DALLAS — The injury-plagued 2012-13 season for Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki was continuously chronicled by his naysayers who wanted to write the former league and NBA Finals MVP off after the 11-time All-Star was forced to sit out the first 27 games following preseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
Nowitzki’s uphill climb to recapture his elite form was proof that he has plenty left in the tank, however, as his production steadily picked up before season’s end. Now, after an offseason in which the 7-footer turned 35 years old and welcomed his first child into the world, the Mavericks are once again hoping to ride their caped crusader’s coattail back to the playoffs.
“You put a much better set of players around him, and now it’s Dirk in a situation where he doesn’t have to rush back; where he’s had all summer to prepare his body and get ready,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said this offseason during an interview with ESPN 103.3 FM. “You know, knock on wood, if we stay healthy, I think people are dismissing Dirk in ways that they shouldn’t. Like I’ve been telling him, Karl Malone won an MVP at 35 and there’s no reason why he can’t be considered in an MVP conversation at 35. I can also tell you that the way people are just randomly dismissing him as basically being done has been incredible motivation for him as well.”
Motivation is one thing. But, in order to maintain Nowitzki’s play at a high level, the Mavs might also look to keep his minutes low while using a multitude of faces at the backup 4 spot.
During the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, which was coincidentally Nowitzki’s rookie season, Malone finished third in the league in scoring while averaging 23.8 points to go along with 9.4 rebounds a night. He also played a jaw-dropping 37.4 minutes a game en route to his second MVP trophy. Nowitzki hasn’t seen that kind of playing time since averaging 37.5 minutes in 80 appearances during the ’09-10 season, with his time steadily decreasing ever since.
Last season, while playing his fewest outings in a season since his rookie campaign, Nowitzki clocked just 31.3 minutes per game, which was also his lowest average since his first year. He still managed to make the most of his time on the court, averaging a team-best 17.3 points on 47.1 percent shooting and 41.4 percent from 3-point range.
Keeping the team’s go-to scorer fresh could place more on the shoulders of four-time All-Star Shawn Marion, re-signed big man Brandan Wright and new addition DeJuan Blair, who all figure to share the responsibility of providing No. 41 with an occasional breather. And while a healthy Nowitzki figures to now see spikes in those numbers across the board this upcoming season, the Mavericks also hope to get even contributions from the star forward’s substitutions when he heads to the bench.