Dirk Nowitzki is 37 years old and is in the twilight of his career. His numbers are going to continue to dwindle and fade as he wraps up a sure-to-be Hall-of-Fame career on a losing Mavericks team.
Or at least, that’s what we were told.
Unlike some other 37-year-old players currently on their farewell tour, Nowitzki and his shot do not look their age. The seven-footer continues to be one of the deadliest shooting big men by hitting open shots on the pick-and-pop and torturing defenders with his patented one-legged fadeaway. Through 25 games, Nowitzki is averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 three-pointers per game on .479 field goal shooting.
Due to Nowitzki’s unexpectedly sizzling start, the Dallas Mavericks have started strongly to defy the experts and leave them with a shot to return to the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 years. If the veteran power forward can continue his hot start, the big German will be in line for his 14th appearance in the Association’s annual mid-season game.
Nowitzki is, without question, the heart and soul of the Mavericks team. While many thought he would take a backseat to the younger and new additions to the Dallas roster this year, the wily old veteran has defied age and is having his best season in nearly five years.
To fully appreciate how remarkable Nowitzki’s season has been so far, we need to take a look at the short list of players who have been able to do so much so late in their careers just like Dirk has done this season.
Throughout the 70 year history of the NBA, only four players have averaged 17 or more points per game while 37 or older, per basketball-reference.com. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, and Dominique Wilkins. Not only are all four Hall-of-Famers, the trio of Jabbar, Malone, and Jordan also represents three of the top four scorers in the history of the NBA. With 17.1 points per game this year, you can add one more name to that list: Dirk Nowitzki.
Minus his rookie season, the 17-year veteran has averaged at least 17.1 points per game every year. What makes what Dirk is doing this season more impressive is that he is putting up the 17 plus points in only 30.2 minutes and with just 13.2 shot attempts per game. A career .476/.383/.879 shooter, Nowitzki is equaling that slash this season, unheard of for someone the late stages of his career. The fact that, at age 37, he not only can post solid shooting numbers but is also bouncing back from what was statistically his worst season in his career is remarkable.
Nowitzki is getting it done this year the same way he has since 1998 as one of the best catch-and-shoot players in the NBA. A catch-and-shoot play refers to any jump shot outside of 10 feet where a player possessed the ball for 2 seconds or less and took no dribbles. Nowitzki ranks fourth in the NBA this season with 7.4 points on those types of plays. He trails two players that are 10 plus years his junior, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry.
While he has had many big games in his career, Nowitzki’s best game so far this season was the DeAndre Jordon revenge game. When Dallas welcomed the Clippers and almost-teammate DeAndre Jordan to the American Airlines Center on November 11, no one gave the Mavs a chance at defeating LA. In that game, Nowitzki looked rejuvenated as he willed his team to victory behind 31 points. More impressively, he went a ridiculous 11-of-14 from the field including 5-for-6 from the three.
That game started a Mavs’ six-game winning streak, where Nowitzki played five games and averaged 20.6 points per game. His shooting was off the charts during that stretch as he hit 55 percent from the field and a ridiculous 13-for-20 from behind the arc for 65 percent.
With 50 more points, Nowitzki will pass Shaquille O’Neal for sixth place in NBA history for points scored. With the most points for a foreign -born player, his place in NBA history is well documented as the best European player of all-time. Nowitzki’s prolific scoring has inspired many Europeans to take up basketball and on December 7 he came face-to-face with one of the up and coming Euro stars.
Going against the Knicks and rookie phenom Kristaps Porzingis, Nowitzki pulled off another vintage performance as he dropped 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and led Dallas to a seven-point win. In that game, Nowitzki showed the youngster a thing or two as he went 5-for-7 for 11 points while Porzingis was defending the 37-year-old.
While his scoring has been unexpected, Nowitzki’s all-around game has been even more shocking. For the first time in over six years, he is pulling in over 7.0 rebounds per game. His defensive and total rebounding percentage is is the best he has had since he just turned 30 years old back in 2008. Never known for his defense, the 102 Defensive Rating the power forward is putting up this season would be the fourth best rating he has posted in his 17-year career. It would also be his best since he was a fresh-faced 26-year-old back in 2004-05.
It doesn’t end there either as Nowitzki’s steals and blocks are up by nearly 20 percent over last year. His PER and Win Shares per 48 Minutes are back up near levels he achieved in his prime five years ago. To top it all of, his 6.3 percent Turnover Percentage is lowest of his career.
The leading scorer on the Mavericks this season, Nowitzki has the unlikely collection of players currently sitting second in the Southwest Division and fifth in the Western Conference. This season was viewed as a quasi-rebuilding year in Dallas, but Nowitzki will not let them lose. In his 17th season, the face of the Mavericks franchise is proving that just like wine some things get better with age.