Dirk Nowitzki's 2011-12 season was marked by a regression in points per game and rebounds per game, not to mention a substantial slide in field-goal percentage. As much as Dallas' failed championship defense was attributed to the exit of Tyson Chandler and company, Nowitzki's sudden and uncharacteristic inconsistency put the Mavericks' offense behind the eight ball. A system that leaned so heavily on Nowitzki's strengths toppled into offensive inefficiency with the slightest regression, but there's reason enough to believe that this coming season might go quite differently for both Dirk and the Mavs.
The toll of the NBA lockout
Nowitzki has an unbelievable work ethic and relentlessly hones his game while remaining in tip-top physical shape. Such is a necessity for a player with such underwhelming athleticism by NBA standards, and thus a strict preseason training regimen is a big part of what makes Nowitzki such a force from opening night.
Thus when the NBA lockout—an unfortunate diversion that Nowitzki thought would rule out the entire 2011-12 season—imposed an unexpected training camp and season opener, Nowitzki was caught unprepared. He hastily stumbled through some sort of preseason training as best he could, but by the time that the season began on Christmas Day, Dirk was very obviously unprepared; Nowitzki went on to average just 15.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in January, and the Mavs jogged in place as they waited for their superstar to correct course.
Nowitzki eventually got back on track and should be ready this time around for a far more stable regular season.
One of the perks of lacking elite athleticism is never having it taken away. Although quicker lateral movement or more explosive jumping ability would have served Nowitzki well throughout his early career, his relative lack of quickness demanded that he adapt the specifics of his game to produce in spite of that limitation. Nowitzki's shooting, footwork and ability to read the floor won't diminish much with age, making it all the more unlikely that last season's struggles were indicative of any age-related decline.
Nowitzki's defensive ability will go long before his scoring capacity does, and while the Mavericks should be fearful of the day when Dirk can no longer defend opponents adequately, they shouldn't be concerned at all with his ability to carry the bulk of an offense. Dirk is a shining example of consistency, and though his production wavered in a season with extraordinary circumstances, a return to normalcy in scheduling should also quell all doubts about Dirk's offensive ability.
Reason for the slightest optimism
The Dallas Mavericks' offseason didn't exactly go according to plan, but Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson were far from inert. After whiffing on Deron Williams, the Mavs' brain trust added Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman and Dahntay Jones, all without losing a single non-FA piece. That's a heavy haul at little tangible cost, and one shouldn't underestimate just how much of an impact that kind of activity will have on Nowitzki and the incumbent Mavs.
Much of the wind was taken out of Dallas' sails when Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler signed elsewhere in the 2011 offseason—so much so that their departures became a frequent talking point for players over the course of the following season. The summer of 2012 had its own departures, but the roster voids were filled in short order and without any long-term commitment.
Nowitzki is hardly a player who needs coaxing, but the assembly of this particular team gives Dallas a fresh look and a certain energy. Even without providing a core that will realistically contend for a championship, a makeshift roster of this quality should nonetheless provide a player like Nowitzki with some optimism.