What on earth does that mean?
In a nutshell, Dirk is a beloved Maverick. He has adapted according to his diminishing athleticism and by doing so is having one of his best seasons. Nowitzki is careful to be part of the team offense and pick his spots rather than be the constant focal point.
And all of this is great. Dallas deserves to have a noble star, one who can recognize their limitations. Dirk simply can’t play like he’s in his 20s anymore, and he knows that. So instead of trying to play that way, he has adapted his game, opting for efficiency. It’s refreshing to see, and that attitude is the biggest reason this team is even in the playoffs.
But that’s not what the Mavericks need.
Dallas needs Nowitzki to get some of that mojo back, to be the guy again. Not the guy who facilitates, or the guy who shoots 15.9 times per game. Dallas needs a horse to carry them.
If there’s anything we have learned this year it’s that Dirk is still full of surprises. For the Mavs to make a run, they need Nowitzki to turn back the clock and surprise everyone once again.
The reason? Look at his supporting cast.
Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently ran through of some of Dallas’ more notable players:
They’ve built this offense with a bunch of unwanted spare parts from other teams. Monta Ellis was a punch line before Dallas signed him to a widely panned contract. Jose Calderon can’t guard anyone, so of course the Mavs paired him with another sieve in Ellis. DeJuan Blair is a huge defensive minus with no ACLs, but the Mavs saw him as a weapon they could acquire on the cheap. This is the team that reinvented Vince Carter and turned Marion into a floater-launching weirdo who defends four positions.
To sum it up, this isn’t the Dream Team. On offense Nowitzki’s biggest help is Monta Ellis and outside of that, contributions come from all over the place.
Speaking of Ellis, he’s a bit worrying.
Yes, he has undergone something of a renaissance in Dallas this season. But his playoff history is troubling.
For his career, Ellis’ playoff per game stat line reads as follows: 9.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers and shooting numbers of 39.7 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from the line and 13.3 percent from deep.
It’s pretty safe to say those aren’t numbers you like to see from the supposed second option. And in the first game of this Spurs-Mavs series, Ellis didn’t exactly impress: 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting with four assists isn’t beating this San Antonio team.
The supporting cast that performed admirably during the regular season simply cannot be counted on in the same way during the playoffs.
Contenders turn up the intensity come postseason play. Weaknesses become exposed and matchups get exploited. And marginal players slip by the wayside.
What does this mean for Dallas?
Well, if his supporting cast won’t be performing to the same level, Dallas needs Dirk to pick up the slack. This means shooting more. This means a higher usage rate. This means taking control. This means less deferring and more asserting.
The Mavericks need their superstar, their alpha dog.
What it comes down to is who the Mavericks want to count on. It's all well and good for the supporting cast to play a prominent role during the regular season. But when the games really matter, Dallas needs the game in the hands of their superstar.
"But even some days we do a good defense on him, he’s still going to make his shots. If he has that kind of day, it’s hard. Really hard,” he said. “All you can do is pray that the ball does not go in."
If I'm Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, I'm jumping for joy every time the defense can force Dirk to give up the ball. In their mind, they want to force someone else to beat them. I'm betting a big reason for that is that they've seen his shot chart.
Let's get one thing straight. Nobody is asking Nowitzki to play hero ball and tear down the league's third most efficient offense. That's not what this is about.
This is about Nowitzki taking more than 14 shots in a playoff game against a rival. This is about Nowitzki ramping up for the postseason. The Mavericks don't need the gracious star who wants to ride off into the sunset.
Dallas needs Nowitzki to be their horse. To be the star who steps up in the playoffs and asserts his dominance.
He's going to need help, but this is one of those things Dirk might have to do himself. Here's to hoping he still has that in him.
All statistics, unless otherwise noted, come from espn.com