DALLAS — Ideally, Dirk Nowitzki would be an elite complementary player at this point of his career.
In other words, Nowitzki would remain one of NBA’s most efficient shooters but be relied on by the Dallas Mavericks less than ever.
[+] EnlargeNowitzki, 36, who is in his 17th NBA season, believes that’s possible after the moves the Mavs have made the past couple of summers. The Dallas roster has plenty of playmakers in Monta Ellis, Jameer Nelson, Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris, Raymond Felton and the addition of J.J. Barea, who signed with the Mavs on Wednesday. The Mavs’ top two centers, Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright, excel at going hard to the basket and finishing high above the rim in pick-and-rolls.
His mere presence — and the gravitational pull he has on defensive rotations — creates space for the rest of the Mavs to do what they do best.
“Basically, my job is now to spread the floor for the guys,” Nowitzki said a few days before the Mavs opened the regular season. “I’m there to really help spread the floor and get my guy out of the way for them.”
OK, it’s not as though the Mavs want Nowitzki to stand on the wing and wait for the ball to come his way occasionally. After all, he’s the 10th leading scorer in NBA history and ranked 12th in the league last season with 21.7 points per game.
But the Mavs want to continue to ease the offensive burden on Nowitzki, making his minutes less physically demanding by not running a lot of isolation and post-up plays for him.
“We want there to be a balance,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We want him to get shots off of being a screener. We want him to get shots off of being a guy that’s spotted up when guys are driving it. We want to get him shots in transition.”
In the season-opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Nowitzki might have been too much of a complementary piece. According to NBA.com’s player-tracking data, Nowitzki had 48 touches, which ranked fifth on the team. He scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and said he “probably should have forced it more” when the Mavs’ offense hit a rut in the third quarter.
Nevertheless, Nowitzki is excited about spending many possessions as a spot-up threat on the weak side and trailing in transition a lot.
“We can attack from all angles,” Nowitzki said. “I don’t have to post up a ton. I don’t have to do the [isolation] thing, which is taxing now and hard for me if you do it a lot.
“Tyson’s so good at rolling and finishing above the rim. It sucks a lot of defensive guys in and then we’ve just got to make the right plays. Is it the [spot-up] shooter? Is it the drop-off? Is it shooting it yourself? If we read that correct, we can have some defenses scramble, and that’s what you want. You want a defender running at you. … We can be a fun offensive group, that’s for sure.”