2015 Year in Review: Al-Farouq Aminu

Exit Interviews: Al-Farouq Aminu

Al-Farouq Aminu reflects on his 2014-15 season with the Mavs.

You don’t often see an NBA player endear himself to an entire fan base after just one season, especially one in which he didn’t play much toward the beginning of the year. But that’s exactly what happened for Al-Farouq Aminu in the 2014-15 season.

After sitting outside the rotation for much of the early parts of the campaign, Aminu eventually seized control of the backup forward spot and never let it go, energizing not only the crowd, but also his teammates when he was on the floor. He flew everywhere, swatting shots, swiping the ball from confused opponents, and eating glass.

All of these are traits you’d expect to read about a grizzled center of the ’90s. But Aminu is 6′ 9″, 215 pounds. He’s not supposed to be able to do what he does, but he does it anyway. And he’s awfully good at it.

SEASON STATS

PTS REB STL BLK
5.6 4.6 0.9 0.8

PERFORMANCE EVALUATION

Aminu

Based off his basic numbers, you might be thinking “OK, what the heck is so impressive about this guy?” He didn’t even score six points per game, after all, and was a sub-30 percent three-point shooter. The answer is pretty simple, if maybe even unsatisfying: Aminu does things that can’t really be measured. He’s not going to dazzle you with a 20-point outing every few nights, and he’s not going to pull down 12 rebounds a night or block three shots. But what he will do for you is score some points, get some rebounds, block a shot or two, and get a steal or two. He’ll run the floor like crazy. He’ll defend with more energy than anyone else on the floor, and it’s not even close. These are all extremely valuable traits that don’t quite show up on paper.

For what it’s worth, there are stats that can help to quantify Aminu’s contributions to the team. He posted career-high individual offensive and defensive ratings this season, according to Basketball-Reference (107 and 102, respectively) and his .115 win shares per 48 minutes is also a career-best mark. So, too, were all of the following: PER, free throw rate, offensive rebound rate, steal percentage, block percentage, turnover percentage, and win shares.

His individual numbers leap off the page compared to his past performance. So what changed? Other than environment and his surrounding teammates, which plays a much larger role in a player’s success than we often think, Aminu spent 46 percent of his minutes at the power forward spot and another seven percent playing center, both career-highs by a wide margin. That not only spaced the floor for other shooters to find open shots, but also allowed Aminu to defend closer to the rim, giving him more opportunities to block shots and attack the glass, two things he’s very good at for any NBA player, regardless of size. Dallas was 5.8 points per 100 possessions better than the opponent with Aminu on the floor this season, per Basketball-Reference.

STANDOUT SHOWING

Aminu Throws It Down

Al-Farouq Aminu throws down the slam dunk late in the game.

If there’s one Aminu performance you could watch until the end of time, you’d choose his showing in Game 4 against Houston. He scored 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep, and added 12 boards and a block, all while limiting James Harden to 24 points on 7-of-15 shooting. That might not sound great, but only six of Harden’s shots were “uncontested,” per NBA.com, hugely improved over the 14 he saw in Game 3.

That huge shift was planned. Aminu got the start in Game 4 after coming off the bench in Game 3. It was primarily Monta Ellis who defended Harden in Game 3, and both players were working so hard at either end to carry their own offense that defense wasn’t either’s focal point. Aminu, though, takes pride in making life difficult for star wings, and he’s got the physical tools to do so.

That single gif is worthy of 1,000 words. This is James Harden, MVP runner-up, megastar, getting his layup attempt off a drive sent 25 feet toward the sideline by his own man. It’s absurd. No player should be able to defend like that, but Aminu can.

He brought it all in Game 4, on both ends. That’s all you can ask for.

CONTRACT STATUS

Aminu has a player option for next season, but he’s already said publicly that he plans to opt out of his deal to test the free agent market. However, that does not rule out a return to Dallas. The forward said he’s enjoyed his time here, and he certainly improved as the season went on, indicating that he worked with the coaches to better his game. Those are relationships that can influence a player’s offseason decision-making.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

Next season will be Aminu’s sixth in the league, but he’ll only be 25 on opening night. He’s still just a pup as NBA players go, and he has plenty of potential yet to realize. He’s sure to have plenty of interested suitors this offseason after his breakout campaign, particularly in the playoffs when he averaged 11.2 points on 54.8/63.6 shooting with 7.2 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 1.6 blocks. He was a monster, and the league has taken notice.

