Posted January 15, 2014

The Fundamentals: Why Dirk Nowitzki still means everything for evolving Mavs

Dallas Mavericks, Dirk Nowitzki, Rob Mahoney, The Fundamentals


The easy looks come often for Mavs center Brandan Wright. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

The easy looks come often for Mavs center Brandan Wright. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

• A clean 50-percent shooting mark from the field has long been the informal standard for big men, but Mavs center Brandan Wright lives in a different world. For the season, Wright has completed 66.3 percent of his shots from the field, highest among all players with at least 50 attempts. Pair Wright with Nowitzki, though (as has been the case in more than half of Wright’s minutes this season), and things get downright batty. With Dallas’ central creator on the floor to draw the attention of opposing defenders, Wright is shooting a surreal 73.7 percent from the field. That makes performances like last night, in which Wright went 1-for-5 from the field, border on singularity. The game tape could well be a collector’s item on grounds of rarity alone.

• In an impressively consistent display on the other end of the spectrum, Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo has rattled off a string of four consecutive games in which he went exactly 0-for-1 from the field in varying minutes. As a fan of general order, I admire Biyombo’s efforts toward uniformity. For the record: Biyombo leads the league this season in 0-for-1 outings with 10, though Boston’s Phil Pressey (9) and Golden State’s Kent Bazemore (8) are gunning for his spot.

• Your periodic update: Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, who before the season made the unprecedented mid-career shift from shooting with his left hand to his right, has upped his free throw percentage to 67.5 percent. Thompson made just 60.8 percent of his free throws while shooting with his left hand last season, and 55.2 percent the season prior.


Paul Pierce (left) is working against opposing bigs with increasing frequency. (Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Paul Pierce (left) is working against opposing bigs with increasing frequency. (Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

1. Paul Pierce slides over

Brooklyn has posted five wins in its last six games without Brook Lopez and at times without Deron Williams, a dramatic improvement for a team that had won just 10 of its 31 games prior. There are a handful of reasons for the turnaround, but one among them: Paul Pierce has been logging big minutes of late as a small ball power forward. The Nets’ four most-used lineups in those six games have all leaned on Pierce to guard and work against opposing bigs, and thus far most every combination tried has been a resounding success. Shaun Livingston’s ability to guard a wide variety of wing players has opened up Brooklyn’s matchup options of late, though it should be interesting to see to what lengths the Nets are willing to stick with a smaller look as their default lineup.

2. The lovers, the dreamers, and Jordan Crawford

His makes are getting increasingly infrequent these days, but amid his slump Celtics guard Jordan Crawford managed to find the rainbow connection with this rafter-scraping attempt:

An amazing shot, truly.

3. Tricks of a salesman

Kevin Martin may not be anywhere near his career marks in terms of drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line, but his 5.1 free throw attempts per game still represents an uptick from a few down seasons. There’s no question that the change in officiating regarding the rip-through move has kept Martin off the line a bit, though it hasn’t much deterred him from driving into contact in the hopes of drawing a foul.

What impresses me most about Martin, though, is how capable he is of redeeming a foul draw gone wrong. There are plenty of scorers around the league who noticeably play for contact on certain possessions, Martin among them. But whereas some of those other players might leap into a defender or wildly flail while losing possession of the ball, Martin keeps possession until the whistle sounds — thereby giving him some chance at a bail out pass if the call never comes. It’s on these grounds that players like James Harden surrender so many turnovers simply by throwing the ball out of bounds, and yet Martin gives the ball up on just nine percent of his possessions while actively trying to create contact. It’s an odd, impressive quirk, and a useful one for a player with Martin’s skill set.

4. Injuries trim the thicket in New Orleans

As a secondary goal to building a winning basketball team, I can’t help but wonder if the Pelicans are making a concerted effort to construct a wingspan jungle. When healthy, the lineup of Anthony Davis, Alexis Ajinca, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jrue Holiday, and Tyreke Evans is just oppressive. Between them they possess more than 36 feet of total wingspan, per Draft Express’ database — an average of about 7’4” per player. That every player among them is a notable NBA athlete only makes their combination that much more binding.

