On April 10th, 2 NBA legends retired having left behind amazing legacies. Those legends would be shooting guard Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, and power forward Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks. They've had great careers that isn't always seen on a yearly basis amongst NBA players.
Dwyane Wade was selected no. 5 by the Miami Heat in the legendary 2003 draft class. It didn't take long for him to make an impact with them. He helped them overcome an 0-7 start and reach the NBA Playoffs where they made it to the second round. At the ESPYWade said, "Coming out of that playoffs, I was like, 'Next year is going to be something.'"
Wade was right because not only did he up his game, but Miami traded for future Hall of Fame center Shaquille O'Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers. They posted 59 wins, but lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. Next season, coach Stan Van Gundy stepped down and legendary coach Pat Riley who was serving as an executive, became head coach. The Heat got it together and made the NBA Finals where they faced Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks. After falling behind 0-2, Wade historically put the team on his back winning the next 4 games and his first NBA championship. His averages of 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists won him Finals MVP. His quickness and explosiveness which had earned him the nickname "Flash", made him special and it was easy to notice. One quality that wasn't obvious, but made him more special, was his durability. In the final 4 games, Wade played over 40 minutes. Even in his final season, Wade was giving everything he had for a Heat team that played very inconsistent basketball. Unfortunately, his durability wasn't able to overcome injury-riddled 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons. Yet that didn't stop Wade from putting career years for the next 2 seasons. Wade had some of his most memorable moments featuring winning the scoring title in 2009, proclaiming AmericanAirlines Arena as "my house", after a buzzer beater against the Bulls, or posterizing center Anderson Varejao. When he wasn't doing that, he was breaking ankles, posterizing other big men, or swatting centers. And yet both seasons ended in first round exits.
Enter LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In the summer of 2010, the Heat signed the 2 stars while resigning Wade forming a big three. Wade actually signed for less money so the Heat could keep power forward/center Udonis Haslam. After losing to the Mavericks in year 1, Miami reeled off 2 straight championships. Even though LeBron won Finals MVP in both victories, the durability of Wade provided lots of help to those 2 championships. Unlike 2006, Wade battled through nagging knee injuries particularly in their final championship against the Spurs in 2013 where he scored 23 points in a grueling game 7. In the long run, it put a major dent into his explosiveness. It showed in 2014 as the Heat were outplayed in a rematch with the Spurs. LeBron would later return to the Cavaliers for a second stint while major injuries to Bosh would eventually force him to retire.
Two seasons later, Wade would bolt to his hometown of Chicago to play for the Bulls. Even though he helped them reach the playoffs, a contract buyout would lead him to the Cavs where he reunited with LeBron. He didn't even complete a full season in the land because he was heading back to South Beach. Not only was it a great reunion, but Wade led the Heat back into the postseason. Unfortunately, that didn't stop Wade from announcing that he'll retire after next season. But he still showed that he had lots left in the tank which made it a memorable final season. With battered knees, he still made people witness the greatness that was happening during his retirement tour. With opposing fans chanting his name and jersey swaps with opponents aside, moments like his amazing buzzer beater against the Warriors in which like 2009, he said that this arena is "my house". In his final home game, he dropped 30 points and in the final game of his career, he recorded a triple double. A beautiful curtain call.
Wade perfectly summed up the glory that came in his NBA career by saying, "I wanted to give [my fans] a full year, a full picture of my career. I wanted to say goodbye to everybody as much as I can, and I wanted to say thank you. I could play another year. But for me, it’s time. No one really gets to walk away from the game at the perfect time. No one’s ending is perfect. I have more left, but I don’t want to empty it all out. The passion and joy is not the same it used to be. My mind’s not 100% in it. And when it got to that point, it was time for me to walk away. I’ve given everything to this game." In the 72 years of the NBA, there will never be another Dwyane Wade.