He’s the type of player coaches crave, as he’s already good enough at so many things to deserve playing time, but he’s also got a lot of room for improvement when it comes to three-point shooting and some other more technical things on the offensive end. Still, even if he doesn’t improve his shooting much (though I believe he certainly will) he’ll still have a really nice NBA career. There aren’t many players with his combination of motor and pure athleticism. He’s a beast.

Monta and the Mavs too much for Houston in Game 4

Rockets vs. Mavericks: Game 4

Monta Ellis scored 31 points and grabbed six rebounds to help the Mavericks win Game 4, 121-109.

Down 3-0 and with their backs against the wall, it was going to take an energetic, complete performance for the Mavs to extend the series and push it back to Houston. That’s exactly the type of game Dallas played in Game 4, putting together one of their best games of the season, and just in time.

The Mavericks will now turn their attention to Game 5, as the club won’t have much time to think about how they extended their season. Game 5 is tomorrow night at 7 p.m. CT, less than 48 hours after Game 4 even tipped off. The best thing about not playing, though, is that we can revisit what happened in Game 4 without having to worry about defending James Harden and Dwight Howard. Let’s leave that to the pros and, while we’re at it, check out how they did it.

THE PERFECT AMOUNT OF MONTA

There’s been way too much Monta Ellis in Games 3 and 4 as far as Houston is concerned, but just enough for the Mavs’ taste. He scored a combined 65 points in the two contests on a very efficient 28-of-49 shooting, and his performance in Game 4 was one of his best of the season, as he attacked the rim all game long. His shot chart says it all: 6-of-6 at the basket is a pretty impressive feat, especially against a rim protector like Dwight Howard.

Shotchart_1430111388276

Ellis is at his best when he attacks the basket, especially early in the shot clock. We see this every now and then when an opponent makes a basket. If the defense doesn’t get in position quickly, specifically the center, Ellis is going to turn on the burners and attack the bucket. The Rockets went very small for much of Game 4, playing four guards next to Dwight Howard or Josh Smith for large stretches of the contest, which gave the Mavs’ 2-guard a much clearer path to the rim. Without bigs to protect the paint, Ellis ran wild.

For the series, Ellis is shooting 11-of-17 in transition, per Synergy Sports, good for 64.7 percent. Only Stephen Curry, Houston’s Corey Brewer, and Jimmy Butler have scored more points in transition than Ellis. If he can continue driving to the basket early in the shot clock, it will force the Houston defense to get set quicker, causing the Rockets to expend more energy. In addition, as has always been the case, if Monta gets going downhill, the defense naturally sucks in over the course of a game, leaving the perimeter open for players like Dirk Nowitzki to take advantage of the extra space. Ellis is the key to this offense, and he was in top form Sunday night.

STEPPING IN AND STEPPING UP

Rick Carlisle had searched and searched for the right formula after both Chandler Parsons and Rajon Rondo were sidelined for the rest of the season earlier in this series. In Game 3, he turned to Richard Jefferson and Raymond Felton in the starting lineup, but in that game it was the play of JJ Barea and Al-Farouq Aminu that stood out the most. So when it came time to declare starters for Game 4, it only made sense that those were the two to get the nod. They did, and they came up huge in the Mavs’ win.

One-on-one with JJ Barea

Lonnie Franklin III goes one-on-one with JJ Barea after Sunday's win over Houston.

Both players finished with double-doubles — Barea with 17 points and 13 assists, Aminu with 16 points and 12 rebounds, four of them offensive. Both played a season-high in minutes, too, but it looked the entire time like they belonged.

The offense has performed beautifully with Barea running the show in this series. Per NBA.com, the Mavericks have scored 121.4 points per 100 possessions with Barea on the floor against Houston, and the team has a 58.3 true shooting percentage during that time. (True shooting measures shooting performance on all shots, including free throws.)

The Mavs outscored Houston by 32.3 points per 100 possessions in Game 4 with Barea on the floor as the offense hummed to the tune of a 130.6 offensive rating. Barea’s command of the tempo had a lot to do with it.

“He’s always a guy that’s going to battle,” Carlisle said. “He’s relished playoff opportunities. That’s been the pattern of his career. He’s played big for us a lot while he’s been here. I just think that’s how he’s wired and how he approaches it.”

