Despite the best efforts of the Dallas Mavericks, it appears as if 2016-17 will be another year of relying on Dirk Nowitzki as the team’s best player.
Since their championship season in 2011, the Dallas Mavericks have been searching for a new superstar to add to their team.
While their goal has been to find a player that can come in a provide a future past Dirk Nowitzki, they’ve also been looking for someone capable of taking the scoring load off of Nowitzki and possibly taking over the role as the number one option on the team.
Then you fast forward to the present and the Mavs appear to be in the same position they’ve been in for the past five seasons. They have quality players like Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes, but no one that can operate in the role that Nowitzki plays in.
You can make an argument that Barnes is a player on the rise as he has had double-digit scoring outings in each of his first three games with the team, including a 31-point outburst against the Houston Rockets. However, it’s yet to be seen as to if he can maintain that production.
Harrison Barnes sits with a career-high 31 pts on 13 of 23 from the field. #DALvsHOU
Take a look at the first three games for the Mavs this season. All three resulted in losses but there are a few interesting things you can take away from them.
First is the obvious hole that Nowitzki has left in the offense. He only played the first game of the season and has missed each game since to due to a stomach illness. In his absence the Mavs have had a hard time scoring.
In the first game of the season, Nowitzki scored 22 points and made a few key baskets late in the game to set up Barnes for the game-tying three. The Mavs, as a team, put up 121 points.
In their next two games against the Rockets (both without Nowitzki) the team scored 98 points and 92 points, failing the break the 100-point mark in both.
Both nights saw players like Harrison Barnes (31 points) and Wesley Matthews (25 points) have big games, but the Mavs still struggled to shoot the ball, with a combined 41 percent from the field. At the moment, they rank 24th in the league in terms of team field goal percentage.
While Nowitzki not being on the floor is certainly a solid 15-20 points off the board, it can also impact the rest of the team.
When he’s on the offensive side of the court, he draws extra defenders and teams are more worried about guarding him than they are other players. That often opens up the door for wide open threes or easy drives to the lane that can end up creating more chances.
With Nowitzki off the floor, teams don’t necessarily have to worry about an elite shooter lighting them up.
Sure, Matthews can get hot from deep and Williams can get buckets from just about anywhere on the floor, but they don’t have to worry about players like Dwight Powell, Quincy Acy or whoever is in at power forward having tons of success in one-on-one situations.
It’s an interesting situation for the team that has certainly showed in the opening games of the season as Nowitzki has played just once. But Nowitzki’s absence hasn’t caused problems for the Mavs just this year.
Since the 2011-12 season, he’s missed a total of 49 games due to either injury or scheduled rest.
During that span, the team has gone 24-25 without him, a very average record that proves just how much he’s worth to the team.
Now that sounds about right for a team without their superstar and the face of their franchise, but that in itself is the problem for the Mavs, they have players capable of replacing Nowitzki for a short period of time but no long term option to lead the team.
Remember, we’re talking about a 38-year-old future Hall of Famer in possibly his final two seasons of play–and he’s still the main building block in Dallas. He’s still easily their best player and the player that determines whether they have success or not.
That’s a testament to Nowitzki’s play and his durability since players like Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett weren’t capable of that same role during their final years of play. But there’s going to come a time when the Mavs don’t have Nowitzki and head coach Rick Carlisle addressed that after the team’s second loss of the season.
When asked about how Nowitzki’s absence, Carlisle had the following to say (via ESPN.com):
“Dirk’s not going to be around here forever. And we’re going to be sitting him sometimes this year,” Carlisle said. “The other guys have got to step up and step forward. And I’m one of them. We’ve all got to really raise the level of our game when a guy like that’s not on the floor.”
Even with Barnes showing signs of hope and Williams scoring like he did last season, Nowitzki will likely still lead the team in scoring at the end of the season.
Whether these pasts stats or the beginning of the 2016-17 season show just how unique of a player he is or how shaky the Mavs as a team may be (or even a little bit of both), there’s no denying the fact that despite the team’s best efforts to make a change, Dirk Nowitzki is still their best and most valuable player–and that’s going to be the case until he retires in a couple of seasons.