For the first time in the Dirk Nowitzki era the Dallas Mavericks were swept out of a playoff series. With fundamental structural changes in the make-up of the roster and identity looming it is perhaps time to reflect upon a decade of sustained excellence led by Dirk Nowitzki. While it is certainly too early to close the door on Nowitzki, it does appear that the times of him carrying a team to a top-ten offense and 50+ wins year in year out by himself are over.
But instead of faltering Nowitzki announced the coming of his prime years by becoming a legit MVP candidate. Without Nash Nowitzki succesfully retooled his game. He finally took use of his unique offensive game and turned into a matchup nightmare through effective isolation play. Although his assisted-upon-field-goals dropped all the way to 53,4% his percentages did not suffer. Furthermore Nowitzki managed to draw fouls at a career high rate. In 2004-05 Dirk got to the line 9,1 times a game. His dominance ensured the Mavericks retaining a top five offensive rating while the other moves pushed their defense back into the top ten and Dallas won 58 games. The following year Nowitzki continued his improvement and led the league in PER. Through an impressive playoff run, including a dramatic game 7 victory against the defending champions Spurs, Dirk Nowitzki claimed the title of the best player in the NBA. But in the finals his campaign ran out of steam after taking a 2-0 lead, courtesy of Dwyane Wade and a record breaking performance at the free throw line. In 2006-07 Nowitzki once again led the league in PER while Dallas won a franchise record 67 games and was awarded the MVP trophy. But in the playoffs the Mavericks suffered an upset at the hands of the frantic Golden State Warriors and people openly questioned Nowitzki's toughness and ability to lead a team. This notion was reinforced during the following three seasons as the Mavericks failed to get back to the Finals, but instead were ousted twice in the first round. Nowitzki finally got the deserved appreciation after leading the Mavs to an improbable title in 2011.
Despite winning "only" one title the fact that the Mavericks won more than 50 games in every season of the Nowitzki era (2004-2011) is remarkable by itself. This accomplishment further reflects the greatness of Nowitzki if one considers that during these 7 years Nowitzki did not play with a single All-NBA teammate and only two All Stars - Josh Howard in 2007 and Jason Kidd in 2010, both times as injury reserves. Seldomly does a team manage to string together so many great years, even fewer manage to do that with only one star. Although this issue showed its consequences in many playoff series, it is a testament to the toughness and ability of Nowitzki to carry and drag a team by himself. From 2004 to 2011 the Mavericks averaged 56,9 wins a season, appeared in two NBA Finals, winning one, while Nowitzki shouldered them with 25,0 PPG, 8,5 RPG and 48,4% from the field - numbers that speak for themselves. People should cherish that.