SLAM Top 50: Dirk Nowitzki, no. 30

Dirk Nowitzki has been one of the few constants as this Mavericks roster has drastically changed every offseason since the team hoisted the Larry O’Brien in 2011.

But even with all the movement that has been made offseason after offseason, this summer has created the most uncertainty and raised the most questions since the Mavs traded for Dirk in 1998.

By now, most NBA followers have a general understanding of what happened with the DeAndre Jordan-Mark Cuban-Clippers fiasco. If Jordan had signed with Dallas, everything fit right into place for the Mavericks’ future.

They would have had a young core of Jordan-Parsons-Matthews to carry Dirk into the sunset and into retirement. They would have had the recruiting tools in place to lure even more free agents next summer when the drastically increased salary cap will be making free agency a free-for-all.

Instead, everything about Dirk and the Mavs seems murky. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson scrambled to find the best pieces available to fill out the roster and give this team (and Dirk, specifically) the best chance to compete in a top-heavy Western Conference.

Simply looking at the starting lineup, though, shows where this team currently stands—or doesn’t stand. Parsons and Matthews both will not be ready for training camp, no one knows what type of Deron Williams will appear this season and the center position is still up for grabs.

So the only stable starter at the moment is in fact Dirk, as has been the case through many eras and styles of Dallas basketball. But based on Nowitzki’s recent performance in EuroBasket play, there should be a slight cause for concern about how big of a drop in production the 7-footer will have this season.

This summer, Nowitzki averaged 13.8 ppg on 36.7 percent shooting, showing little lift on his jump shot during many stretches of play. In 2011, Nowitzki averaged a much more respectable 19.5 ppg and carried his German team offensively. He wasn’t able to do that this year.

Dirk still posted respectable numbers last NBA season, averaging 17.3 ppg and 5.9 rpg while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 38 percent on three-pointers. He still worked well with his back to the basket and worked well with Monta Ellis. And Rondo? Well, let’s just say Rondo made almost all of his teammates’ numbers drop significantly.

One statistic that must remain low for Nowitzki is his playing time. For the first time since his rookie season, Dirk played less than 30 minutes a night. The Big German clearly has lost a step and needs to keep his legs rested throughout the year if he wants to continue making playoff pushes for his Mavericks.

Gregg Popovich has started resting his Big Three the past few years, and it might be time for Dirk to get nights off here and there (if the Mavs have that luxury throughout the season).

As much as Dirk looks to be slowing down, he is still one of the greatest to ever play the game and revolutionized the power forward position before it practically became a necessity for 4s to be “stretch-4s.” He currently has 28,119 career points, which places him seventh all-time and in striking distance of finishing sixth by the end of this season.

Dirk’s dedication to the sport will allow him to remain one of the best isolation players in the NBA. He has the footwork, shooting ability and work ethic that should allow him to remain a go-to player for the Mavs this season. (Also, don’t be surprised if Dirk plays much longer than expected…his shooting and work ethic should allow him to play into his 40s.)

Now whether or not this season will last until May is still up for debate. Many other factors need to go the Mavericks’ way for post-season basketball to become a reality. But if Dirk remains healthy and on the court while Rick Carlisle is coaching on the sidelines, you have to give this team the benefit of the doubt to make the Playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons.

As unclear as this season looks for Dallas, it will only get worse once Nowitzki decides to call it quits, inevitably placing his jersey in the American Airline Center rafters. Until the unavoidable happens and the Dirk era comes to a close, we should enjoy as many one-legged fadeaways, fist-pumping scowls and bow-legged free throws as we can.


SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 8
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 10
47 Al Jefferson Hornets C 9
46 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 7
45 Goran Dragic Heat PG 13
44 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 11
43 Jeff Teague Hawks PG 12
42 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
41 Joakim Noah Bulls C 8
40 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
39 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
38 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
37 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 9
36 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 10
35 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 6
34 Pau Gasol Bulls PF 9
33 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 8
31 Andre Drummond Pistons C 7
30 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.