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An up-and-down 17th season for Dirk Nowitzki leads to offseason questions

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A look back at the heart and soul of the Dallas Mavericks.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Looking Back

Before the start of the 2014-2015 campaign, I wrote the season preview for Dirk Nowitzki. Coming into his 17th year, figuring out what to expect from the best player to ever don a Maverick uniform was daunting. Between his best and worst case scenarios, the big German finished somewhere in the middle. His season numbers were right in line with previous seasons, with a slight decline in statistical output due to a decline in both minutes and role.

Dirk Nowitzki started the off season accepting a massive, nearly unheard of discount, signing for three years at a total of $25 million. That the Mavericks were able to sign both Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons to a combined $23 million per year through 2017 was, and remains, a fantastic deal. Dirk also spent a good deal of his summer adjusting his shooting form in an attempt to counter his declining mobility on the offensive end.

Every Player Review

The year started strong with Dirk posting highly efficient numbers in November (20 points on 47 percent shooting, including 37 percent from three). On December 2, Dirk gutted out a 22 point, 10 rebound performance over the Chicago Bulls but injured his back in the process. Despite never admitting to an injury, Nowitzki had a horrid shooting month in December, where his shooting percentages collapsed to 43.5 percent from the field and 28 percent from deep. The 4.5 percent swing in shooting could also be attributed to an increase in the quality of opponent as the Mavericks feasted on an early season Eastern conference lineup.

His January and February numbers returned to form, even garnering Dirk another All-Star appearance. March saw Dirk fall off a statistical cliff again, where he shot a dreadful 42 percent from the field, including a corpse-like 37 percent from inside the arc. He seemed to round into form down the stretch in April and played a solid series against the Rockets in the playoffs, even having one throwback game three where he poured in 34 points.

Assessing the year of a guy who's career will be old enough to enter the military next season is challenging. He can still shoot the ball at times, but his defense has become awful because he's unable to move laterally. Overall, his numbers and contributions were right in line with his career averages. But his game-to-game numbers became almost impossible to predict. Heck, Dirk shot 50 percent at home and 42 percent on the road this season. An 8 percent swing is wild for a player as traditionally efficient as Nowitzki. A lopsided schedule, a fluctuating roster, and a lack of true back up contributed to the lack of consistency. So while his year is perhaps more than we should ever expect for a guy playing his 17th season, I would suspect that Dirk was not entirely happy with his performance.

2014-2015 Grade: A. Dirk's not getting anything less than an A.

Looking Ahead

2015-2016 Salary - $8.3 million; 2016-2017 Salary - $8.7 million

By this point in his career, Dirk's output is going to be largely based off his teammates. There are so, so many factors up in the air right now that predicting where Dirk can go from here is pure speculation. The Mavericks have to answer the following questions:

  • How is the health of Chandler Parsons? If Parsons misses significant time, this means Dirk assumes more of the offensive load. At 37 years old, that's simply not fair. He can still get buckets, of course, but would do so at a cost to his efficiency, thus robbing Dallas of Dirk's greatest asset.
  • Will Monta Ellis return? Despite his final two playoff games, I suspect Monta Ellis may be through in Dallas. But the injury to Chandler Parsons raises some scary questions. Without Parsons, Dallas would have only one playmaker on the roster in Devin Harris, and he's built for limited minutes. Ellis and Nowitzki formed a fine two man game these last two seasons. If he goes, what point guard/shooting guard does Dallas sign to replace his production? Dirk's production could depend on the Mavericks signing another solid shooting guard. But who?
  • Is Rick Carlisle sticking with his current offense? The motion offense from the past two seasons has resulted in a balanced attack. Despite how we'd all like Dirk to get the ball more consistently, over an 82 game season Dirk has ended up with a reasonable number of shots for the NBA's 7th All-Time leading scorer. A switch back to anything that results in an offensive hierarchy could once again harm Dirk's efficiency.
  • Will the front office finally get Dirk a back up? This is the question I've been wondering since 2011. If they Mavs resign Al-Farouq Aminu, he could soak up some of these minutes. Are there free agents willing to play 15-20 minutes who could actually benefit the offense? I still cannot believe the Mavericks front office did not draft Terrance Jones in 2012.
  • Would Dallas actually consider bringing Dirk off the bench? This is the most interesting question, because Dirk can still feast on back up forwards and centers. If Dallas made a real push to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, that could be a boon for Dirk's production next season. If they don't get LMA, the Mavs should still consider this option. A Dirk-centric offense is, as much as we all hate to admit it, a thing of the past.

Dirk can still produce, but another off season of roster turnover is going to impact his production in significant ways. Hopefully the front office can piece together a roster that can maximize Dirk's value without hoisting the responsibility on his shoulders alone.

Supplementary Material