Nowitzki needs (low post) scoring help

June, 21, 2010
6/21/10
5:50
PM CT
In ESPN.com's Buyer's Guide to Free Agency, the future of Dirk Nowitzki is analyzed.

Not so much where he'll play next season since he is expected to become a free agent on July 1 -- he'll be in Dallas unless, as the autor of the article Tom Haberstroh says, there's a "cataclysmic misstep in negotiations" -- but what type of player the Dallas Mavericks need to best complement Nowitzki's unique skills and to better compete for a championship.

One line by Haberstroh grabbed me: "At this point in his career, it's time to treat Nowitzki more as a 7-foot shooting guard than a big man gifted with a lights-out shot."

It struck me because I've long wondered how the Mavericks would look if the 7-foot Nowitzki played a more traditional, low-block position like the Los Angeles Lakers' 7-footer Pau Gasol. Physically, they are near-identical. Nowitzki is listed at 245 pounds; Gasol at 250. But, their offensive games could not be more dissimilar.

Gasol plays the 4 (power forward) or the 5 (center), but Nowitzki is a 4 who really plays more like a 2 (shooting guard). Yet, at this point in his career, Nowitzki doesn't shoot nearly as many 3-pointers as he did earlier in his career or as many as a shooting guard typically launches.

This isn't about comparing which player is better. My colleague Tim MacMahon went down that path last week. When their careers are over, Gasol might own more championship rings, but Nowitzki will go down as the more devastating player.

But, because Nowitzki makes his living with an unstoppable step-back jumper from 16 to 18 feet from the basket, he is, in essence, playing out of position, and it has a ripple effect throughout the lineup. The Mavs typically don't employ a traditional power forward when Nowitzki is on the floor. Add that the Mavs have not had a scoring center throughout Nowitzki's career and it's easy to see why Dallas has typically finished on the short end of the points-in-the-paint statistic, especially in the playoffs.

It's way too late in Nowitzki's career to think he's all of a sudden going to develop a low-post, back-to-the basket game. He's talked about adding that dimension to his arsenal for years, but while he shoots far less 3-pointers than he used to, and he does attack the basket with success, the offense doesn't run through him in the fashion it would if he played a more traditional power forward/center position.

So, while an elite wing player like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade would obviously be the most welcome addition, short of that, the Mavs, as Haberstroh points out, need a reliable low-post scoring threat.

The Mavs might lose center Brendan Haywood to free agency, although with a 7.7 career scoring average, he's not a coveted low-post scorer. Neither is Erick Dampier.

I like Haberstroh's suggestion of trying to pry Minnesota's Al Jefferson, who is having a turf battle with teammate Kevin Love. Jefferson is due big money -- $42 million over the next three years -- but the 6-10, 25-year-old center could be well worth it.

I've always liked Memphis' Zach Randolph -- who will enter the final year of his contract at $17.3 million -- despite his (fading?) reputation as being a knucklehead. At 6-9, Randolph (who turns 29 on July 16) is undersized as a center -- although just an inch shorter than Jefferson -- but at 260 pounds, he's a load in the paint and on the boards (he's averaged double-digit rebounds in five seasons, including the last two) and he also brings a solid mid-range game.

Low-post scoring threats don't grow on trees. It's one reason I'll always be curious how things might have been if Nowitzki played it more traditional like Gasol.

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