Unfortunately, the injury-induced absences of Holiday and Evans keep things a bit more trim in the passing lanes for the Pelicans. That’s a damn shame, but one can only hope that the eventual, healthy returns of Holiday and Evans will bring back the league’s rangiest natural lineup.

5. Grizzlies find a catalyst on a budget

Memphis’ curious season continues, this time through the emergence of James Johnson — a minimum-salary add who just might be one of the Grizzlies’ most important players. The extended absence of Marc Gasol left Memphis without many things, but chiefly without flexibility. Gone was the option to work through Gasol in the high post as a means to set up cutters, play off of Zach Randolph, or make life easier for Mike Conley. Absent was the help that the Grizzlies had grown accustomed to, as that level of defense was very clearly beyond the compensatory talents of Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer, and Ed Davis.

Everything changed for an already struggling Grizz team when Gasol went down, and the closest they’ve come to recapturing that balance since has come in relying on Johnson. The do-it-all forward has a penchant for bits of dynamism, and in this particular situation has managed to fill the gaps brilliantly. With Johnson on the floor, things happen for Memphis — the ball moves and the defense works. That doesn’t guarantee the Grizzlies a winning margin or productive play, but there’s a lot to like about the gear Memphis locks into with Johnson — and now Courtney Lee, who has been terrific through three games — on the floor.

Statistical support for this post provided by

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 I had the great privilege of owning season tickets from Dirk's rookie season through the championship year. Unlike many of the greats, he has had his team rebuilt many times. With Steve Nash and Mike Finley, they made it to the Western Conference Finals. In 2006, he had to beat Finley's Spurs and Nash's Suns to get to the NBA finals. Only he and Jason Terry remained from that team to win it all in 2011. And now, his only remaining teammate from that run is Shawn Marion.  By contrast, Bird always had McHale, Magic always had Kareem, MJ always had Pippen, Duncan was never without Parker and Ginobli. And none of Dirk's teammates were as good as any of those guys. Just imagine if he's been able to play with a Shaq, or even Kidd in his prime.

Great article. Compare today's Dirk to the one embarrassed by Golden State, which took out his 68 win team in the first round. His mentor, Don Nelson, knew every weakness Dirk had, and trained his team to exploit them. Today's Dirk has erased all those flaws. GS killed him with crafty double teams, and aggressive defense from smalls like Steven Jackson and Matt Barnes. In 2011, Barnes, then in Los Angeles, boasted that his team taught the league how to "punk" Dirk.  Dirk put a bullet right between the Lakers eyes with a 4 game sweep of the 2 time champs.  How many superstars have gotten that much better from age 30 and up? 


Dirk, for as talented as he is and for as much as he has accomplished in the NBA, is still underrated.

What he's done just sneaks up on people.  Yes, Dallas is a big city but it isn't NYC, LA, Chicago or Miami (in the NBA this means something, outside of the NBA it doesn't as much as Dallas is a great city).

Dirk is currently in 16th place on the all time NBA scoring list and he should end up just outside of 14th place on the list by the end of this season.

Next year, providing he remains healthy, he should climb to 9th by the end of the season.

Then it depends on whether he plays one or two seasons after that.  Either way, he'll be in the top ten all time on the NBA scoring list.

If he plays three seasons after this season, he stands a good chance of becoming only the 7th player ever to score more than 30,000 points in the league.

As far as PER all time is concerned, Dirk is currently in 19th place all time (ahead of Kobe, barely).  

So even if he drops in this category over the next couple of years (as one should do when they are 36 to 38 yrs old in the NBA, he's looking at retiring in about 25th place or so all time on the all time list of highest PER.

So he'll be an NBA champ, a league MVP, an all star numerous times, plus all first, second and third team NBA many times.

And finishing in the top ten all time in scoring as well as around 25th in PER is incredible.

Currently, as a 7 footer, he has the 13th highest career free throw percentage of all time.

His true shooting percentage is great too.

No, he isn't and won't finish in the realm of MJ, Bird, Magic, Wilt and such but he is right there on their heels in the next group.

He is better than many realize even though they know his a great player.


@Sportsfan18when he and jason kidd won the championship in 2011, I was so happy for them.  Hate seeing great HOF players like that not win a championship.