Breaking Down Dirk Nowitzki's Slow Return

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Breaking Down Dirk Nowitzki's Slow Return
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No one expected Dirk Nowitzki to be able to return at full strength in the first half of the season for the Dallas Mavericks.

Once Dirk was out for as long as he was, not making his season debut until Dec. 23, every Maverick fan knew that although they were happy he was back on the court, it would be a while before Dirk Nowitzki returned to full form this season.

Nowitzki certainly has been making drastic improvements from when he first came back to the lineup, but it is obvious when you watch him play that the Dirk we have been used to watching just isn't quite there yet.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Nowitzki had a long and difficult rehab after knee surgery. Since he has come back, he is still second on the team in scoring at 13.9 PPG, but he is well below the scoring numbers that he has had throughout his career. Nowitzki is also struggling shooting the ball, managing just over 40 percent, whereas he has shot over 47 percent for his career. 

Unsurprisingly coming off knee surgery,  Dirk's rebounding numbers are also down this season. He averaged over seven in his career, and is managing just 5.6 this season.

For the first time since 2001, Nowitzki will be missing All-Star game due to his average numbers and limited amount of games played.

Here is video of the last All-Star game without Dirk in it, which happened an astonishing 12 years ago.

Last season, Dirk got off to a slow start after the lockout, barely scoring over 16 PPG in the team's first 20 games of the season. This year he has shown again that it is tough for him to get off to a hot start after not going through the normal schedule to begin the season.

Dirk, however, sees brighter days on his horizon. In this piece on ESPN.com by Tim McMahon, Dirk is quoted as saying that "training camp is almost over" for him and that he should be getting back to his normal ways soon.

The Mavs fans will certainly hope this is the case since Nowitzki has managed to score 20 points only twice in the 15 games since his return, and he has shot under 50 percent from the field in 10 of those games.

Dirk also isn't being as aggressive as we are used to him being in the offense. As you can see in this chart below Dirk (who has averaged over 16 shot attempts per-game in his career) is not shooting nearly as much as we have been accustomed to. 

He has shot over 15 times in just three games since his return in December.

Dirk Nowitzki's Shot Attempts Per-Game in 2012-2013

Dirk also is struggling with figuring out how to play with new teammates, many of whom were not around last season. Coming in a third of the way into the season, like Dirk did, can be especially tough for the players around him.

After running the offense through other people like O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison, the Mavs now have to learn how to play with Nowitzki as the No. 1 option. 

With Dirk beginning to pick up his pace recently, however, the Mavericks have started winning more games.

After a dreadful start after Dirk's return, the Mavs have managed to win five out of their last six to bring their record to 18-24.

Still, in order for this team to be in the playoff mix by the end of the year, they will need Nowitzki to play his best basketball before they fall too far behind in the standings.

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Dallas still sits 11th in the West, three games back of eighth-place Houston. Dirk and the Mavs will need to gut it out for the next few weeks, however; Dirk should hopefully be back to 100 percent by the end of the All-Star break in mid-February.

Nowitzki certainly will have mixed emotions about missing out on the All-Star game, however, the rest and break away from the game should be the final step in Dirk's recovery process.

This might not be a season where Dirk can up his average into the mid-20s like he is used to, but still having him on the court and being at full health is enough for the Mavericks to make a run in the second half of the season. 

If Dirk can focus on being more aggressive, building chemistry with his new teammates, and getting his legs back after all that time away, he should be back to All-Star form in time to make a significant run towards the postseason.

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