Dirk Nowitzki joins four other players — Robert Parish, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis, and Vince Carter — in attempting to play his 21st season.
The Chief played 43 games in his final season, Garnett managed 39 games before tapping out, and Kevin Willis played a mere five contests (Vince, as you probably know, is from the same draft class as Dirk).
At this point, writing about Dirk, trying to contextualize Dirk, in any real sense has become folly. I started watching him my freshman year of high school and I’m 34 years old now. Really, the best thing we can do is let the memories wash over us as we continue to value the time we have left watching him.
But the season is fast approaching and we all want to talk about the Mavericks. So let’s engage in a little folly and discuss Dirk’s record-making season ahead.
Dirk’s been in stoppage time for a while now, so asking questions about his game feels like biting the hand that feeds us (hooray for mixed metaphors). And yet, the biggest question is also pretty obvious: how much does Dirk Nowitzki have left in the tank? As mentioned previously, the three other players to actually play a 21st season didn’t actually play a significant portion of the season.
When we go to the tape (aka Basketball Reference) it’s easy to see that with the brief exception of the start of 2016-17 because of that Achilles, our old German oak has been shockingly durable. So when we’ve consider that he ended the year getting ankle surgery for something that had been bothering him for some time, I find myself alarmingly hopeful despite the weight of history and age.
It’s Dirk, after all, he just keeps on going. So the question is there, but the smart money is on the legend playing 65 games or more.
Last season saw Dirk finish with his lowest per game numbers since Bill Clinton was the President, with 12 points and a shade under 6 rebounds per game. Yet his percentages were still ridiculous, shooting nearly 41 percent from three and 46 percent from the field overall.
With another influx of young talent in Luka Doncic and DeAndre Jordan (hey, he’s young compared to Dirk), it’s hard to see how he’s going to do anything different. Dirk’s greatest use these days is as a lumbering gravity well. His shot is so good that defenses have the choice of remembering he’s there, thus opening space for his teammates or forgetting for a possession or two at a time when Dirk makes them pay.
He’s also finally coming off the bench, though we’ll need to see how or if it affects his level of play. Dirk doesn’t seem worried, saying during Media Day, “When you come off the bench you don’t have the luxury of easing into the game. You have to be on right away and that’s never really been my thing. I was always kind of a slow starter. I’ll have an extra coffee or something and come out firing.”
The optimist in me wants to suggest something silly, like 15 points and 6 rebounds a game in 28 minutes. Instead, let’s settle on the same numbers as last year: 12 points, 5-ish boards, and lights out percentages.
Unless Dirk gets hurt, the floor on his season is fairly high. The only way things could go really south is if one or more of his teammates succumb to an injury and Dirk’s forced to play more or play out of position for long stretches. He can still rebound well but making him play defense is the best way to wear him out.
Any injury is another discussion. Dirk has always been remarkably tough but anything to sideline him for longer than a few weeks at this point might be a career-ender. So we’ll think happy thoughts and things won’t go this way.
I love Dirk. You love Dirk. We all love Dirk. The borrowed time we all have together can’t be overvalued. Watch every game, every minute. Tell your friends about him and make your kids watch. While I still think there’s a chance Dirk plays an unprecedented 22nd season, we should soak in the 21st. It all goes by faster than you think.