It's difficult seeing Dirk Nowitzki struggle the way he has this season.
There are many reasons one can come up with to explain why Dirk has seen a drop in points, shooting percentage and 3-point shooting percentage. Our own Josh Bowe wrote a fantastic piece on Dirk's slump, and if you have yet to read it, make it a goal to do so.
It's amazing to look back on this season, look at the many games Dirk has struggled, and realize this Dallas Mavericks team is 28-13 at the halfway point in the season.
The overall consensus is that it's mind-boggling to see Dirk play this average, knowing even at his age, he's capable of doing more. Is it because he;s 36 years old? Is it his back? Is it he needs more than a couple days of rest to get back to full form?
Is he waiting for the playoffs?
1) It's been an odd sight seeing Dirk struggle offensively as much as he has. Right now, he's not making the shots he's accustomed to making. What do you think is the main reason for this? Old age? Back problems?
Kate: I have no idea. I’m a little skeptical of the argument about a specific physical ailment because there hasn’t been much of a change in any of his other numbers this season. Stats like passing and rebounding are much closer to his numbers last season than his shooting is.
Austin: It’s really tricky assessing the cause of Dirk’s issues when he’s just missing wide open jumpers. I think his offseason tweak to his jumper has affected his muscle memory a bit. Dirk started off the year lights out, but hasn’t been able find that groove again. I think it might take the week long all-star break for Dirk to work out whatever kink he has in his jumper.
Danny: It's weird to watch this. Dirk is known to be all-worldly and not have a weakness. But if it is his back that's the main issue, then that would explain a plethora of things, like him not using as much leg strength in his jumper and why he's been hesitant to try more fadeaway jumpers. He needs some serious rest. I thought he should've sat out the three road games following Dallas' loss to Detroit. He needs to get more than just a day or two off. Fortunately, it seems his shot is coming back into form recently, which only makes the Mavs' offense that much better.
2) There appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel, though. Dirk has regained his offensive form the last few games. It started against the Clippers, cultivating with the Nuggets game on Friday where he looked comfortable shooting the ball again. Is this a sign of things to come or could we expect some regression down the road?
Kate: When you’re talking about a beloved franchise player, I think people tend to overreact both positively and negatively to the last few games. Dirk shot well for a while early in the season, he shot poorly for the second half of December, and now he’s gotten a few good games under his belt. But despite his recent strong performances, his overall shooting numbers still aren’t great. Hal Brown’s consistency numbers show that last year, Dirk was an averagely consistent player, but the swings in his shooting from game to game look pretty big this season. Maybe he’s hurt and his game will start to stabilize, or maybe it’s going to be an emotional roller coaster of a year for fans if we’re really seeing a change in both his efficiency and his consistency.
Austin: Dirk found his three ball against the Nuggets, but he still struggled with mid-range shots that are usually layups for him. Over the course of a season, Dirk is usually good for about two hyper efficient where games a month. Once he has a couple games where he shoots an ungodly percentage from the field, I’ll believe he’s back.
Danny: There needs to be a little more consistency from Dirk in order to believe better things are ahead, but this small sample size is a good start. He shot 10-of-19 against the Clippers, and if you take the Kings game out, he shot 8-of-18 and was 4-of-5 from 3-point range. He's also made seven of his last 13 attempts from long range. But, as Austin pointed out, the mid-range game is still an issue. A good portion of those jumpers come with smaller defenders on him and they're just not falling. Rick Carlisle has done a great job managing his minutes and sitting him for rest, but as I mentioned before, if he wants to be a much more lethal offensive option, he might need to sit out a few more games than just one at a time.
3) We do expect a lot from Dirk, but it's become the norm to just expect him to do everything. Do you think, in stints, that too much pressure is on Dirk, knowing he's getting older and it might not be the same Dirk anymore?
Kate: In the sense that pressure is what’s affecting his game? No, probably not. But I do think that this is something Carlisle’s offense will eventually need to address. Right now Dirk is taking about the same number of field goals he always has, despite the decline in his efficiency. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Rick Carlisle is a smart guy, and he’d be foolish to overreact to a short shooting slump. But if it continues then I think at some point the offense needs to shift so that there’s not as much pressure on Dirk to take quite so many shots, especially since he’s even having trouble hitting them when he’s open.
Austin: Dirk nearly had 50/40/90 just a season ago. He hasn’t suffered a major injury, so I think it’s fair to expect similar production. Dirk’s ability to get to the rim and draw fouls is pretty much gone now. However, he still has the ability to color an entire shot chart green.
Danny: By default, I think it's the norm that Dirk is expected to do everything. He's done it for the better part of a decade. This is, really, the first time where he's not asked to do everything offensively. If he had last year's team, I don't think he would make it through the season alive. He's got teammates he can defer to, which is what he's wanted for so long. Any given night, he can score 25, but it's time to face reality that he can't do that anymore, and that's fine. He took the pay cut for this very reason, and for the reasons of what it could mean beyond this season.
4) If he does suffer a regression and starts missing more shots, is this something to worry about come playoff time?
Kate: I’ve never been sold on the idea that this team will contend for a title this year, but despite Dirk not shooting as well as he did last year, this team is about where I thought they’d be in terms of conference standings. Their record over the period Josh Bowe reviewed in his excellent piece on Dirk’s shooting woes is 11-5. That means the Mavericks have won 68.8 percent of their games since mid-December, compared to 68.3 percent on the season. There’s a lot of talent on the team, and so far it’s been able to compensate for Dirk’s shooting. As I mentioned earlier, I think at some point, Carlisle may need to make some shifts in the way Dirk is being used, but nobody knows Dirk’s game (or how to make sneaky playoff adjustments) better than Carlisle.
Austin: Tiago Splitter guarded Dirk very well in the playoffs last year. Had Dirk simply played to his averages, the Mavs probably win that series. As talented as this year’s team is, they will only go as far as Dirk takes them. Dirk’s production is even more crucial in the playoffs now with the Mavs’ mediocrity on threes.
Danny: Last year's playoffs was the first alarming sight for me. We've gotten used to Dirk averaging 25 and 10 in a postseason that when he started missing shots, it was damn-near unfathomable. Especially with how Dallas is struggling already against top-tier teams in the Western Conference, this should be of great concern for the time being. He's still Dirk, and there are still 41 games left before we start to evaluate if Dallas can make a deep playoff run. But it will come down to Dirk, and again, he doesn't need to do as much. If he can score at least 21-22 points a night in the postseason, the Mavericks will be fine.