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How Exhausted Was Dirk Nowitzki?

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

It was something pretty obvious to anyone who watched the Mavs throughout the entire season. Dirk regressed as the season went on.

It's easy to understand why. Since the beginning of the 05/06 season to the day Dallas was eliminated by the Warriors, no professional basketball player has played in more games than Dirk Nowitzki. Here's the breakdown.
  • 104 games last season including the playoffs
  • 12 games with Germany over the summer*
  • 88 games this season including the preseason
That is 204 games -- about one game every two and a half days for almost two years. That has to have an effect.

John Hollinger took note of Dirk's downward trend in the intro of his article today.
Instead, my point is that this research caused me to stumble upon something vastly more enlightening -- the fact that Nowitzki wasn't nearly as good after the All-Star break as he was in the first half of the season. Check out his season splits, for instance, and look at that swan dive his numbers took in March and April. Better yet, go through his game log and look for the games with more than 30 points -- you'll notice there are 14 of them before the end of February, and none afterward.

Seen in that context, Nowitzki's failure to deliver in the Golden State series wasn't some colossal collar job. It was the continuation of a second half that fell far short of what he accomplished in a sparkling first half, especially in the month of January. Whether it was a bad ankle or bad feng shui isn't important to me, but what is important is that we could have seen this coming if we had focused more on year-end play. Between Dirk's spring slump and the Warriors' hot finish, the result would have been a whole lot less surprising.
The month-by-month splits are certainly telling, but I wanted to look a little bit further.

Numbers in red mark a regression from the previous time period.
Stats on a Per Game Basis
First Half (40 Games) 8.4/16.8 50.2 .98/2.3 42.4 7.93 9.45 3.2 2.22 24.95
Second Half (38 Games) 8.8/17.6 50.1 .87/2.1 40.7 6.16 8.3 3.6 2.1 24.16
After the Break (26 Games) 8.6/17 50.5 .81/2.04 39.6 5.73 7.8 3.5 2.4 23.19
Final Ten Games 7.8/15.3 51 1.8/4.3 38.9 4.6 5.1 2.6 2.2 20.6
Playoffs (6 Games) 6.0/15.7 38.3 0.7/3.2 21.1 8.33 11.33 2.33 2.33 19.67

Since Dirk obviously played fewer minutes down the stretch I looked at stats per minute as well.

Stats Per 48 Minutes
First (40 Games) 11.1/22.8 50.2 1.3/3.0 42.4 10.48 12.5 4.23 2.94 32.99
Second Half (38 Games) 11.8/23.5 50.1 1.16/2.84 40.7 7.48 11.06 4.74 2.74 32.23
After the Break (26 Games) 11.8/23.3 50.5 1.1/2.8 39.6 7.85 10.64 4.85 3.27 31.77
Final Ten Games 12.3/24.1 51 2.83/6.77 38.9 7.24 8.03 4.09 3.46 32.42
Playoffs (6 Games) 7.2/18.9 38.3 0.8/3.8 21.1 10.04 13.66 2.81 2.81 23.7

The first thing that jumped out at me was the huge slide in FTA as the season went on. From almost 8 per game in the first half down to 5.7 over the final 26 and under five in the final ten. This would seem to be a huge indicator that Dirk was penetrating less often, although the 3PA's don't indicate that he was just drifting outside the arc either. His rebounding, another possible indicator of workrate, also dropped steadily as the season went on.

I think, judging by my eyes and these numbers, that Dirk severely started to wear down far before the playoffs began. So what are his plans this offseason?
"I am going to play again for Germany with the national team in Spain."
*Dirk played 9 games with Germany in the World Championship and at least three exhibition games leading up to the tournament. If anyone can find the exact number please post it in the comments