When the Mavericks traded for Dirk Nowitzki on the night of the 1998 NBA Draft, they knew they were getting a special player. The seven-foot German had a jumper unlike anything the basketball world had seen from a big-man. The first six-years of Nowitzki’s career were exciting, but the Mavericks never made it past the Western Conference Finals. Even rosters that consisted of talents like Micheal Finley, Steve Nash and Cedric Cebellaos were not enough to get them into the Finals. With the Mavericks failing to resign Steve Nash in the summer of 2004, the team desperately needed another source of scoring to compete for a championship. Insert Jason Terry.
Terry — as true of a combo guard as there was in the NBA — seemed like a strange replacement for Nash. As one of the best point guards the game has seen, Nash had the ball in his hands almost every possession. It made sense that he and Nowitzki were such a great pair. The duo could run pick-and-rolls with ease, and Nowitzki’s ability to space the floor often created clear lanes for Nash to drive. Terry on the other hand was effective with the ball in or out of his hands. He made an impact with his strong defense and consistent three-point shooting. As good of a scorer as he was, he didn’t necessarily have the instincts of a true point guard. At first, it seemed like trying to overcome the differences would be a mistake.
In 2004-05, Terry’s first season as a Maverick, he averaged just 12.4 points. That was only the fifth highest scoring average of all players on Dallas and was Terry’s lowest since his rookie season. The majority of the offense laid on the shoulder’s of Nowitzki, who averaged 26.1 points per game that season. The Mavericks still made the playoffs that year, but lost to none other than the Nash-led Suns in the Conference Semifinals. The next year, the Mavericks would prove that this duo was far from a miss.
In Terry and Nowitzki’s second season together, the combination erupted offensively. Terry averaged 17.1 points per game while Nowitzki averaged what would remain a career-high 26.6 points. The duo’s scoring threat in addition to the Mavericks’ depth led Dallas to 60 wins and an appearance in the 2006 NBA Finals. The pair scored a combined 269 points in the six-game series. While they came up short and lost the series to the Heat, the Mavericks had plenty to look forward to if they could keep Terry and Nowitzki together.
The Mavericks would go on to make the playoffs the next four years. Despite not finishing below the four-seed during that stretch, they only made it out of the first round once. Although the results weren’t what they wanted to be, the roster saw some great improvements over that time. Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Caron Butler and Tyson Chandler gave the Mavericks their most talented roster in years heading into the 2010-11 season. At its core remained the talented pair of Terry and Nowitzki.
The duo each averaged over 30 minutes per game individually, but oddly enough did not play much together. Of Mavericks’ two-man lineups, Terry and Nowitzki only played the fourth most total minutes on the team. The Mavericks had discovered the duo’s most important quality: they didn’t need to play together to be effective. Nowitzki and Terry generated a total plus/minus of +490 that season, the highest of two-man lineups in the Western Conference. Aside from statistics, they led their team to 57 wins and the second seed in the west. With Terry getting the Larry O’Brien Trophy tattooed on him before the season even started, it’s clear the team had bigger aspirations this season. After going 12-3 in the first three rounds, the Mavericks were back in the NBA Finals.
Going against the Big Three of Miami, the Mavericks needed their core duo to play better than ever and they got just that. Nowitzki averaged 26.0 points per game, the most of any Maverick. Terry was right there beside him with his own 18.0 points per game. The Mavericks’ strong core in addition their depth was enough to take down the Heat and win the first NBA Championship in franchise history.
Nowitzki and Terry were the archetypal example of perfect teammates, despite the fact that they weren’t always on the court together. Nowitzki shouldered the majority of the Mavericks’ offensive load for nearly his entire career. Ironically, the perfect guy to pair him with was someone who wouldn’t have to play beside him. Terry offered versatility off-the-bench as a guy who could score and handle the ball. With Kidd joining the team in 2008-09, Terry finally found where he could be most useful. The same year that Kidd rejoined the Mavericks, Terry won Sixth Man of the Year. It was an embodiment of everything great he offered this team and especially to his teammate Nowitzki. These two were able to make the Mavericks better by playing together, or by filling the void when the other went out. They were the perfect pieces to complete the difficult championship puzzle.
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