- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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DALLAS -- So much for the summer discussion about whether Dirk Nowitzki's days as a legitimate go-to guy were over.
All he has done to silence the doubters is bounce back with what might end up being the best shooting season of his surefire Hall of Fame career.
At the ripe old age of 35, Nowitzki is knocking on the door of another 50/40/90 season, giving him a chance to join Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple such campaigns in their careers. With 23 games to go, Nowitzki is shooting 49.5 percent from the field, 40.3 percent from 3-point range and a league-leading 91.6 percent from free throw line while averaging 21.6 points.
According to one advanced metric, Nowitzki is shooting more efficiently than ever. His effective field goal percentage, which weighs the value of 3-pointers, is a career-best .547. His total shooting percentage, which also takes into account free throws, is .605. That matches the second-best of his 16-year career, tying his MVP season of 2006-07 and behind only the Mavs' 2010-11 title season.
"The guy's a great player," coach Rick Carlisle said. "It shouldn't be shocking that he's having a great year."
Maybe not, but it must be considered at least a mild surprise for Nowitzki to be this efficient after Father Time drew some blood in their fight the past couple of seasons.
The roots of Nowitzki's bounce-back season can be traced to the summer. As Nowitzki worked relentlessly to get in peak physical condition, doing everything in his power to prevent knee problems from sabotaging a third straight season, the Mavs' front office reconstructed his supporting cast.
The Mavs failed to land the "big fish" free agent they had plotted for years to hook, but they still managed to ease the burden on Nowitzki by upgrading both backcourt positions. They added an elite perimeter shooter and savvy passer at point guard in Jose Calderon and the best off-the-dribble scorer ever paired with Nowitzki in Monta Ellis.
The impact on Nowitzki: He has the luxury of being picky with his shot selection. His presence on the floor means as much to the Mavs as ever, particularly in regard to offensive spacing, but he doesn't have to work as hard for his shots as he used to.
That's the first factor Nowitzki cites when discussing his historically elite shooting efficiency this season.
"Monta and my teammates make the game easy for me," said Nowitzki, whose Player Efficiency Rating (24.6) and win shares per 48 minutes (.214) this season are also above his career norms. "I try not to shoot any tough shots.
"A lot of those elbow [isolations] we used to run [are] not in the playbook anymore, not as much. We're not an iso team anymore like we were doing a lot of the years past. We're a movement team, and off the movement, it's hard to guard Monta off the dribble. I've been trying to stick to getting good looks. Especially on the perimeter, I try to shoot some good shots.
"On the post-ups, yeah, I still shoot some tough shots -- one-legged fadeaways and stuff like that. But post-up to me is close enough where I feel like I can make those shots, but probably not from 17, 18 feet and beyond. Those are tough shots, and I try to stay away from those."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recently praised Nowitzki's game by calling it "timeless," but that's not entirely true. Nowitzki's height and shooting touch aren't affected by age, but he's no longer the threat to drive that he was for more than a decade.
But this Dallas roster has allowed Nowitzki to adapt. The Mavs don't have to ask too much from him. They give him a steady diet of good looks -- which, for him, include one-leggers from 16 feet and in -- and expect Dirk to knock them down on a consistent basis.
As the numbers show, Nowitzki can do that now. And it wouldn't be wise to bet against him for the foreseeable future.
15hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon