Every year for the last century, Dallas Mavericks fans have been trading, retiring, or benching Dirk Nowitzki. The first happened a lot back when the Mavs seemed destined never to win a championship – 'let him get his chance' was the thinking. The second has happened a lot over the last few years as he’s looked old and slow. The third has happened after the START of the last few seasons, where it seems like a reasonable way to keep him fresh and use what he has left.
I’ve always sort of admired what the Lakers did with Kobe. People said the Lakers had no business paying him a zillion dollars and playing him huge minutes when they should be tanking, but the reality was he wasn’t hurting the tanking and the fans still wanted to see him. Everyone forgets – you don’t really need to worry about your cap space in the first few years of a rebuilding effort. No guy deserving a max salary wants to play for a bad team, and no NBA contract is long enough that it’s not possible to get rid of it by the time you need to. Big expiring contracts are good, not bad, for building for the future.
It is, of course, sad in a way to see Dirk so diminished, I’m sure for him as much as for us. And they are, finally playing him slightly fewer minutes. He’s down about seven per game from two years ago, taking five fewer shots a game, to boot. But did you know that he’s actually playing…well?
The start of the season was pretty rough for The Greatest Maverick, as anyone who was paying attention knows. In their first four games, for example, he went 13 for 43, which is not a very good number. Since his defense has steadily gotten worse, and his rebounding is at best mediocre, that’s a big problem. If you can’t plug him in for some offense, he can’t really even help other guys get decent shots.
But it turns out, at 39, that Dirk’s jump shot still has plenty of life in it. Do you know what he’s shooting in November, when he's played 24 minutes a game? I bet you don’t. 49.2% from the floor. He’s shooting 35% from three, and a 100% from the free throw line. 11 points a game is a far cry, of course, from previous years, but with that kind of efficiency it can be a really big help.
In fact, Dirk has shot well all season. His 45.5% shooting from the floor would be his highest mark since 2015 and his 38.9% from the arc his highest since 2014, and since things are so far trending up that’s pretty good news. His effective field goal percentage, a more advanced combination of the various shooting stats, is 52.5%, higher than his career average, and better than all but two of his last ten years.
We don’t need to go overboard – anything you do when you’re not the focal point of defenses, or carrying the bulk of the scoring load is not as impressive as what you do when you are. But there are lots and lots of teams out there who could still use a guy shooting as well as Dirk has, and there’s no reason to think he can’t keep going strong through his 40th birthday – and even, perhaps, beyond.