Rick Carlisle: Dirk one of 12 best

Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle made the case Thursday with ESPN Radio that star forward Dirk Nowitzki ranks among the 12 greatest players in the game's history.

"I think there's a certain criteria where you can say pretty much for certain that he's one of the top 12 all time," Carlisle said in an interview that will air Thursday night on the "NBA on ESPN Radio" pregame show.

"And that is, there's only been 12 guys that have been 10-time All-Stars, [NBA] Finals MVP and league MVP. So I think that firmly puts him in the top 12. And then getting into the top 10 in all-time scoring validates that even more."

After starting the season in 17th place on the league's all-time scoring list, Nowitzki moved into 10th place Wednesday night -- passing Oscar Robertson -- with 21 points in a victory at Utah. The 35-year-old, in his 16th season, scored another 19 in Thursday night's loss to the Spurs. He now has 26,733 career points and earned Finals MVP honors in 2011 after leading Dallas to the first championship in franchise history four years removed from his MVP regular season in 2007.

The other 11 players in NBA history to reach the benchmarks Carlisle tossed out are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Moses Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Yet it must be noted that the NBA did not start awarding a Finals MVP trophy until the 1968-69 season, which limited the opportunities for the likes of Bill Russell and Robertson to achieve all three honors.

"He's got a lot more good basketball left in him," Carlisle said of Nowitzki. "A lot more great basketball. So I think he's going to pick off a few more guys going up the ladder.

"And if you look at his career and the way that he has played his game [and] the fact that his game is such a radically different game than any 7-foot-1 guy that we've ever seen, he's been a game-changer. ... He's been a monster in this game and he'll only continue, I think, to gain respect as time continues to go on."

Entering the Mavericks' Thursday night showdown at home with longtime rival San Antonio, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said at the morning shootaround that he regards Nowitzki to be "arguably the best pure shooter we've ever seen."

"He's done it with class," Popovich said. "He's showed up every minute that he's available, plays hard all the time, great teammate. He's somebody special."