Aminu, too, made an impact on the offensive end, but it was his defense against James Harden which stood out the most. Aminu has the length and foot speed required to stay in front of the shifty Harden, who has good size (6′ 5″ with a 6′ 11″ wingspan) for a shooting guard. His Game 4 opponent, Aminu, though, boasts a wingspan longer than 7′ 3″, which gives him the advantage when it comes to defending Harden’s patented Euro step drives.

There aren’t many people on the planet who can both stay in front of Harden for 30 feet and also block his floater. What an incredible play by Aminu.

“He’s one of our most relentless workers,” Carlisle said. “He’s earned this opportunity. He impacted the game in a lot of ways tonight.”

As for Aminu’s thoughts? “I always try to provide energy and defense. I’m just trying to keep on doing my job,” he said. Ho-hum. Gotta love it.

The Mavs simply don’t win this game without his defense and Barea’s command of the offense, and Dallas will need those two to contribute at a similar level for the remainder of the series.

DIRK’S CLOSING TOUCH

The “great Nowitzki,” as Carlisle called him after Game 3, was stupendous down the stretch yet again. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-6 shooting, mixing in all sorts of moves to give Dallas the closing boost it needed as Houston attempted a comeback.

2015-04-27 11_25_27-Microsoft Excel - Book1

Dirk has averaged 8.0 points on 47.4 percent shooting per fourth quarter in the playoffs, which is in line with what he’s done for the whole of his career. Nowitzki is so good that, when he has the ball when the game matters, you never think that he’s going to miss. He’s a really special player, but you already knew that. What you might not have known, however, is that Nowitzki’s career average of 25.5 points per game in the playoffs ranks tied for 11th all-time among players with double-digit postseason appearances, and only five players ahead of him on the list have a higher field goal percentage. Pretty impressive stuff.

Everything clicked for the Mavericks in Game 4. The team played with pride, energy, and willpower, but also mixed in excellent shotmaking, tenacious defense, and strong rebounding. Dallas was the better team in all phases, and that’s what you have to do to win in the playoffs. We won’t have to wait long to see whether the team can repeat its performance in Game 5.

Al-Farouq Aminu makes a big impact yet again

One-on-one with Al-Farouq Aminu

Mavs.com's Lonnie Franklin III chats with Al-Farouq Aminu after his monster performance against the Rockets Friday night.

In what’s becoming almost a nightly ritual, Al-Farouq Aminu’s fingerprints were all over the Mavs’ win against Houston last night.

The forward scored a season-high 17 points, grabbed a season-high 12 boards, and blocked two shots in 30 minutes of action, boasting a plus-minus of +12 in an 11-point win. And, as only Aminu can, he defended virtually every position throughout the game, from the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden to big men Terrence Jones and Josh Smith.

“I definitely think what Farouq did was major,” center Tyson Chandler said. “His activity, not only the defensive end and offensive end. Rebound. It just seemed like he came up with play after play.”

“I mean defensively, he’s almost like (Shawn Marion),” Dirk Nowitzki said. “He can guard one through five, really. He’s probably guarded every position so far. He’s long, he’s quick enough, he’s got unbelievable timing on his shot blocking, he’s a great rebounder for his size with his long arms. Just his activity is there.”

Aminu’s activity certainly helped to change the feel of the game against the Rockets, which is a trait every bench player hopes to achieve. After getting off to a sluggish start out of the gate, trailing 8-0 and then 11-4, the Mavs brought in the second unit. Within three minutes, Aminu had already collected two offensive rebounds, one of which led to a Richard Jefferson three-point that tied the game at 16. He also hit a three-pointer and shot 5-of-7 on two-pointers.

As the season has worn on, Aminu has played with more confidence and more energy. After a big run he’ll often be the one to let out the yell and roars or bump chests with teammates. That type of thing can be contagious and can certainly help the team.

“We’re playing good and I’m just feeding off their energy,” Aminu said of his teammates. “And they’re feeding off my energy. Just trying to keep this thing going.”

In his last 11 appearances, Aminu is scoring 8.5 points to go along with 7.0 rebounds (including three on the offensive glass), 1.7 steals, and 1.5 blocks. During that time, he’s hit threes at a 34.6 percent clip, a huge improvement for him over his performance earlier in the season.

“He gives us a presence on the boards. You can see his shooting gets better every game and he takes the challenge defensively,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “He can guard a lot of different positions. He’s playing five now some. He’s having a lot of things to process, but he’s doing a terrific job … We really needed Farouq to have a huge game and he did.”

