Dirk Nowitzki Injury: Players Who Must Step While Superstar Is Sidelined

Justin Welton@JustinWeltonAnalyst IIOctober 20, 2012

Mark Cuban's maligned free agency signings will enter the 2012-13 season with more criticism than previously expected. 

Dallas' superstar Dirk Nowitzki will miss the first six weeks of the NBA season, according to ESPN's Marc Stein.

Mavs announce Dirk Nowitzki had arthroscopic surgery Friday on right knee & will resume basketball activity "within approximately six weeks"

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) October 19, 2012

Without Nowitzki, the new signings, as well as the players left over from last season, will have to collectively step up their game. These three players in particular will have to play up to their potential and perhaps beyond.  

O.J. Mayo

Mayo was brought to Dallas to be Nowitzki's sidekick. He was brought to Dallas to be the second option on the offensive side of the floor. He was brought to Dallas because of his ceiling.

Now it's his time to shine.

Above anybody else on the Mavericks' roster, Mayo has to be the guy to raise his game, something he has failed to do since his rookie season. When he was drafted out of USC, people expected him to put up All-Star numbers every year especially after watching him perform in his rookie season.

When he came into the league in 2008-09, Mayo started 81 games, played 38 minutes a night and scored 18.5 points per game. The year after he averaged 17.5 points while starting 82 games.

Since then, however, it's been a downhill tumble as he went to 11.3 points per game in 17 starts in 2010-11 and 12.6 points per game while not starting once this past season.

Dallas needs Mayo to play up to his rookie season's potential. That's the player Dallas needs this season and beyond if they plan on contending in the Western Conference.

He has the potential when given the opportunity, but it's up to him to make things happen on the floor in an advanced role, on a bigger stage in Dallas. With Nowitzki on the shelf, the floor is all his.

Elton Brand

Another Mark Cuban free agent signing, Elton Brand will step into a more advanced and possibly scrutinized role this season. That role has since expanded now that Nowitzki is out for six weeks, however.

Brand hasn't been the same player since averaging 20.5 points per game and grabbing 9.4 rebounds game in 2006-07. Since then, he has been on a decline (for the most part) in points and rebounds. Brand averaged 11 points and 7.1 rebounds in Philadelphia last season.

In what will be his 14th NBA season, Brand's game has manifested into nice a power forward who can average double figures in scoring and grab seven, eight rebounds per game.

Not a bad player at all, but his game will need to return to form early in the season while Nowitzki is watching on the bench. 

Maybe a change of scenery will do him well. We'll soon find out.

Vince Carter

Maybe Vince Carter will be the new Jason Terry? According to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, Carter would relish that role.

“I’m down for it,” Carter said when asked if he wanted to be the new sixth man. “I’ll come in and help the team, remain verbal—I do that well. I just try to keep us going forward and not regress. When the second unit comes on the floor, they have to keep it going. I just try to do a little bit of everything to help the team.”

Carter will need to play that role, especially early when the team struggles to score without Nowitzki—which they will on some nights more than others. 

Carter averaged 10.1 points per game last season, a number that was fourth on the team. For the first month in Nowitzki's absence, Carter will need to score around 15 points per game. That number is what Terry averaged one season ago.

If he wants to be the new Jason Terry, he's going to have to play like him by providing that scoring spark off the pine.

Dallas' schedule isn't terrible to start the season, but it's still going to be difficult without the scoring machine for six weeks. Maintaining a .500 record while Nowitzki is sidelined would be ideal, and it' definitely something that is attainable.

But it will only happen with a collective effort. All parties involved must raise their game to another level starting with the three players mentioned.