Dirk Nowitski reminded us of what Bill Walton's NBA career might have looked like.
Nowitski guided the Dallas Mavericks to a game one win over Oklahoma City, 121-112, hitting 12 of 15 from the floor and making a crazy 24 of 24 free throw attempts. He added 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 blocks.
The performance was reminiscent of Bill Walton's "perfect game" from the 1973 NCAA championship game. UCLA beat Memphis State 87-66 as Walton scored 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting with 13 rebounds.
While Nowitski scored half of his points on free throws and the players' styles are very different, both performances came in crucial games from shaggy-haired big men, so seeing Dirk do his thing has to make us wonder what could have been re:Walton.
Walton graduated from UCLA and was immediately slowed by injuries. But in 1977 his Portland Trailblazers came back from a 2-0 deficit and beat the Philadelphia 76ers to win the NBA championship. Walton was the series MVP.
The next season was looking like Walton's best before he broke his foot, an injury that didn't prevent him from being named league MVP, but one that would derail his career. His injury was mismanaged with incorrect diagnoses and painkillers, which led to several further problems. It became a textbook case of how not to manage an injury, harming both the player and the team he played for. Walton was traded to San Diego and didn't play a full season with them, sitting out several years.
Walton made a comeback in the 80s, joining the Boston Celtics and helping them win another championship, but his role was a backup role, and he was a shadow of his former self as a player, limited mainly to rebounding. Still, he played a full season and won the NBA's Sixth Man award.
If not for his injuries, Walton could have been putting up Nowitski-like numbers for a solid decade from the mid 70s through the mid-80s; instead he basically had two great seasons and a number of years where he played well when he was healthy. Instead of a career resembling Nowitski's, his closest modern-day match could be Yao Ming, who is also having major problems with his feet and as a result has completed only a few full seasons.