Classic Dirk needed
Fresh off knee surgery, will Dirk Nowitzki's play be up to par this season?
Dirk Nowitzki is resting now. On Friday, the Dallas Mavericks reported that he underwent arthoscopic surgery on his right knee and will be out for about six weeks. The calendar says it’s nearly basketball season. His knee still needs time to take a breather.
These things happen. But when they happen to a 34-year-old player who has spent 15 seasons in the NBA, it gives everyone pause and generates inevitable questions.
By the numbers
Sure, his numbers last season were solid for most NBA players — 21.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. But he missed four games in January for conditioning purposes.The biggest is this — coming off his worst statistical season in 13 years, will we see Aging Dirk or Classic Dirk this season? We got Aging Dirk last season and, at times, it wasn’t pretty.
Nowitzki's scoring average has dropped nearly two points per season for the last two years.
His field goal percentage of 45.7 percent dropped to its lowest level since his rookie year in 1998-99 when he shot 40.5 percent from the floor. His scoring average dropped nearly two points from the previous season.
The year the Mavs won it all, Nowitzki scored 23 points per game. In fact, his scoring average has dropped nearly two points per season for the last two years. It stood at 25 points per game in 2009-10.
Mind over matter
Last year, it was hard to shake the perception that Nowitzki simply looked slower on the floor. He’s never been a speedy player to begin with. But the determined Nowitzki, the one slashing to the rim as hard as he could against LeBron James in the 2011 NBA Finals, was missing last year. He seemed to move with less purpose.
The last time we saw Classic Dirk was in the 2011 NBA Finals, the culmination of a decade of greatness, including All-Star Game appearances, an NBA MVP award and a trip to the 2006 NBA Finals.
Have we seen the last of Classic Dirk? All athletes decline, inevitably. Some do it slowly. Some fall like a meteor. Life gets in the way of the all-consuming purpose of professional sports. Nowitzki is no different.
This isn’t to say that Nowitzki is done or necessarily in decline. We’ve seen athletes bounce back from being down before, even at Nowitzki’s age.
He’s won his title. He’s married. His life pulls him in more directions than it did a decade ago. Basketball isn’t the only thing, nor should it be. For those of us of a certain age, we understand.
Life constantly evolves, and, as the years pass, the plate gets fuller and the body becomes less cooperative. This isn’t to say that Nowitzki is done or necessarily in decline.
Time will tell
We’ve seen athletes bounce back from being down before, even at Nowitzki’s age. If the argument for Nowitzki's decline hinges on the fact that he averaged just 21 points per game last year, as opposed to 23 points per game the year before, it’s not a exactly a canyon he must cross. It’s more like a brook.
This year, there’s no NBA lockout or championship hangover. There’s no Lamar Odom to suck the life out of the Mavericks. Mavs owner Mark Cuban professes to have no worries about Nowitzki’s knee.
So Classic Dirk or Old Dirk? It could go either way.
Nowitzki may have less of a say in this than he thinks. That knee might just make the decision for him.