Dirk Nowitzki had a much different story. He grew up playing basketball overseas in Germany, but didn't have the same hype going into the 1998 draft unlike other players such as Paul Pierce and Vince Carter. Nonetheless the Milwaukee Bucks chose to select him at 9th. Head coach and general manager Don Nelson of the Mavericks was confident in Nowitzki's ability to successfully adapt to the NBA, so he traded for him. The rest is history.
In just 6 seasons, Nowitzki was one of the marquee players of the NBA. At 7 feet, his ability to shoot 3 pointers and drive to the basket by putting the ball on the floor was something entirely new to the game. This play style was a perfect fit for Nelson's system which was called "Nellie Ball" dating back to his days in Milwaukee. It also helped the Mavericks emerge as a contender in a conference that already had powerhouses in the Spurs and Lakers. Unfortunately, by the time the playoffs came, this play style was not fit to win a championship. Throughout the Nelson and Nowitzki era, the closest the Mavs came to a championship was in the 2003 conference finals against the Spurs where an injury to Nowitzki in game 3 ruined their chances of making the NBA Finals. In 2005, Nelson stepped down despite the Mavericks having a 43-22 record. Avery Johnson took over and they would watch former point guard Steve Nash eliminate them.
The next season started a new era in Dallas since it was the first full year with Johnson at the helm. The season was a huge success as the Mavericks won 60 games. They even got over the hump against the Spurs in the semifinals. In the 7th game, Nowitzki countered Tim Duncan's 41 points and 15 rebounds with 37 points and 15 rebounds along with a clutch 3 point play to force overtime. There wasn't any revenge for Steve Nash, who could only watch his former team reach the Finals to play the Miami Heat. The Mavericks stormed out to a 2-0 lead and appeared to be on their way to their first NBA championship. Then with bad officiating and Dwyane Wade, the Mavericks lost the final 4 games in excruciating fashion. Nowitzki and owner Mark Cuban ripped the referees to their horrid officiating which saw Wade shoot an outrageous 97 free throws. But any grudge about the defeat in 2007 wasn't seen. The Mavericks won a franchise record 67 games and Nowitzki won MVP while averaging 25 and 9 while shooting 50, 40, and 90 from the field. The only problem was that he was named MVP after losing to Nelson's Warriors who were only 2 games over .500. A coaching change win 2008 and more playoff disappointment followed for the next 3 seasons. It was looking more likely that Nowitzki would never win the big game. Then came the 2010-2011 season.
The Mavericks won a surprising 57 games and Nowitzki wasn't showing any signs of age. That didn't stop the experts from listing them as underdogs in their first round matchup against the 6th seeded Portland Trail Blazers. The Mavericks won the first 2 games, but lost the next 2 which saw them blow a 23 point lead in game 4. They put any doubts to rest however by winning the next 2 games. Up next, the 2 time defending champion L.A. Lakers. All it took was 4 games for the Mavericks to win in what was a shocking sweep. Their final test in the west was the Oklahoma City Thunder who's young core featured Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, and James Harden. Yes, this was the NBA back then. Instead of seeing 2 big threes in Miami and OKC clash, Nowitzki had enough of the hype surrounding other teams. He went off in the 5 games played, averaging 32 points while shooting a whooping 55%! When asked about him after game 1, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, "I thought Dirk was pretty good tonight. I thought we defended him as close as we can -- obviously, too close. He's a bulldog down low. He's so crafty clever and he has so many awkward shots that go in. There are some shots he made tonight that are undefendable. He's been doing it for a lot of years against a lot of great players. He had a good rhythm. He got off to a good start. He was making shots and then we were fouling his jump shots and he's a terrific jump-shooter." He also told power forward Serge Ibaka to not get down if he gets caught in a blizzard of one legged fadeaway from Dirk. The only problem according to him was, "I didn't think he was going to make as many shots." The final test, was a rematch with the star studded Miami Heat.
