Both Dirk Nowitzki and Charles Barkley are recognized as some of the game’s greatest forwards during their years in the league. Dirk was a sharpshooting big man who played his entire career with the Mavericks, while Barkley was an undersized big who played with power, skill, and aggression.
Both players put up big numbers over their careers, and each did it their own way. While Barkley never managed to capture the elusive NBA title, Dirk captured one NBA title by knocking off the heavily favored Miami Heat in 2011.
Still, both of these players are first ballot HOF players who are loved and respected inside and outside the league. But who was the greater player? Does Barkley’s dominance outweigh Dirk’s unstoppable offensive repertoire? Or does Dirk’s championship ring give him the edge?
Inside Scoring – Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley played like a man among boys, despite being very undersized as a big man! He was very strong, had a low center of gravity, and possessed a very soft touch around the rim. Barkley could finish around the basket at a very high level, and it is the main reason he averaged over 22 ppg for his career.
While Dirk is known for his fadeaway jumpers, he has a solid post game and touches around the basket. He was very adept at finishing layups, but his preference to remain on the outside gives Barkley the advantage.
Outside Scoring – Dirk Nowitzki
Even though Barkley could hit mid-range jumpers, Nowitzki was one of the pioneers of stretch big men. The way he played was unique, and he really changed the way bigs play the game.
Nowitzki might be the best shooting big man of all time, thanks to his beautiful high-arcing shot that is impossible to block. Dirk could shoot from anywhere on the court, and his ability to get hot from the perimeter as a big man is one of the rarest skills sets a big can possess. Dirk takes this one easily.
Playmaking – Even
Both players could move the ball well, and share the basketball when needed. Even though Barkley averaged almost 4 assists per game (compared to Dirk’s 3), they are both even at playmaking. Barkley had a very high basketball I.Q., and he could find guys easy shots since he was double-teamed a lot.
Dirk was great at moving the ball and had a lot of “hockey assists” where the player he passes to make the assist. Even as big-time scorers, both Dirk and Charles were unselfish players who simply wanted to dominate the game and end up with a win.
Athleticism – Charles Barkley
Both players were never great athletes. They often relied on their size, strength, and skill to dominate the game.
Barkley was not very tall but had a low center of gravity with a lot of power coming from his glutes. He would shake off defenders and finish at the rim despite being undersized. Dirk, alternatively, used his height to his advantage when he had to shoot over smaller defenders or even get a hand up to contest shots.
Since both of them were not splendid athletes by any means, this one is even.
Defense – Charles Barkley
This is a very interesting one because both players preferred to dominate the offensive end. Dirk, even in his prime, was never much of a defender. He was too slow-footed to guard the most quicker players, and he never could get up to block shots that consistently. Dirk was still tall, and could simply use his height to bother guys in the paint.
But Barkley played with a stronger approach to the game, using force and determination to make up for any defensive deficiencies in his game. Barkley, when he wanted to, could be tough to score on.
Overall, Barkley’s tougher play makes him a slightly better defender.
Rim Protection – Even
While they are both miniature players, they are even once again. Even though Stockton was an inch taller, Paul’s bulldog approach in the paint more than makes up for the slight height difference. Both guys loved playing hard, and the defense was a big factor in their games. To be fair, they are once again defensively.
Rebounds – Charles Barkley
Without a doubt, Barkley is a better rebounder. He averaged 11.7 rebounds per game for his career compared to only 7.5 for Dirk. It’s clear, from those numbers, that Dirk was more of a finesse player who often thrived playing next to a traditional center who can rebound (think Tyson Chandler).
Barkley was simply a beast on the boards using his lower body strength to hold off other bigs and grab rebounds at a high rate. During his time, Barkley was considered one of the best rebounders in the league.
Dirk, on the other hand, did not seem to mix it up by crashing the boards and preferred to set up on the offensive end. Barkley wins it here.
Clutch Factor – Dirk Nowitzki
When it comes to the clutch factor, Dirk has always been one of the best in the league at making clutch shots. Since Dirk is a supreme offensive player, he could get his shot off over defenders with ease and this is critical in clutch moments. Nowitzki was also a phenomenal shooter from the perimeter, which is great if the paint is packed. Most importantly, Dirk has the one-legged fadeaway jumper that defenders could not block and just hope it misses.
Barkley was clearly a big-time player, preferring to do his damage on the inside. He was a beast on the boards and especially offensive rebounding, but his skillset falls short of Dirk’s ability to score from the perimeter.
Leadership – Even
Both players played at a high level throughout their careers. Dirk was the epitome of hard work since he was able to play into his 40’s without really a large drop-off. Dirk actually improved as a shooter as he got older, and his offensive moved never left him. His teammates loved him, and opposing players respected his work ethic as a foreign big man.
Barkley was vocal and was very dominant in his prime. Players around the league respected him for this, as he was one of the most well-known players of his generation. Barkley’s ability to play larger than his size was key to his attitude and ultimately his leadership. This one is even.
Basketball I.Q. – Even
Dirk’s basketball I.Q. was on display when he terrorized the NBA Playoffs in 2011. Dirk was easily the best player throughout the entire playoffs, scoring at will and being the focal point of the attack. Dirk, when he’s in his rhythm, is completely unstoppable. He is a 7 footer who can shoot better than most players in history. Dirk knew how to score, and knew how to impact the game for many years.
Barkley focused on what he did best and went to work. He was strong and fought for every rebound that bounced off the rim. Barkley was also a terrific scorer and a 20-10 guy for his whole career. Even though he never managed to win a ring, Barkley understood the beauty of the post-up game and how to make his life easier when it came to getting buckets.
This one has to be even.
Scoring – Even
Dirk Nowitzki was one of the most iconic international players ever, and this is because few could score the ball as well and as consistently as Dirk. Nowitzki was a terrific scorer from anywhere on the court. His mid-range shot was the stuff of legends, mainly due to his one-legged fadeaway, while he was just as accurate from three. If you foul Dirk inside, he will swish multiple free throws with ease. Even inside, Dirk had a very soft touch and could score.
But Barkley was just as effective. He averaged over 20 points per game for his career because he simply knew how to impact the offensive end of the floor. Barkley was very active, especially on the glass, and was constantly getting outbacks and layups around the rim. Barkley would overwhelm opponents at times because he understood how to play close to the rim.
Another close one that’s even.
Impact – Dirk Nowitzki
Since both players were dominant in their own eras, this one is very hard to decide. Barkley was a legend, and one of the most dominant forwards the game has ever seen. He was constantly in battles with the games’ greatest players ever, and would always perform best when the competition was at its best. Barkley never backed down, and always made his name known on the floor.
Dirk Nowitzki, due to his unbelievable championship run with the Mavericks, is the player with the larger impact on the game. Dirk was simply unstoppable offensively, and he even managed to carry the Mavs to the Finals in 2006 only to fall short. Instead of dwelling on his failures, he went to work and produced a massive upset when he was the best player in the Miami Heat series led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Nowitzki’s s dedication to his craft and his dominance throughout his career gives him the edge.
1 on 1 Game – Dirk Nowitzki
One on one, Dirk has a variety of moves that Barkley never had. Dirk could shoot from anywhere, and even post up for his patented fadeaway jumper. Dirk could score in any way he wanted, and he deserves the respect for dominating most one on one matchups.
Even though Barkley was a monster down low, he never possessed the outside shooting that Dirk has. In a one on one situation, it would greatly help to have a consistent perimeter shot to give you more scoring opportunities. Dirk’s one on one game is possibly the best reason why he has an NBA Championship ring and thus he takes this one.