<
>

A look back at Dirk and Yao

Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images

The same week that Dirk Nowitzki announced he may play beyond his current contract when it expires at the end of next season, it was reported that Yao Ming will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. In a way, the two have been loosely connected throughout their careers. Teammates on eight different Western Conference All-Star teams, Yao and Nowitzki -- along with Tim Duncan -- served as the pillars of professional basketball in Texas.

In honor of the greatest Chinese and German players of all-time, we take a look at the intersection of two of the most influential players of the 21st century.

Yao and Nowitzki played 28 games against each other: 21 in the regular season and then a seven-game series in the first round in the 2005 playoffs. While Nowitzki’s Mavericks won 16 of the 21 regular-season meetings and the playoff series, they were evenly matched over the 28 games, with Nowitzki holding an edge in the regular season and Yao an advantage in the postseason.

The best game either of them had head-to-head belongs to Nowitzki, whose career-high 53 points came against Yao’s Rockets on Dec 2, 2004. Nowitzki scored 23 of his 53 points in the fourth quarter and overtime and added 16 rebounds in a game that Yao was held to 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Overall, Nowitzki outscored Yao in 12 of their 21 meetings in the regular season. Nowitzki averaged 25.8 points per game compared to Yao’s 21.2.

Though Nowitzki had bigger games in their regular-season duels and ultimately had the last laugh in their playoff series, Yao was the superior player in their lone postseason encounter. Player efficiency rating in those seven games was nearly 10 points higher. Yao averaged just 0.1 points per game more than Nowitzki (21.4 to 21.3) but really distanced himself with far superior shooting. In those seven games, Yao shot 65.5 percent from the floor, which was more than 30 points higher than Nowitzki.

One area where the two stalwarts shined regardless of the opponent was the free throw line. Nowitzki has long received credit for his shooting exploits, an area where Yao was no slouch. For his career, Yao shot 83.3 percent from the line. Of the 125 NBA players inducted into the Hall of Fame, only 17 converted a higher percentage of free throws. Among players that weren’t as good include Jerry West, Pete Maravich and John Stockton. The only 7-footer in NBA history with a higher career free throw percentage? Nowitzki.