This was the final chance for Dirk to win that long awaited championship. 11 years of postseason failure (he didn't make the playoffs in his first 2 seasons) have come full circle. There was no way the Mavericks could afford to lose another series with it likely being their last chance at a title. And yet the Heat's star power looked like it was too much. They won game 1 and they built a 15 point lead in game 2 with 7:13 left. Then something amazing happened. The Mavericks began to chip away at the deficit. And when it was 86-90, Dirk decided to put this game away himself. He did so with a jumper to make it a 2 point game, a layup to tie it, and a 3 pointer to take the lead with 26 seconds left. But the Heat weren't done yet, as a Mario Chalmers 3 pointer tied the game. But Nowitzki had enough. He tried to drive right on Chris Bosh, turned around, changed his dribble from right to left, hesitated, drove, ballgame. Miami did win game 3 to take a 2-1 lead and it didn't look any better in game 4, as Nowitzki was battling a fever and a horrid start to the game. But he kept shooting and like game 2, the Mavericks were back in the game. Only that when Dirk had the ball in the closing moments, they were winning by one. And with one simple rip and go to the basket, the Mavericks had all but tied the series. 29 points from Nowitzki and a clutch 3 by guard Jason Terry propelled them to a 3-2 series lead. One game from ending all heartbreak. Throughout game 6, the Mavericks led, but they needed one more shot to put away the game. Nowitzki would answer the call with a fadeaway to end any hope that Miami had. Nowitzki and the Mavericks were finally champions. The Finals MVP was undoubtedly Nowitzki, the guy who had fully transformed a team that was once a laughingstock into a winner.
Nowitzki's Mavericks still remained a playoff team, but the championship clearly showed that if he had never won had he lost a second time to Miami. There were still years where his greatness was on full display, such as in 2016, where Nowitzki led an heavily aging squad into the playoffs averaging 18 points. In 2017, he recorded the milestone of 30,000 points with his trademark one legged fadeaway. The last 2 years saw the Mavericks enter a rebuilding phrase even though it's going to be short with the drafting of Luka Dončić and the acquisition of Kristaps Porzingis. This hasn't stopped Dirk from showing the talent that he still has. Sadly, there was a ton of speculation that he would retire - but he didn't say so until after his final home game where he scored 30 points in a Mavericks win.
He addressed the fans by saying, "As you might expect, this was my last home game." His message was that, "This is obviously super, super emotional. Just too many people to really thank. I put you guys on a helluva ride with a lot of ups and downs, and you guys always stuck with me and supported me, so I appreciate it." To see a guy have as good a career as anyone can have was truly special. Then to see a guy like Nowitzki tackle every doubt that was made about him over time is even more special. There are other players that have games strongly related to Nowitzki's, but there will never 100% be another Dirk Nowitzki.
Two players. Two players who have brought so much greatness to the game of basketball. Dirk and Dwyane might've been different kinds of players regarding their style of play, but they both brought lots of greatness to the game in a way that hasn't always been seen in the NBA. For that, they have earned their place amongst the NBA's greatest players of all time.
It's finally that time of year again. In what has been a year full of teams that have greatly underachieved or have been surprising, 16 of them will have their season last for another season. That season is the NBA Playoffs. So looking towards another interesting playoffs, lets go over the field of teams who made it to the second season.
#1: Milwaukee Bucks - Thanks to career years from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton, and Eric Bledsoe as well as Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon filling in as hole pluggers, the Bucks won 60 games. Coach Mike Budenholzer now has a real team to coach now that he isn't with the Hawks anymore and he's been taking advantage of the roster he has. With the best point differential in the league, a championship is likely for the Bucks.
2#: Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard has officially regained his all star form that he had before he got hurt. With the help of a solid supporting cast of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Pascal Siakam, along with an impressive job at the helm with first year coach Nick Nurse, it wouldn't be crazy to list the Raptors as NBA champions.
3#: Philadelphia 76ers - While this team in my opinion isn't good enough to win a title, they are good enough to make the Finals. They have arguably the talentest starting five in the league, all of them averaging above 15 points per game. As long as they don't play down to their competition, the process may be complete.
