There is no denying that Dirk Nowitzki had a disappointing year for the Dallas Mavericks last year. For the first time in his career, he missed a significant amount of time to injury. After having knee surgery, he only played in 53 out of 82 games total last year, missing 29 games.
To put that in perspective, he had missed a total 45 his previous 14 seasons, and some of those were due to suspensions or sitting at the end of the year to rest in preparation of the playoffs.
Even after returning, it took Dirk a while to get even close to his usual form, but he never quite reached his normal scoring efficiency from years past. After the All-Star break last year, Dirk shot over 50 percent from the field. He was only able to score 18.9 points a game even after the break and only 17.3 for the year, well down from his career scoring average of 22.6 points per game.
Watching the games, Dirk looked like his old self towards the end of the year. However, the Mavericks finished the season with their worst record in over a decade, and Dirk finished with his worst scoring output since his rookie year. This has led many (most famously Charles Barkley) to question whether or not age has gotten the best of Nowitzki.
Dirk looked like he was moving fine at the end of the year. The fact that his field-goal and 3-point percentages didn’t dip, and that he was able to keep his rebounding numbers respectable even coming off knee surgery, shows that the operation actually did help him. His rebounding average went up from 5.7 before the All-Star break to 7.7 after, proving that all he needed was time before he would return to form.
There are a few factors that affected his scoring numbers. First of all, he had a few very low-scoring games after coming back from the surgery. It was clear that he lacked confidence in his leg, and was having trouble getting lift even on his routine jump shots.
Once he got lift back on his shot, it appeared that he had some understandable conditioning issues, missing key free throws late and missing shots in the fourth quarter that he would never have missed previous years.
Aside from the surgery though, Dirk was playing with what was probably the worst team he’s been surrounded with possibly in his career. For the first time in years (if ever), the Mavericks didn’t have guards who could reliably get Dirk the ball in position to score.
Unlike Hall-of-Fame point guards Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, or even natural shooting guards Jason Terry and Devin Harris when they were playing point guard, Mike James, Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo simply did not help Dirk score last season.
On top of guards not being able to execute the easy passes to a seven footer, there wasn’t really another player on the roster who could consistently draw the defense to open up space for Nowitzki.
That should be different this year. With veteran pass-first point guard Jose Calderon and high-scoring shooting guard Monta Ellis joining the team, life should be much easier for Dirk. Having the full offseason to recover and get in shape should greatly help as well.
Age will catch up to all players eventually, but as long as he can avoid any more knee problems and the players around him mesh as well as they should on paper, then Dirk could be poised for a great bounce-back year.