Is This the Beginning of the End for Dirk Nowitzki?

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 3, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 02:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts to a three pointer during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 2, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I used to think that Dirk Nowitzki could play till he's 50 years old. Two qualities keep an NBA career lengthy: You must be tall and you must be able to shoot. 

To say that Dirk qualifies in both categories is a massive understatement, perhaps an understatement as towering as the Dallas Mavericks' power forward. Not only does Dirk shoot better than almost anyone in the league, but he boasts an un-blockable release.

How do you contest the shot of a seven-footer who hoists from beyond his head while leaning back? You can't, and that inability to guard Dirk accounts for much of why Dallas won a title in 2011. 

Then the lockout happened, and ended abruptly. Dirk returned looking out of shape and sluggish. He muddled through a poor 2011-12 campaign as many pundits and observers questioned his hunger.

This season also began with something of a thud, as the 34-year-old big man had to undergo knee surgery. Nowitzki finally returned on Dec. 23 against the San Antonio Spurs, but his Mavericks are likely out of the playoff hunt. 

It's too early to draw conclusions on how Nowitzki will play, as he's just been back briefly. Though slow and and somewhat stilted, the big man reminded us on Wednesday night as to why he's one of the most potent offensive forces in history.

With the Mavericks needing a basket, down two on the road to the Miami Heat, Dirk went vintage on us: 

Dirk only had 19 points in the game, but he scored them loudly, in part because he drew so much attention. Erik Spoelstra called it the "Dirk Nowiztki" effect, the issue of a defense overreacting to a great shooter whose shot they cannot block.

Even at this age, when he's trudging off screens, Dirk carries the capacity to bedevil a defense. The Heat game served as a reminder that, even at half speed, Nowitzki can be a useful player. Take a look at Dirk's highlight reel from the game. See how he's killing it while moving at two miles per hour. 

The question is whether Dirk can maintain star status. He's gotten slow enough to the point where expecting seasons of 24 PER and .200 win shares might be an expectation too high.

Can Dirk become a superstar again? Probably not. But I also wouldn't bet against him playing till age 50.