As Dirk Nowitzki enters his 20th NBA season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks, there’s no doubt that he’ll be a 1st-ballot Hall of Fame inductee when he decides to retire from basketball. Dirk’s 19th season wasn’t the smoothest, as he only played in 54 games due to a nagging sore Achilles. That being said, he still managed to average 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in a little over 26 minutes per game. Oh yeah, and he did that cool little thing where he became the 6th player in NBA history to eclipse 30,000 career points.
All things considered, Dirk ended up having a pretty good season last year, but there’s still some huge milestones out there that he could add to his already stellar resume. Potentially passing Wilt Chamberlain for 5th on the NBA’s All-Time Scoring List is probably the most notable (and realistic) accomplishment left for Dirk to chase. Dirk currently has 30,260 career points, meaning he would need to score 1,160 points this season to pass The Big Dipper. If Dirk stays healthy and plays in 72 games this year, he would then need to average a little over 16 points per game to pass Wilt. It’s definitely doable, but it may be more likely that Dirk will have to play one more year after this one to do it.
As long as Dirk is able to stay on the floor, he’s going to be able to get buckets. So health has to be the biggest question as the season gets closer. As previously mentioned, Dirk missed 28 games last year, which proved to be devastating to the Mavs’ chances of making the playoffs. According to Mavs.com’s Earl K. Snead, the Mavs will monitor Dirk’s minutes a lot closer this season, not only to help prevent any potential injuries, but to also help him stay fresh if the team find itself in the middle of a playoff push late in the season.
Although health is the biggest question, you’ve also got to wonder if Dirk is ever going to have a big drop-off in efficiency due to his age. Dirk has seen his overall field goal and effective field goal percentages drop slightly every season since his 2013-2014 campaign. Hopefully with a little good fortune and less minutes, Dirk can defy Father Time, at least one more time.
I think there’s two best-case scenarios for Dirk this season. One is more dreamy, while the other has more reasonable expectations.
The dreamy best-case scenario for Dirk would be for him to stay fully healthy all season while his teammates over-perform, and the Mavs end up winning a championship as he rides off into the sunset. I’m as optimistic as anyone it comes to being a sports fan, but this type of storybook ending would probably signal the end of the world being upon us. As far fetched as it is to envision the Mavs winning a title this season, just imagine how it would feel to see Dirk hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy one more time.
Okay, now for the more realistic best-case scenario. This season, it would be wonderful if Dirk could stay healthy, possibly surpass Wilt for fifth on the all-time scoring list and help lead the Mavs back to the playoffs. With the super-human Golden State Warriors not going away anytime soon, it’s just hard to see the Mavs achieving anything more than being a feisty first round exit or maybe, if the right dominoes fall into place, making a surprise second round appearance. Even without another title, it’d be great to see Dirk get to compete in the playoffs again. After all, that’s mainly what he still plays for at this point.
A worst-case scenario for Dirk this season would be if his Achilles continues to give him trouble going forward, causing him to miss any large chunk of the season. We all admire how Wesley Matthews was able to recover from that historically devastating injury a few years ago, but a torn Achilles for a guy that’s almost 40 years old would pretty much force him to retire on the spot, and nobody wants that. After missing the playoffs and having a full summer to train, you would hope that Dirk would be able to stay in good physical shape as long as Rick Carlisle can manage his minutes properly.
Even if Dirk does stay healthy, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to stop his efficiency numbers from trending downward. If that’s the case, that’ll be okay, because Father Time is undefeated and eventually comes for all athletes, no matter how great they are. It happened to Michael Jordan. More recently, it happened to Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. It will eventually happen to Dirk too, but maybe we all can be lucky enough to witness a few more moments like these before it’s over.