The Dallas Mavericks have found themselves in an unfamiliar place. With only 30 games left in the season, the Mavs are 23-29, in 11th place in the Western Conference, and are in danger of missing the playoffs. They haven’t missed the playoffs since 1999-200, which was the second year in the NBA for Dirk Nowitzki.
Nowitzki missed the first 27 games of this season while recovering from knee surgery. Since coming back, he hasn’t really looked like the superstar type of player that he gained a reputation as. Most of that was obviously due to him regaining his form and shaking off rust.
But now Dirk is starting to look more comfortable and like he can recapture his elite level of play. That means that it’s time for the Mavericks to hop on his back and ride him until the rest of the season.
Right now for the season, Nowitzki is only averaging 15.1 points and 5.7 boards per game. He’s also only taking 13 shots per game, and has only a 23.7 percent usage rate. That means they are looking for Dirk less than they have in recent years—a lot less.
That’s largely due to the emergence of O.J. Mayo, who is averaging 17.9 points and 13.8 shots per game, and has a usage rate of 23 percent. Because of his leadership in Dirk’s absence, his role has remained a large one even with Nowitzki being back on the floor.
Looking at how the Mavericks have been successful in years past though, they need to start getting the ball to Dirk. In their 2010-2011 NBA season when they won the title, they finished the season 57-25. Granted, that was a completely different team around Nowitzki, but the general concept of the team was clearly to let Dirk lead and the rest of them follow.
In that season, Nowitzki averaged 23 points per game on 16.2 field goal attempts per contest, and a usage rate of 28.2 percent for the regular season. However, that team caught fire in the playoffs, as did Dirk. That’s no coincidence.
In the 2011 NBA Playoffs, Dirk’s averages improved to 27.7 points per game on 18.9 attempts per game. His usage rate also shot up to 32 percent. Dallas won a title because they ran their offense through Nowitzki, and his lethal and versatile offensive skill set not only puts his own points on the board, but opens up the floor for everyone else.
That’s the formula they need to stick to now. Yes, Nowitzki is 34-years old, but he’s still one of the best players in the league, and a future Hall-of-Famer. By running their offense through him and definitely increasing his usage rate, they won’t even be diminishing Mayo’s role. Dirk being the focus will open up the floor and open up shots for Mayo.
Dallas has a tough task ahead of them. They need to win a large percentage of their games to have a shot at playing in May and June. To start getting there, Dirk is the key, and they have to realize that before it’s too late.