As Dirk Nowitzki heads into his 16th season, he's coming off his lowest points per game average since his first full year, saw a dip in rebounding and health is now becoming a factor. ESPNDallas.com will explain five reasons why it’s too soon to say Dirk’s demise as an elite player has arrived.
What always seems to happen when two teams are playing? It seems like it comes down to execution at the end. Teams have to rely on their top option in the clutch.
Nowitzki averaged 2.9 points in the last five minutes of games when the Mavericks were ahead or behind by five points or less, which ranked 12th in the NBA last season among players in that situation at least 25 times.
And only Chris Paul had a higher field goal percentage (49.2 percent) than Nowitzki (47.5 percent) among players who averaged at least 4.0 minutes and 2.0 field goal attempts in that situation.
If Nowitzki was such a beast in the clutch, why were the Mavs nothing more than a mediocre team?
The answer: The Mavericks didn’t use Dirk properly. There is an advanced statistic known as “usage percentage” that shows the percentage of team plays used by a specific player while he was on the floor.
During the four years leading up to the 2012-13 season, Nowitzki’s usage percentage rate in the fourth quarter never ranked below 13th in the entire league. He had two seasons, 2009-10 and 2011-12, where his usage percentage ranking was inside the top 10 at 29.6 and 31.9, respectively.
His usage percentage last season ranked as 21st in the league at 27.6. During the championship season, Dirk had a percentage of 29.3 in the fourth quarter, ranking 13th in the league. There are two clear reasons to see why the usage percentages are lower in those two seasons but have two very different results.
“We’ve been spoiled with Jason Kidd and Stevie Nash before,” Donnie Nelson said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s Galloway & Company as the season came to a close. “I think the quarterback position is just a really, really important one. I’d say that that’s up there.
“That’s no disrespect for anyone. Darren Collison did a terrific job with a tough situation, and we’d certainly be open to the conversation of him coming back, but (upgrading point guard) has got to be in my mind first and foremost.”
Dallas and Nowitzki’s success have been tied to the point guard position. At the very least, the Mavs need to secure a point guard who can deliver the ball where it needs to go.
The collective success has also been linked to quality depth. During the championship year, the Mavericks had multiple weapons that could do multiple things and they had specialists that could be depended on.
Yes, Nowitzki's knee injury got in the way of his productivity, but the flawed roster also got in the way of the team’s success, as well as his. Nowitzki is a once in a lifetime player, but he still needs help around him.
Bryan Gutierrez currently covers the Dallas Mavericks for The Two Man Game, an ESPN affiliate blog on the TrueHoop Network. Gutierrez, who has covered the Mavs since 2010, studied journalism and psychology at Texas Tech University.