The most obvious of impacts he’s made has come on the defensive end, particularly in the pick-and-roll defense. This season he’s in the 89th percentile in the league in terms of points per possession allowed (0.622) when defending the pick-and-roll ball-handler, holding them to just 33.3 percent shooting. As the bigger defender in the pick-and-roll (if he switches off his man to take the guard, which is something the Mavs frequently do with him) he’s holding them to 40 percent shooting and he ranks in the 83rd percentile in the league in PPP (0.632). He also ranks in the 80th percentile in isolation defense. Basically, if you’re a player who wants to put the ball on the floor and try to make a move, you’re not going to beat him.

He’s also good close to the basket, too. This season he’s held opponents to just 14-of-38 shooting around the rim, good for 36.8 percent shooting and the 92nd percentile of defenders in the NBA. He blocks 4.0 percent of all opponents’ two-point shots when he’s on the floor, which is the highest mark on the Mavericks of any player with more than two appearances for the team this season. His length and anticipation skills helped him as he swatted Harden in the third quarter.

2015-02-21 10_55_53-Microsoft Silverlight

Now check out NBA’s player tracking technology to see just how much ground Aminu covered, and how he saw that block developing the entire possession.

He showed center-like instincts by measuring Harden’s drive the entire way, then stepping in at the last possible second to block the shot and kickstart a fast break the other way.

It’s that versatility and effectiveness guarding multiple positions which has turned Aminu into a truly invaluable player on this team. At one point, the Mavs rolled out a lineup which included Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler, and Aminu. Those three players are all long-armed, quick, and plus defenders. When the Mavs surround that trio with offensive attackers like Nowitzki or Monta Ellis, suddenly Dallas is a very dangerous two-way team.

His impactful play also likely means more wins for Dallas, which is always a good thing, especially against a rival like the Rockets.

“It’s good to get a win,” Aminu said. “Especially against Houston, which we don’t really care for too much. But it was a good win. We needed it.”

Al-Farouq Aminu answering the bell for the Mavs

Aminu Steal and Slam

Al-Farouq Aminu picks off the pass and takes it the other way for the flush.

One of the final pieces the Mavericks added during the busy summer of 2014 was one of the most unassuming players on the team.

The signing of forward Al-Farouq Aminu didn’t draw much fanfare, as everyone was still swooning over the additions of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons. Aminu’s first claim to fame came early in his tenure with the Mavericks when a fan asked him at the introductory press conference if he liked the nickname “Matrix Reloaded” to describe his play. After all, the forward has drawn comparisons to longtime Dallas forward Shawn Marion for his ability to defend multiple positions and crash the glass extremely well for a player of his size.

But Aminu said he didn’t like the nickname, which was almost a letdown. At Media Day, he told Mavs.com the reason: He didn’t like the second “Matrix” movie as much as the first.

One insignificant story like that can’t tell you too much about a player, obviously, but it does reveal a certain level of pragmatism about the fifth-year wing. A sweet nickname can make a player pretty famous, but not if the player doesn’t want it. He’ll just go by “Farouq” and play some ball, thank you.

That’s exactly what he’s done this season with Dallas. His minutes have been on-and-off throughout the season as head coach Rick Carlisle has tinkered with the rotation over and over again, first at the beginning of the season and then again after the trade for Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell. Aminu is playing a career-low 14.3 minutes per game, but he’s not letting it affect his productivity whatsoever. His head coach’s mantra is “stay ready,” and Aminu has done just that. He’s practical.

He’s working through another shift in the rotation right now, as Carlisle has now turned to Powell at backup center and Aminu at the backup power forward spot. Aminu has answered the call, averaging 6.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, and a steal in his last seven appearances in just 16.0 minutes per game. Prorate that over 36 minutes and his numbers are even more impressive: 13 points, nine boards, almost four blocks and more than two steals.

That’s the key to earning minutes as a Mavs reserve since the Rondo trade: being productive and making an immediate impact. It’s not so much about the volume of minutes you receive, but about what you can do in the time you get. For backup players on this team, throw out per-game numbers. Even Sixth Man candidate Vince Carter had modest numbers last season, but that’s because he didn’t play a lot of minutes. Ignore per game stuff and look at the per-36. That’s what turned Brandan Wright into such a huge piece of that Rondo deal — he was able to score points and grab rebounds at a high volume in relatively limited minutes. Now, Aminu appears to have taken the torch.

