The Mavericks should feel pretty confident right now. They've won a playoff game on the road with Dirk Nowitzki shooting only 33.00% and scoring 18 points. His jumper wasn't there and he clearly got no love from the referees in contrast to the Oklahoma City Thunder who were allowed to come up for their bad offensive night at the free throw line. I think we've seen this headline over and over again this season: Dirk struggles but the Mavs are able to pull off a victory. What at first glance may feel like dodging a bullet is no coincidence. They've done it all season. It has been another magical year by the German but in fact the Mavericks additionally became more independent from their star player. Here's the W-L record since 2005-2006 for games in which Dirk scored 20 points or less or shot 35.00% or less from the field:
|<= 20 Points||<= 35 FG%||<= 20 Points||<= 35 FG%|
|63-44 (58.87%)||17-31 (35.42%)||5-9 (35.71%)||2-5 (28.57%)|
|10/11||20-6 (76.92%)||7-2 (77.78%)||2-1 (66.67%)||2-0 (100.00%)|
You'll notice that the Mavericks have been carried by Dirk in recent years. Without him having a decent impact they have not been the same team. Specifically with him being either non-productive or inefficient. The 58.87% winning percentage with Dirk scoring only 20 points or less seems acceptable although it's a little bit under their overall winning percentage for the seasons. The real problem pops up with Dirk being inefficient. They've won only 35.42% of their games under this circumstance. These stats for recent years are also pushed by the 06/07 season where they went 19-2 with Dirk scoring 20 points or less. Unfortunately this didn't transfer into the offseason back then. They went 0-3 that year.
This observation continues in the playoffs anyway. Overall the Mavericks struggled when Dirk wasn't at his best.
This has completely changed this season. The Mavs went 20-6 with Dirk scoring 20 or less and 7-2 when he shot 35% or below. Both are actually higher winning percentages than their overall one. We've referred to the depth of the team more than once and this stat additionally confirms this fact. The improved defense is of course a key here as well. They don't necessarily need a big offensive game night in and night out to win.
This surely doesn't mean that the Mavericks don't need him on the court. We all know that the team went 2-7 in the games Dirk missed and he is in the Top5 of every Plus/Minus-Metric. But they are more capable of compensating an off-night from him, even in the playoffs.
Just to show that this shouldn't be taken for granted: The Oklahoma City Thunder are 3-5 when Kevin Durant scores 20 or less and 5-5 when he shoots 35% or below. And don't think Miami can win consistently with their Big3 not scoring: They went 33-3 with them scoring a combined 70 or more and 24-21 otherwise. In the playoffs Miami is a perfect 5-0 with the Big3 combining for 65 or more and are 4-3 otherwise. The only other team of the 4 remaining ones in the playoffs which seems to be equally independent from their star player are the Bulls. They are 17-7 (<= 20 points) and 12-4 (<= 35 FG%).
Chicago is currently tied up with the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Mavs got their Home Court Advantage back yesterday and lead the series 2-1. So in a star driven league where free agents team up in big markets it can actually happen that two of the more complete teams will match up in the NBA Finals.