clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The problem of managing Dirk Nowitzki's minutes

New, comments

Dirk wasn't supposed to play this much, but the Mavericks simply have no choice.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this season, it was clear that Dirk Nowitzki needed to play fewer minutes. The longtime face of the Dallas Mavericks isn't getting younger than 37 and, likely in his last NBA contract, Nowitzki's career is winding down. In recent years he's mentioned taking a back seat to the younger players the team has brought in. However, Dirk remains the best offensive player on the team and that poses problems when it comes to limiting his minutes.

The idea was to have Nowitzki average somewhere in the mid-20s in terms of minutes, but that hasn't been the case. "Mid-20s was a very industrious goal on our parts," head coach Rick Carlisle said. Dirk is averaging a tick over 30 minutes per game this year and he's only played fewer than 30 minutes in nine of the 19 games he's appeared in.

Managing his time proves to be tricky. "It's very difficult to do unless you bring him off the bench and that's not happening," Carlisle said. Clearly not, especially when he's the team's leading scorer once again.

After Monta Ellis left to join the Indiana Pacers in free agency it was assumed that Nowitzki would take a back seat on offense. Chandler Parsons and newly acquired Wesley Matthews, both respected scoring options, were the likely candidates to lead the offense. The only problem was that both were coming of major injuries. While they have been able to play larger roles this season, earlier than many expected, they haven't quite rounded into form. Instead, Deron Williams, a player many wrote off as washed, has recaptured some of his old magic.

As the starting point guard, Williams is averaging just over 15 points. He's also one of just two players -- along with Zaza Pachulia -- that has logged more minutes than Nowitzki. Now, even while Williams is experiencing an offensive resurgence, it's clear that the heart and focal point of the Mavericks' attack is still Dirk. His presence on the court demands the most attention. And therefore, Carlisle needs him on the court.

Managing minutes has become a full time job in Dallas. It's not just Nowitzki that Carlisle is keeping an eye on. Both Parsons and center JaVale McGee are still on minute restrictions. However, when it comes to Dirk, Carlisle is finding ways to maximize his playing time. "Some of it depends on the timing of the stretches of minutes. Guys can play a few more minutes if their rests are timed such that they ever don't get really gassed. You can really preserve it. There's kind of a science to it," Carlisle said.

Science or not, there's no stopping Father Time, as Charles Barkley will remind us. Carlisle has already sat Nowitzki for rest one game this season and he'll sit several more before the season is over. As for now, though, it's shaping up to where Dirk will be one of the leaders in minutes played on the team. Fortunately, the rigors of the season haven't caught up with him yet.

"I've talked to [Mavericks' trainer] Casey [Smith] a lot about it," Carlisle said about Dirk's conditioning. "Casey says he's feeling great."

It's unlikely that the Mavs will really be able to manage Nowitzki's minutes the way they intended. He's too valuable to the team to sit on the sidelines. His minutes haven't become burdensome yet and the team has surpassed the expectations of many because of it. However, that can all change in an instant.

"He's doing well," Carlisle said, reaching over and tapping on the podium beside him. "Knock on wood."