4#: Boston Celtics - Despite having the best overall roster in the league, this team can't seem to put the pieces together. Kyrie Irving has constantly seemed to indicate that he's leaving Boston which has been putting a dark cloud at some points in the season. If this team makes a deep playoff run however, it won't be surprising because all of their players were either on their playoff run last year, or were on a playoff run elsewhere.
5#: Indiana Pacers - They don't have the talent for a deep playoff run in all star shooting guard Victor Oladipo, but this season can easily be considered a success for the Pacers. Small forward Bojan Bogdanovic and center Myles Turner have led the Pacers to 48 wins. Beating teams without your best player is hard, but considering that Indiana was able to make it through most of the second half of the season without Oladipo, anything is possible for them.
6#: Brooklyn Nets - Listing this team as a playoff team 2 years ago sounds crazy, but hear we are. Their point guard D'angelo Russell has been playing arguably the best basketball of his career, averaging 21 points and 7 assists. His supporting cast is led by backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, big man Jarrett Allen, and sharpshooter Joe Harris. While a deep playoff run seems unlikely, this is definitely a foundation to build into the future.
7#: Orlando Magic - When they last made the playoffs, Zion Williamson was 11 years old! But here they are. Led by all star Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon the Magic played great basketball in the second half and won their division despite finishing 7th in the East. It'll be interesting to see if their road to the playoffs will be a fluke, or if they'll build off this season.
8#: Detroit Pistons - After falling apart in the second half of this season, the Pistons didn't repeat this year. With power forward Blake Griffin enjoying one of his best seasons, along with Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, and the coaching of Dwane Casey, the Pistons had a strong second half of the season. It won't be a surprise however if this team comes in battered considering that they went through a tough schedule starting midway through March. Or a rest could be what they needed.
1#: Golden State Warriors - This team has all of the resources that can win them a NBA Finals. They have one of the best starting fives in NBA history and an A+ coaching staff. But it's still hard to guarantee an NBA championship. They have the worst home record out of all of the teams in the west with home court advantage for at least one round. They also don't seem to be playing with joy, highlighted by Kevin Durant who will be a free agent. It's still hard to not have them as champions.
2#: Denver Nuggets - This team is one of the most formidable and talented teams in the NBA. The core of this team is Nikola Jokic. His ability to score, rebound, and pass is turning him into a generational player. Coach Michael Malone has emerged as one of the league's top coaches. Thanks to him, other players such as Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have developed key roles which have led to a 54 win season. The only question, is their experience, but this team is in good hands for now and the future.
3#: Portland Trail Blazers - I just don't know if this team can make up a deep playoff run. Damian Lillard has been continuing to ball out while C.J. McCollum has been getting a whole lot better. While they did add some serviceable depth in Enes Kanter, this team will have to come together and not back down from other teams who are probably better than them on paper unlikely last year's defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans.
4#: Houston Rockets - This has honestly been an interesting team. From tip-off to mid December, they were really looking disappointing. Then James Harden just didn’t care anymore. He scored 30 or more points in 32 straight games as well as 2 60 point games. Chris Paul despite being injured for most of the year has still shown why he’s one of the best point guards. As long as Harden balls out and this team is healthy, they could definitely win the finals.
5#: Utah Jazz - Like Houston, they also slumped up until mid December. Then, point guard Donavan Mitchell balled out in the later stretch just like last year. Center Rudy Gobert has been averaging career highs in points and rebounds while still being the best rim protector in the game. It wouldn’t be crazy to predict a deep playoff run with the talent and experience that this team has.
6#: Oklahoma City Thunder - Out of all the teams with the best shot at a deep playoff run despite no home court advantage for at least one round, it would be the Thunder. With Russel Westbrook and Paul George playing out of their minds along with a strong supporting cast led by Steven Adams, the Thunder despite winning only 49 games have looked like they’ve found their way. It’ll be intriguing to see if they’ll flop, or make a deep playoff run.
7#: San Antonio Spurs - I think that this team was dealing with a lot of distractions last year with Kawhi Leonard, but I think they will now be able to focus on basketball. Gregg Popovich hasn’t aged at all and he’s still one of the best coaches in the game. Led by Demar Derozan and Lamarcus Alderige, the Spurs won 48 games. A deep playoff run isn’t out of sight.