Consider: Aminu is scoring a career-high 11.7 points per 36 this season and his 6.1 defensive rebounds is the third-highest mark of his career. His PER is a career-high 14.3, and PER in particular is a stat that’s hard to pull up high playing such a low number of minutes off the bench. His block percentage is a career-high 4.1, meaning he blocks one out of every 25 two-point shots opponents attempt while he’s on the floor. That’s an extremely high number for a player at his position. He’s also worth more win shares per 48 minutes this season (.116) than any other campaign in his career.

So what’s behind the surge? It could be because of the way he’s been deployed offensively. This season, he’s basically either taking corner threes or layups, which is a recipe for success for most players in this league. That’s also similar to the way Richard Jefferson is being used. In the charts below, pay attention to the “DIST%,” which represents the percentage of his total field goal attempts which have come from that specific area. Aminu has struggled outside of the lane, but he’s taking such a low percentage of his shots from there that it doesn’t necessarily matter.

Shotchart_1422597541452

He’s hitting better than 70 percent of his attempts at the rim, a full 10 percentage points above league average, and roughly 46 percent of his total field goal attempts have come from within the friendly confines of the paint. That shows he’s a player who knows what he’s good at, and it also reflects Carlisle’s gift of highlighting what his players can do, not what they can’t. Aminu’s 52.2 true shooting percentage is the highest mark of his career.

Now, look at this shooting chart from last season, when he was still in New Orleans.

Shotchart_1422597572316

An even higher percentage of his attempts came from the paint, but he wasn’t as effective. Why? New Orleans wasn’t able to space the floor as well as Dallas. Aminu has also scored a ton of points in transition this season, and the Pelicans weren’t able to push the ball as effectively last season.

The forward is shooting more threes this season than he ever has. Almost 40 percent of his attempts have come from beyond the arc. His 26.6 three-point percentage might not raise eyebrows, but a player’s success from beyond the arc can sometimes be related to the amount of minutes he plays. In games this season in which Aminu has played 15 minutes or more, he’s hit threes at a 31.1 percent rate, per Basketball-Reference. The same can be said about Richard Jefferson, who leads the team in three-point percentage this season at 41.6 percent. In games in which he’s played 15 minutes or more, he’s shooting a blistering 47.3 percent from deep. It’s obviously difficult to prove correlation here, as sometimes a coach will leave his guy in if he’s cooking offensively. However, that’s two examples of bench players producing at a higher efficiency on difficult shots the longer they’re in — the more of a rhythm they can get in, the better they’ll be on long-range shots. Easy enough.

The Mavs will need Aminu to continue contributing at this rate for the rest of the season. He’s such a versatile, talented player, and he can guard at least three positions very, very well. In a playoff series against Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Eric Bledsoe, or scoring leader James Harden, 15-20 minutes a game of Aminu’s defense could realistically win a game or two. That’s how good he can be on that end of the floor. Any offense you get from him is a plus, but he’s been able to provide that at a solid, career-best rate this season.

He’s stayed ready and stayed practical. He knows what he can do very well and knows what he shouldn’t do on the floor. What more could you ask for from the guy?

Humble Al-Farouq Aminu making an impact for Mavs

Cyber Dust Q&A with Al-Farouq Aminu

Mavs F Al-Farouq Aminu engages in a Q&A with MFFLs via Cyber Dust! What’s that? You’re not on Cyber Dust? Well get with the program already!

Perhaps the Mavs’ most unassuming player made one of the biggest impacts in last night’s win against the Jazz.

Al-Farouq Aminu finished with 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds in just 20 minutes off the bench against Utah, the fewest its ever taken the fifth-year forward to reach either mark in a single game.

What was most striking about his double-double, however, is that Aminu played a majority of his minutes at the power forward spot, where he was battling stronger and taller players like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert for position. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound (and humble) Aminu said after the game that he has no secret when it comes to finding the ball, although his career rebound percentage numbers would suggest otherwise.

“I think (rebounding) is just a lot of luck, as far as it if bounces in your vicinity,” he said. “It’s just something I like to do, I guess.”

