Now that the draft has passed, it is time to focus on attention to the event that NBA fans have been anticipating for literally years. On Saving the Skyhook, I’ll do a review a day of each of the major players who figure to command the most attention come July 1 — in no particular order. Today features Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
Dirk Nowitzki surprised a lot of people last month when he announced that he would opt out of his contract with the Dallas Mavericks and test the free-agent waters in the summer of 2010 — especially his companions in the Lonestar State. While most still see it as a long shot that he’ll sign a deal with a team other than the one that has been his home for his entire career, stranger things have certainly happened. One thing’s for sure, though. Whatever team manages to pick up Dirk will acquire one of the best-scoring seven footers in the history of the game.
On the offensive end, Nowitzki is an absolute assassin shooting the ball. While his around-the-basket game is serviceable at best, his silky-smooth jump shot more than makes up for any deficiencies near the rim. With a fade on his shot that comes naturally, Nowitzki has the advantage of being able to get a shot over nearly anyone for a clean look, especially since he’s seven feet tall. As a result, Nowitzki is virtually a lock to score more than 23 points per game in a season, making him an offensive force to be reckoned with.
The strange thing about Nowitzki’s game is how many low-percentage shots he manages to drain. Nowitzki vastly outdistanced anyone else in the league in taking 8.3 16- to 23-foot shots per game, which are the least efficient on the floor. But he converted an unfathomable 46 percent of them, tops in the league for big men who took more than two per contest. Nowitzki also has good range on his jumper, and he knocked down 42 percent of his three-point heaves in 2009-2010, but he’s taking fewer and fewer threes as his career progresses.
Nowitzki can also handle the load at crunch time, and he scored 47 points per 48 clutch minutes this season. That ranked him third behind only Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
As a rebounder, Nowitzki brings in his fair share, but considering his height, his skills are lacking. In fact, that part of his game is so poor, that he ranked only 53rd in overall rebound rate among power forwards in the league. To say the least, he does not like to bang around in the paint.
Then there’s the main question mark about Nowitzki’s game: his defense. For all the greatness he provides on offense, he’s nearly as much of a liability on the defensive side. While his height allows him to reel in some blocks, he has long has a reputation as a complete softy, and opposing big men treat him as such. Nowitzki is routinely bullied in the paint, and he pays the price in how many points he allows. Furthermore, he is not very athletic and he has no lateral quickness, so he struggles to contain guards on pick-and-roll switches and more agile big men.
While Dirk will get max. money no matter which team he signs with, at this point in his career, it’s a tough call. He’s 32 now, and while jump shooting big men typically experience far greater longevity than their counterparts, he has played an inordinately high number of minutes in his career. So the question is: will his past ability to elude the injury bug follow him through the final years of his career? It will, in all likelihood, at least for a few more seasons. But Nowitzki is going to get a five- or six-year deal. So while a contract will pay off in the short run, the final seasons could end up coming back to haunt the team that inks this German giant.