8#: Los Angeles Clippers - Once looked at as a team that was in the middle of nowhere, is now in the playoffs unlike the other team in L.A. They have a solid core led by Lou Williams and coach Doc Rivers after seeming like he lost his touch in coaching has regained his form this year. While a deep playoff run seeming unlikely, they can attract a marquee free agent this summer which could spark deep playoff runs in the future.
Bucks 4 Pistons 1
Bucks 4 Celtics 1
Celtics 4 Pacers 2
Bucks 4 Raptors 3
Raptors 4 Magic 1
Raptors 4 76ers 3
76ers 4 Nets 2
Bucks 4 Thunder 2
Warriors 4 Clippers 2
Rockets 4 Warriors 3
Rockets 4 Jazz 3
Thunder 4 Rockets 2
Nuggets 4 Spurs 3
Thunder 4 Nuggets 2
Thunder 4 Trail Blazers 3
If you're a general manager and you want to get a player who is humble, gives your team 110%, and provides positive results, then Washington Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is the player you're looking for. Anyone who's reading this now would think that he's anything but underrated. Well here's why he's the most underrated player in football.
Throughout his 8 seasons, he has never had a season where he led the league in sacks. Nonetheless, Kerrigan has been really productive in an era where edge rushers are highly valued. His consistency has helped him record 84.5 sacks, 25 forced fumbles, 411 tackles, and 3 interceptions. All of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns. Never has he recorded less than 7.5 sacks which came in his rookie year. His highest sack total was 13 which came in 2014. People also have not noticed Kerrigan, because the Redskins have only had 3 winning seasons during his career with only 2 playoff appearances coming out of it. But nonetheless, his ability to perform in big games in pressure situations is noticeable. In his first career game against the New York Giants, he returned an interception for a touchdown. A pretty good sign of things to come in his career. When the Redskins won 6 straight games in his sophomore season to clinch their division and a spot in the 2012 playoffs, Kerrigan played a big role in that run recording 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Both of these factors contribute to why he's underrated despite the consistency that comes from Kerrigan's play throughout his career.
Perhaps the biggest reason why he's underrated, is that he was unfortunately selected in a draft class that had players as Cam Newton, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and J.J. Watt. All of those players were drafted before Kerrigan. All of those players are more flashy than Kerrigan and their plays are usually in highlight reels. In 2015, Quarterback Cam Newton threw 35 touchdown passes and ran for another 10 while leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl. Von Miller was one of the most important reasons why the Denver Broncos made the playoffs for the first 5 seasons of his career and won a Super Bowl in which he was the MVP of. Patrick Peterson has emerged as one of the top shutdown corners in the league. Julio Jones has helped the Falcons reach the playoffs 4 times in his career, going to the Super Bowl in one of them. A.J. Green is still one of the top receivers in football, helping the Bengals reach the playoffs for the first 5 seasons of his career. Defensive end J.J. Watt is arguably the best player from this draft. His speed, power, and impact has earned him 3 defensive player of the year awards. His impact has helped the Texans win their division 5 times after never appearing in the playoffs in their existence previously.
Despite being heavily overshadowed, Kerrigan's accolades include making the all rookie team and 4 pro bowl appearances. What's interesting however, is that as good as he's been, he seems to be getting better every year. His last three pro bowl appearances, have come in his last three seasons. He also has recorded 11 or more sacks in those last three seasons. If he can keep playing like that for the rest of his career, he could get into the Hall of Fame.
It's amazing that a player in Kerrigan has played 8 seasons in the league could be so underrated. Yet with a draft loaded with tons of amazing talent along with playing on a team that hasn't had much winning, he hasn't got the attention that he should be getting. His play style which doesn't include lots of highlight reels, also plays a big role in the lack of appreciation he receives. All of these factors that make Kerrigan underrated will hopefully come to an end as long as he keeps up the consistent play that has got him to where he is now.