“His days of being the man are over.”
Charles Barkley said it when he infamously commented how Dirk Nowitzki’s time as a leading man in the NBA was fading, despite having taken over the basketball world just months earlier. Barkley chose to dismiss the nature of how Nowitzki spent his offseason and how his game historically does not rely on athleticism in order to go for the shock factor of declaring Nowitzki on a massive downward slope after a slow start to the season.
Since then, it’s safe to say that Nowitzki has proven Barkley’s notion wrong.
As he has always done throughout his career, Nowitzki quietly took the criticism and chose to sway opinions through action rather than words. That ‘action’ has come in the form of 24.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his last 24 games.
“Father Time is catching up with him.”
Not only that, he has his shooting percentages back up around special levels from the floor (47%), the free throw line (87%), and beyond the three-point arc (37%). The numbers will always round into form for Nowitzki until the day he hangs up his big German Nikes, but efficiency is the trademark that puts him in the elite of the elite. The maximum number of points with the fewest number of shots and misses, while making his teammates better for it, allows Nowitzki to create some of his vintage playoff performances seen over the years. That ability was on full display last Monday in Denver as Nowitzki shot 12 for 19 with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Nowitzki finding his groove means he’s scoring at a high rate while making the right pass out of double teams during the flow of the game. Along with point guard Jason Kidd, he becomes the engine in the Mavs’ vaunted ball movement offensive machine. Getting shots for himself while creating them for teammates is when he’s at his best. Right now, he’s at that level.
“…When you’re a great player, you have further to fall.”
Earlier in the season, Nowitzki was a concern for the Mavericks. Now, as the NBA moves into its final 20 games for each team, he seems to be the only lock. Players like Delonte West, Shawn Marion, and Brendan Haywood are coming back from injuries and finding their form may ultimately decide the fate of these Dallas Mavericks during the playoffs, but Nowitzki is as capable as ever to carry his share of the load.
Dirk Nowitzki hears the naysayers and always has. Maybe Charles Barkley’s criticism is what Nowitzki needed as a spark for this season, but he has certainly put the league on alert with his play over the last couple of months.
For the time being, Dirk is still Dirk.