As everyone knows, the Dallas Mavericks begin and end with Dirk Nowitzki. As the face of the franchise, the Tall Baller From the G sets the tone. He has another new cast of characters around him this season. At age 35, the hope is Nowitzki can stay healthy and avoid missing a large chunk of the season as he did last year due to knee surgery.
With Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki is the only man on the 15-man roster who has an NBA championship on his resume. With a new group of players, Nowitzki will have to help show them how to approach the pursuit of winning it all.
After coming off his lowest scoring average since his rookie season, doubters are swirling around Nowitzki, wondering if he has enough left to be a superstar. Whether or not Dirk Nowitzki has enough left to be a top-level leader is the question that’s posed to the staff as they run the weave.
Does Dirk Nowitzki still have enough left in the tank to lead a team?
Kirk Henderson, @KirkSeriousFace: In the general sense, absolutely. When we start to talk about a successful season, though, I think it’s important to set some reasonable expectations. Can the Mavericks reach that 45-48 game win total and make the playoffs? I think that’s reasonable. Can a Dirk-led playoff team spark an upset in the first round? It’s possible, sure, but it’s also unlikely. As much as I love the thought of Dirk having a MVP caliber season at 35, I’m concerned about what he’s going to be asked to do this season.
The main concern with this year’s team is going to be defense/rebounding. Dirk’s never been a stopper defensively, but he’s always had the ability to rebound (his playoff numbers are significantly higher than his regular season numbers). If Dirk’s called upon to crash the glass more often, I worry about how that will affect his offensive play as the season progresses. This concern aside, I’m excited to see how he plays with a real training camp under his belt for the first time since 2010.
David Hopkins, @davidhopkins: Let’s remember how Karl Malone played when he was Nowitzki’s age. Nowitzki’s game is about mileage. He chooses his moments. He plays smart. An older Nowitzki is still an all-star player. Pairing Nowitzki with a good point guard, who can get the ball to him where he needs it, will make him look even better at his age. The question is not “does Nowitzki have enough left in the tank,” but can Calderon be his Stockton?
Connor Huchton, @ConnorHuchton: Yes, absolutely. If he’s healthy, it seems reasonable to expect his best season since the championship year – by his standards, that’s not a huge hurdle to clear, but while I don’t love what this Mavericks’ team is, it’s built pretty well for Dirk’s purposes (on offense, that is).
Ian Levy, @HickoryHigh: It’s all about fit. He can absolutely still be the best player on a championship team. The problem is that this year’s version of the Mavericks’ doesn’t appear to be a championship team. Nowitzki will certainly still be the team’s leader, in both spirit and practicality. But the distance to which he leads this team and the degree to which that answers the question will ultimately come down to the supporting cast.
Brian Rubaie, @DirksRevenge: Yes, but time is cruel and escapes no man. The speed of progress is gradual, but the speed of decline is often rapid. That being said, reports of Dirk’s demise are premature. It took time for Dirk to return to form after his first surgery, but his ferocity was immediately obvious and his play soon caught up. I see little evidence that any of the core screws have weakened or that the ship shows any sign of sinking.
I believe Mark Cuban when he says the doubters fuel Dirk, and there’s reason to believe that Dirk’s game is set to age gracefully. While other power forwards usually rely on speed, brawn or getting to the line, Dirk’s game relies on a technique which, like fine wine, becomes more refined with age. I don’t believe Cuban when he says Dirk can replicate Karl Malone and challenge for Most Valuable Player, but that’s no failing on Dirk’s end. If Dirk picks up even a single vote on any ballot, he’ll have played a season that is different sort of amazing than any other in his impressive career.
Travis Wimberly, @TravisRW: Yes and no. He has enough to be the team’s best player and its on-court leader. He doesn’t have enough to play like it’s 2007. Proper delegation of responsibility will play a huge role in determining his success this year. If he’s asked to constantly create his own offense, to guard athletic fours and fives (particularly outside paint), or to play 35-plus minutes every time the Mavs need to hang with a quality opponent, the Mavs are in trouble. But if the team can develop cohesion and trust, allowing Dirk’s teammates to take the load off him and allow him to efficiently use his still-elite skills, not only can he lead the team, he can lead them much further than most outsiders think.