Keeping Dirk Nowitzki fresh is collective effort for Mavs in ’14-15

DALLAS — Averaging his second-fewest minutes in a season since his rookie campaign, 12-time All-Star power forward Dirk Nowitzki was able to remain fresh while leading the Dallas Mavericks during the 2013-14 schedule.

Returning to All-Star form following an injury-riddled ’12-13 season, Nowitzki led the Mavericks back to the playoffs by averaging a team-high 21.7 points a game. Perhaps more importantly, Nowitzki clocked just 32.9 minutes an outing, playing in 80 games and coming up just shy of another 50-40-90 season by connecting on 49.7 percent from the field, 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 89.9 percent at the free-throw line.

All of which led to Nowitzki passing Oscar Robertson (26,710) for 10th on the league’s all-time scoring list just one season after averaging his lowest output since his rookie campaign at 17.3 points a game following arthroscopic knee surgery.

“You know, it’s crazy that 16 years are in the books,” a reflective Nowitzki said before heading into the offseason and re-signing with the Mavericks. “It’s actually a little sad but also exciting. It’s been a crazy ride, and I was excited this year that I played 80 games, which nobody really saw coming after last season. So, I’m happy about that, that I could compete every night and try to be out there for the team every night. So, yeah, if I feel like that, I still think I can play a couple more years at a high level. And we’ve just got to wait and see. … The year before I was a little worried with the knee injury and not getting going for a long, long time. But this year I felt a lot better about my body and my health, so I still think that I can play at a high level for a couple of years.”

There’s no doubt that Nowitzki has plenty left in the tank and will once again compete at a high level this upcoming season, despite turning 36 years old this summer. However, with the pending free-agent departure of Shawn Marion and lack of tested depth behind him at the power forward position, Nowitzki could be asked to shoulder a heavier dose of minutes.

Reportedly voiding free-agent signee Rashard Lewis’ contract after it was discovered that he would require knee surgery, the Mavericks then went in a different direction to add quality depth behind Nowitzki at the four. The 6-foot-10 Brandan Wright could possibly see more time at the four after playing mostly center for the Mavs during his first three seasons in Dallas. Roster hopeful Ivan Johnson will also look to earn a spot in the rotation after two seasons in Atlanta prior to spending last year in China, where he averaged 26.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.9 steals in 24 games for the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls.

The 6-8, 255-pound Johnson worked to expand his game beyond the three-point arc last month with the Mavs’ summer-league squad, attempting to give the team a coveted stretch four off the bench. Fellow new addition Greg Smith could also see some time spotting Nowitzki when the 7-footer heads to the bench, although the three-year pro will most likely use his 6-foot-10 frame to relieve starting center Tyson Chandler.

For short stints, the Mavs could also go small with 6-9 forwards Chandler Parsons and Al-Farouq Aminu sliding up to the four. That leaves Mavs coach Rick Carlisle with a few options to turn to while once again trying to keep Nowitzki’s minutes relatively low. Still, even Carlisle knows that the burden could continue to be heavy on Nowitzki as the Mavericks try to reclaim the title.

“[Nowitzki] has such high impact on everything that goes on with our team and everything that goes on with our organization,” Carlisle said during his exit interview back in April following the Mavs’ first-round playoff exit in seven games at the hands of the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs.

He added: “This is 30 years for me in the league, and I played with [Larry] Bird and I played with some great guys. But there’s nobody I’ve been around that carries a bigger load for a franchise or an organization than Dirk Nowitzki. I mean, I can’t say in words how much respect I have for him, what he stands for and everything he’s done for this organization and for me in six years. And he’s got a lot of good years left. I think that’s pretty evident.”