Big Picture: Understudy Role

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
10:00
AM CT
MavericksJerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsThe Mavs need legitimate backups for Dirk Nowitzki, because the only way Dallas can contend is if Nowitzki plays fewer minutes to stay fresh.
Now that the dust has settled on the Dallas Mavericks' season, ESPNDallas.com will explain the big-picture outlook the Mavs need to analyze as they look ahead to the offseason and beyond.

Dirk Nowitzki’s regular-season performance showed that he clearly wasn’t done being an elite scoring weapon.

He averaged 21.7 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting from the field, 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 89.9 percent from the free throw line. The series against the San Antonio Spurs proved to be a matchup issue for Nowitzki, and his postseason numbers saw a steep drop in terms of percentages. He scored 19.1 points per game in the seven-game series against the Spurs, but shot just 42.9 percent from the field, 8.3 percent from 3-point range and 80.6 percent from the free throw line.

It was a matchup problem, but it also shined a light on what will be a lingering problem for the golden years of his career: He will struggle against teams that take away his airspace.

There won’t be a cure-all to fix this problem, but the Mavs can work to keep him fresh as the playoffs approach by continuing to reduce his minutes during the regular season. He averaged 32.9 minutes this season, right within the boundary that Mavs coach Rick Carlisle was shooting for. Not accounting for last season, where he missed more than a third of the season due to knee surgery, the 32.9 minutes average was the lowest Nowitzki logged since his rookie season.

Dallas’ quandary is finding a legitimate backup for its star. The Mavs have been in constant pursuit of an option that can make him the second-best player or a player who could run alongside him. They’ve found the running mate in Monta Ellis. They must now shift the emphasis to finding a player who can spare him during the regular season. They have to do it because the 16 to 18 minutes that Nowitzki isn’t on the floor is when the balance of the game can easily swing.

The situation with Shawn Marion presents a ripple effect because he’s primarily been Nowitzki’s main backup since 2009. Before then, you saw the likes of Brandon Bass, Keith Van Horn and Austin Croshere. The basic theme of those options is that the team is looking for someone who can stretch the floor while Nowitzki is resting. They’ve essentially been searching for a Dirk-lite.

When fully healthy, Dallas has been a team that has had one of the better benches over recent league history. Even so, Nowitzki's backup has still been one of the weakest links. It’s understandable to not put as much of an emphasis on finding an understudy for someone who logs as many minutes as Nowitzki does, but the time has come to make it more of a priority.

Replicating his ability to stretch the floor might be a challenge, based on the available options. The market presents more in terms of traditional power forwards, with those who can shoot with some range, but not at the level or consistency that Nowitzki can. Boris Diaw, Ed Davis, Patrick Patterson and Mike Scott are potential options. While they don’t fit the qualifications of being a Dirk-lite, they do present legitimate options as backups. Maybe things work out and Marion can return simply as a backup power forward, giving him the summer to truly prepare for that position.

With so many areas of need to fill this summer, finding a true backup for Nowitzki may be a tricky situation. Be that as it may, this is one area of need where the Mavericks can’t cut any corners.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Monta Ellis
PTS AST STL MIN
20.6 4.7 1.5 33.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsT. Chandler 11.5
AssistsM. Ellis 4.7
StealsM. Ellis 1.5
BlocksB. Wright 1.6