What Does Dallas Need From Dirk?

by Dan M | Posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Mavs MVP Needs to Regain Offensive Touch for Dallas to Regain Position Atop Western Conference.

Last Sunday, the Dallas Mavericks experienced Dirk Nowitzki’s return at home against the San Antonio Spurs after a scheduled four-game absence during his “Dirk-Out Workout.’’ As a team, thanks to their 101-100 OT win, the Mavs backed up the words uttered by Dirk from a week of observing the Mavs and their foes.

I haven’t seen one team in the West that I’m scared of,” Nowitzki said, and of course, the rest of the West might fire right back at Dallas and Dirk, “They feeling is mutual, fellas.’’

But maybe the Mavs are about to get more scary in the form of a returning MVP candidate.

It’s well-documented that Nowitzki was forced to put himself through an eight-day training camp after not being where he needed to be physically to carry the load in the way the Mavericks expect of him. It’s simplistic to say Nowitzki was “out of shape’’; that’s a relative thing and Dirk bristled a bit when coach Rick Carlisle characterized him that way.

It became clear over the first month of the season that Nowitzki wasn’t right, because of last season’s lengthy playoff run, extra time spent playing for Germany’s national team, a bothersome knee, the shortened preseason or all of the above.

So the Mavs made the decision shut him down.

The Mavericks will need to begin running their offense through him again despite their 3-1 record in the four games without him. During a nine-game absence last season, the Mavericks were a deflating 2-7 without their superstar. This time around, the Mavs actually realized some team success and even development over the Nowitzki-less stretch. So it’s up to Nowitzki to somehow marry the personal progress he’s made with this contending team’s positive momentum.

A few things that will be need to be seen from Nowitzki …

Find His Most Lethal Weapon: The consistency in Nowitzki’s legendary jump shot needs to return. Almost all of Dirk’s attack comes from defenses game-planning against his perimeter shot. It’s become less and less a part of his game over the years, but Dirk’s three-point shooting to start this season was bordering on non-existent as he was making only 24-percent of his long-rangers. He needs to continue to strike fear into defenses with his shot. If he can’t, he’s not Dirk.

Next-Level Form: Nowitzki needs to prove, to himself amongst others, that his knee and fitness are at a level that consistently allows him to make all of his basketball plays. Most importantly, that includes the ability to take the ball to the basket to score or facilitate when defenders close out on his shot. When Nowitzki was playing this season, his feet almost appeared to be stuck in sand when making moves to the basket after showing his shot or pump faking.

Offensive Stability: When the Mavericks offense is operating at a high level and moving the ball like it should with Nowitzki as the centerpiece, it’s a thing of beauty. “Flow,’’ is what the Mavs call that part of their offensive system. With Nowitzki unprepared to play his normal role within the offense, the Mavericks were a scoring sloth at only 92.4 points per game through the first 16 outings.

Get to the Line: In every year except one since the 2000-01 season, Dirk has averaged at least 6.1 free throws per game. Dirk’s current rate of 4.6 trips to the line per game just doesn’t add up. Dallas must get the easy points expected from him.

Be the MVP: When he is operating at his normal elite level, Dirk is the Mavericks’ best offensive player … even when he isn’t scoring, simply due to his sheer presence. The extra attention and double-teams Nowitzki consistently faces allows his improved passing to be the main reason Dallas’ offense has a flow to it. After a rocky start, the Mavericks are more than a quarter into a solid season so far based on their expectations.

With Nowitzki, they are capable of moving beyond “solid.’’

All we have to do,’’ Dirk said, “is keep working and hopefully keep everyone healthy and be there when it counts and in the playoffs.”

That’s the talk of the champion. Sometime soon, Dallas is hoping to benefit from the production of one.

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