Dirk Nowitzki’s leadership may be needed more than ever this upcoming season

DALLAS — With an NBA MVP, a Finals MVP and 12 All-Star appearances to his credit, it’s easy to see why Dirk Nowitzki is the face of the Dallas Mavericks.

Pushing the Mavericks back into the playoffs last season for the 13th time in the last 14 years, Nowitzki once again had no problem putting the franchise on his back. However, with the free-agent departures of veterans Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, Nowitzki will be called upon more than ever to be a leader for the new-look Mavs this upcoming season.

Playing the entire 2013-14 season at the age of 35, Nowitzki didn’t skip a beat while leading the Mavericks to the playoffs by averaging a team-high 21.7 points a game during his 80 appearances. He also had one of his most efficient seasons, connecting on 49.7 percent from the field, 39.8 percent from three-point range and 89.9 percent at the free-throw line to finish just shy of another 50-40-90 season.

Nowitzki continued to write his name in the annals of NBA history as well, passing Oscar Robertson (26,710) for 10th on the league’s all-time scoring list. Still, it’s Nowitzki’s quiet leadership that his teammates turned to most while pushing the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games during the first round of last season’s playoffs.

“He’s a great teammate,” Mavs guard Devin Harris told SiriusXM NBA Radio last Friday when asked about playing alongside Nowitzki. “You know, he doesn’t say much. He kind of leads by example. He’s probably one of the hardest guys I’ve ever seen work at his game the way he does. He comes in and works every day, doesn’t take a day off, and he goes out there and does it every night. He’s a leader to step forward, and as the face of the franchise he’s easy to follow.”

With the emergence of 2-guard Monta Ellis last season, Nowitzki was afforded the luxury of taking a small step back on the offensive end while the cat-quick newcomer attacked off the dribble. Still, even Ellis admits that his relentless attacks toward the rim were often predicated on opposing defenses’ respect for Nowitzki’s shooting ability, which stretched the floor.

“This is still Dirk’s team,” Ellis proudly proclaimed during last year’s playoff run. “I think him just being on the floor still makes us better, even when he’s not knocking shots down, ’cause teams still respect him. He’s still a threat on the floor, so it really still opens up a lot. And even if his shot is not going down, he’s still a big part of us winning and making shots and creating the space that we need to make plays for ourselves.”

But simply spacing the floor for Ellis’ drives into the heart of the defense is not all that Nowitzki will be tasked with this upcoming season. Entering his 17th season, the 36-year-old Nowitzki will also be handed the responsibility of mentoring new addition and budding star Chandler Parsons, 25, after the young forward signed with the Mavericks as a restricted free agent this summer.

Spending his first three seasons with the rival Houston Rockets, Parsons will try to elevate his game to another level in Dallas. In order to do so, however, the former Florida standout and 38th pick in the 2011 draft confesses that he has much to learn from Nowitzki’s work ethic and knowledge of the game.

“Dirk, obviously, was one of my favorite players growing up, and I’ve developed a close relationship with him throughout the years. So, it will be amazing to be able to play with him,” Parsons told reporters last month after signing with the Mavs.

He added: “[Nowitzki] is such a smart player. You know, he’s an unbelievable tutor. He’s such a student of the game. And everything that he does, I’m just going to be a sponge and absorb everything. I look forward to getting in the gym with him, getting there early and getting shots up with him. … It’s not often you get to play with one of the greatest of all time, so I look forward to absorbing any info I can. And we’re definitely going to be bouncing some things off each other for my time here.”