Sure, humility is appreciated every now and then, but even the most down-to-earth players should be able to brag a little about impressive attributes. Aminu led all small forwards in total rebound percentage two seasons in a row, and he’s obviously off to a fine start to this one. But the difference is this season, he’s not duking it out with small forwards. He’s eating glass among the trees. Normally speaking, that would put him at a tremendous disadvantage due to size and stature, but it hasn’t stopped him yet.

“It’s not always about just strength when it comes to rebounding,” Aminu said. “Dennis Rodman was proof to that. He wasn’t the biggest guy, but he was an unbelievable rebounder. There’s different way to get rebounds.”

Aminu has historically been an under-the-radar type of player. After spending his rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers, he was included in the package to New Orleans that ultimately netted the Clippers point guard Chris Paul. He’s never averaged more than 7.3 points per game, but he’s also never taken more than 6.2 shots per game. In a league dominated by high-scoring talents and highlight plays, it’s easy to see why a blue-collar guy like Aminu might slip out of the public eye. There’s not much that we know about him — except that he’s a Nigerian prince and he’s got an impressive line of eyeglasses. He also led his native Nigeria to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

The Mavs signed Aminu for his rebounding and defense, and he’s undoubtedly going to provide both. Any strides he can make in his offensive game is just going to be a bonus. A career 29.2 percent three-point shooter, Rick Carlisle has made it a point again and again to mention the progress Aminu is making with that shot. He hit a three-pointer against the Jazz and appears to be growing more confident with the shot as games go by. The Dallas coaching staff has kept encouraging him to shoot if he’s open, and Aminu is beginning to buy in. If he can turn into a reliable three-point shooter — similar to the way Shawn Marion was able to bring back the shot last season — it’ll be hard to keep the wiry wing off the floor.

Carlisle subbed Aminu in for Dirk Nowitzki in the first quarter against Utah, opting to go with length and rebounding instead of the three-guard lineup he turned to in the season opener against the Spurs. Aminu instantly responded on both ends, going after boards like they were million-dollar bills and throwing down an impressive dunk early on.

“When we sub in for Dirk, we’re going to be a little smaller regardless,” Carlisle said after the win. “Dirk is one of the tallest guys on the team. So whoever goes in there has got to be ready to fight, and block out, and go after the ball. Farouq is, pound-for-pound, he and Tyson (Chandler) are the two best rebounders on the team.”

I’ve been singing his praises ever since he got here,” Aminu’s rebounding counterpart Chandler told reporters Friday. “He got drafted into some situations where he didn’t find his groove in organizations that didn’t quite have an identity yet. I think he’s a young player that has a lot to give to this game.”

Aminu is the type of player that’s going to let his game do the talking for him. Actions speak louder than words, after all. Carlisle has already said having four quality point guards is a good problem to have, but if Aminu keeps stuffing the stat sheet, Carlisle is going to have another good problem on his hands.

Practice Report: Tyson Chandler

Mavs C Tyson Chandler looks ahead to Saturday's game against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans and gushes over Al-Farouq Aminu.

Mavs Trivia!

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Dirk stands to be even more efficient with improved supporting cast

Kia Awards: Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas' Dirk Nowkitzki is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month.

Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have made it their mission for the past decade to surround Dirk Nowitzki with a capable supporting cast full of players who can fit in with the system and complement Nowitzki’s own strengths. The 2011 title team was an example of their finest work, as the front office gave Rick Carlisle everything he needed to construct a perfect offensive strategy that highlighted what those players could do as opposed to what they couldn’t do.

As Nowitzki prepares to enter his age-36 season, it’s becoming even more important not only for the front office to continuously add strong complementary players, but also for Dirk to apply less stress to his body. That doesn’t necessarily mean playing fewer minutes — the Dirk we saw last season was not the low-post-banging Nowitzki of the mid-2000s, for example — but it does mean putting him in position to play off of other players more so than he did, say, five or six seasons ago.

The pieces are already in place for exactly that to happen. Monta Ellis and Devin Harris were terrific creators last season, and the additions of Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, and Raymond Felton give Dallas three more facilitators, players who can create for themselves and for others — all the while allowing Nowitzki the freedom to play a less physically taxing brand of basketball. Banging in the post takes a toll on even the strongest players, as does driving the lane and taking contact. Over the course of the past half-decade we’ve seen Dirk gradually shift his game further from the basket toward the three-point line, and the results have paid off. Last season, despite playing the second-fewest minutes per game since his rookie season, he put together one of the most efficient seasons of his career.

