Six weeks, which means that the Dallas Mavericks will have to go about 12-15 games without Dirk Nowitzki, the best player in the history of the franchise and at the age of 34 is still the most important player on their roster.
Nowitzki dealt with conditioning issues last season, with his minutes down to 33.5 per game, and the rest of his numbers suffered as well, falling to 21.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Old age? The Mavs thought that a nice rest during the summer, without any international basketball, will raise him back up to the title season form.
But knee surgery after a problem kept him out of most preseason games so far has made sure that Nowitzki won’t hit the courts of the NBA before late November at best. The second all-star forward in the West, after Kevin Love, who’ll be missing over a month of early season basketball.
The problem for the Mavs without Nowitzki, despite the re-tooled, younger and more athletic roster, especially at guard, will be replacing his points. Because Nowitzki wasn’t about just his own points. One of the biggest and most difficult scoring threats to deal with in the NBA creates so much for others just by being on the floor.
A mismatch nightmare, he draws out a defense, even when just standing on the weak side doing nothing. The idea was to create much more for O.J. Mayo and the rest by being more than just the go-to-guy, but by being used as a decoy to create opportunities for others. Now?
Elton Brand will probably grab Nowitzki’s spot in the lineup, or at least part of it. He’s not likely to grab all of his minutes. Brand played 28.9 minutes with 11 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He was likely to play as backup center as well, but now that’s less of an option. It might mean that Shawn Marion will spend more time playing as a power forward, and it should also change and increase the role of Brandan Wright, the backup center.
More than anything, it’ll be about O.J. Mayo stepping up, and becoming the focus of this offense. A player who believed he deserved more minutes and more responsibility on the Grizzlies offense will now have a few weeks to show he is indeed a volume scorer with the right amount of minutes. During Mayo’s first two seasons in the NBA, he averaged 18 points per game on 38 minutes a night.
His role was reduced to a bench player over the last two, starting 17 of 137 games and averaging 11.9 points. The Mavs are going to need the early Mayo, with that kind of shooting percentage (45.8% in his second season) to last with a decent record and hope for a good rest of the season once Nowitzki gets back. Looking at their roster, it seems like the only logical place to look for points to come from.