to Dirk, but if you were to put Dirk with Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Cassell, that would seem to change things. Traylor did even worse year two, whereas Dirk did better. By year three, Dirk was averaging 22 points per game, and Traylor was gone. That’s the direct comparison.

I want to point out I stopped here because this was the 2001 season. Yes, the only time we made the Conference Finals between the Sidney Moncrief and Giannis years. The only time, and we lost to an Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers (yep, 76ers beating the Bucks seems to be a historical theme). It went to seven games, and while the scoring would have had to balance out with the big three (Allen, Cassell and Robinson) along with Dirk, that arguably gave the Bucks the four best players at the time after Iverson. Say what you want, but the Bucks win that series and make the Finals.

You then arrive at the Lakers in year two of that three-peat from 2000-2002. 28 year old Shaq, 22 year old Kobe, and a bunch of role players (Horace Grant at age 35 was a role player). Rick Fox, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and others were solid, but they weren’t Sam Cassell or Glenn Robinson. Therefore, it gives the Bucks four of the top six players, with the uniqueness of Dirk on the Bucks. This is instead of the Sixers who had Allen Iverson as maybe even the third best player, and then a bunch of people who couldn’t score. Great defense, but who do you turn to after Iverson? Dikembe Mutombo wasn’t a scorer, Theo Ratliff has a similarity score to Andrew Bogut, so is it Aaron McKie? I don’t know. The Bucks don’t have that problem.

I’m not going to say the Bucks beat that very talented team that went 15-1 in the playoffs, but it’s got to be more of a challenge for the Lakers to defend Dirk, Allen, Big Dog and Cassell than just Iverson. We definitely don’t have an answer for Shaq or Kobe, but outscoring those Lakers might have been possible because they don’t have an answer for Dirk. Remember, I say might, not definitely. I truly believe we take the Lakers to six here and do better than the Sixers, because I’m sorry but Derek Fisher and Michael Jordan’s old (in multiple ways) teammates don’t really scare me. Let’s not forget about Tim Thomas being there as well, along with Michael Redd on the periphery. I’m just saying, it might be closer than you think.


With Dirk Nowitzki Added to the Roster, How Far Do the Bucks Get in 2001? (How Do They Do Against Kobe/Shaq)

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    4-1 or 4-0 loss in the Finals
    (9 votes)
  • 48%
    4-2 or 4-3 loss in the Finals
    (81 votes)
  • 45%
    NBA Champions
    (76 votes)
166 votes total Vote Now

We then go on to have some pretty bad teams, but I think Dirk’s German heritage as well as his loyalty for Dallas might have made Wisconsin a perfect place for him. Pairing Dirk with Michael Redd, and later Andrew Bogut might have made the Bucks a sneaky competitive team in the East, and you would have to wonder would the Bucks have traded Ray Allen if they kept Dirk? Big Dog and Sam Cassell didn’t have much longer careers after, but Ray was right around Dirk’s age and just getting started, and that’s a great duo to have in the East. Michael Redd was no slouch either, and then you think about if free agents want to come join Dirk, which could possibly improve the roster from say Carlos Delfino to an aging Peja Stojakovic (for example).


I think it’s about more than just a trade, Dirk is a key player who made everything possible for foreign NBA players. He was the trendsetter for them, and he really redefined the NBA in his career. Yes, another foreign basketball player may have come along at some point in the future to do better than Dirk or make a similar impact, i.e. Giannis, but before Dirk there were not really many foreign players that had lasting impacts on the game in the same way.

So in a way, we have to thank Dirk a little bit at least for Giannis’ arrival to the NBA. Think about it, the advanced scouting that went in to finding Giannis on his semi-pro league in Greece might not have been there. We wouldn’t have been there if we weren’t looking for the next “Dirk” in Europe. And when I say that, I’m referring to impact, not style of play necessarily. That’s what I will determine Dirk’s impact on the Bucks’ success. Not just Giannis, but Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and countless others.

As far as Dirk’s playing impact and how he changed the game, his “unguardability” is what was so unique. He was a big man who shot three’s with proficiency, with a high arching shot that nobody could block. His step back fade away is up there with the “dream shake” and “sky hook” as all-time great moves, and that is his main impact on the court. He also is the leader of the team that won the 2011 NBA Finals, and him beating the Miami Heat the year after LeBron’s “Decision” made a lot of “traditional” basketball fans rejoice. I’m a LeBron hater because back when the Bucks’ sucked, I was a Suns fan and also loved KG and Ray Allen, so I rejoiced as well with that victory. But that run to the Finals was just legendary, and it was essentially a one-man show winning a title.

There you have it, Dirk Nowitzki. Now we are down to the top three, who will it be? I feel like I know who it will be, but maybe you all will surprise me.


The Third Best Bucks’ Draft Pick Was...

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    (10 votes)
  • 11%
    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    (34 votes)
  • 84%
    Julius Erving
    (241 votes)
285 votes total Vote Now