THE TRANSITION

It wasn’t long ago that Dirk was playing 3,000 minutes or more per season, meaning not only did he remain healthy enough to play, but he played a lot. From 2006-2010 (age 28-31), he averaged 36.8 minutes per game. In the four seasons to follow, that number was reduced to 33.1 per night. Players generally stay on the floor for fewer minutes per night as they grow older, but not every player alters his game as much as Nowitzki has while also remaining just as deadly.

Nowitzki took 121 three-pointers during the 2009-10 season, a year in which Dallas won 55 games and earned the second seed in the Western Conference. That number nearly tripled in 2013-14, when Dirk launched 329 treys and made more (131) than he even attempted four years prior. That ’09-10 season is significant because it was the last time Nowitzki averaged more than 34.3 minutes per game. His activity has been on a general decline in the years since, but his efficiency has not experienced a similar drop-off. In fact, it’s actually on an upward curve.

Even as Dirk has played less minutes and farther away from the rim, his scoring has remained in line with his elite career average. In fact, in three of the last four seasons (each of which he’s played below his career minutes per game average) his points per 36 minutes mark has been significantly higher than his career average of 22.6. He’s also enjoyed three seasons with an effective field goal percentage above his career average, which is unheard-of among players in the supposed twilight years of their career.

How’s it possible? The three-point shot. In the table below, you’ll see Dirk’s minutes per game, points per 36 minutes, eFG, free throw rate (number of free throws attempts per field goal attempt) and three-point rate (percentage of FGA from behind the arc), win shares per 48 minutes, as well how far from the rim he was on average per attempt each season. (All numbers via Basketball-Reference.com.)

Dirk Being Dirk

Season MPG Pts/36 min eFG% FTr 3PAr Avg distance Win shares/48 min
09-10 37.5 24.0 49.8 0.392 0.081 13.7 .194
10-11 34.3 24.2 54.5 0.376 0.142 14.4 .213
11-12 33.5 23.2 49.5 0.343 0.205 15.6 .175
12-13 31.3 19.9 51.6 0.265 0.216 16.3 .145
13-14 32.9 23.8 54.9 0.295 0.258 16.7 .199
Career Avg 35.9 22.6 51.4 0.375 0.195 14.7 .208

As Dirk has grown older, he’s taken a higher volume of threes and far fewer free throws and has still remained just as valuable to the team in terms of win shares. Threes are obviously worth more than two-pointers, and because he’s such a sharp-shooter, Nowitzki has been able to score even more efficiently these past four seasons than he was able to in his physical prime. Most star players are much more stubborn when it comes to reinventing their games to adapt to physical limitations caused by aging, but Nowitzki has willingly accepted his age and has remained a super efficient player because of it.

That process has also been made easier by being surrounded with playmakers. Nowitzki and Ellis brought out the best in each other last season. Dirk, especially, benefited from Ellis’s elite driving ability. Per NBA.com, when Ellis was on the floor last season, Dirk shot 53.7 percent from 15-19 feet from the rim, an insanely high number. That number dipped nearly six percentage points when Ellis was on the bench. Nowitzki also shot a dramatically higher percentage and from 20-24 feet when Ellis played. The pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop games allowed Nowitzki to not only find easy jump shots, but also doing so while avoiding bruising contact.

This season, with a healthy Harris and the additions of Parsons, Nelson, and Felton, the Mavericks will have even more players able to drive the lane and create for others. Nowitzki will find even more open shots around the perimeter and could realistically have an even more efficient season in 2015 than he did in 2014. For example, Dwight Howard, Parsons’s old running mate in Houston, shot six percentage points better from the restricted area when Parsons was on the floor than when he was off, per NBA.com. Parsons was also one of only five forwards in the NBA last season to average at least 16 points and four assists per game. He’s a high-profile acquisition who makes his teammates better. In that same vein, Jameer Nelson has averaged seven-plus assists for the first two times in his career the last two seasons, despite playing for a team with less offensive options than the Mavs now have. The ball will be shared this season, and Dirk will benefit the most from it.

Rick Carlisle’s and the front office’s goal for years has been to give Nowitzki an outstanding supporting cast and reduce his minutes if possible. This season Carlisle will certainly have that opportunity. And if we learned anything from last season, it’s this: Dirk no longer needs to be a superstar for the Mavericks to be successful, but he will likely put up superstar numbers nonetheless.