Power forward has been the Dallas Mavericks longstanding position of strength because of one man – Dirk Nowitzki. The NBA game at the position has been forever changed by Dirk and he continued to defy odds at age 35, turning in one of his most efficient seasons to date. The position was rather thin in terms of natural fit this year, but we’ll also take a closer look at DeJuan Blair, a five-year player from Pittsburgh.
A season ago Dirk labored through one of his toughest years in the NBA. The combination of knee surgery, missing 30 games and playing alongside an overload of one-year contracts snapped his 12-year run at playoff basketball.
Many questioned Dirk’s ability to return to star form. This only fueled the former league MVP who worked hard as ever to bounce back.
Let’s take a glance at Dirk’s 2013-2014 highlights:
- Averaged 21.7 points in 80 games played (10th player in NBA history to average over 20 points at age 35 or older)
- Returned to the All-Star Game for the 12th time
- Efficiency (23.68) ranked 12th in the NBA, shot 49.7% FG/39.8% 3PT/89.9% FT
- Became 10th on NBA All-Time Scoring List – passing legends such as Jerry West, John Havlicek and Oscar Robertson.
Dirk played a major role in earning a trip back to the postseason, only to play the rival San Antonio Spurs. Outside of Dallas, no teams knows the Mavs franchise player better than Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. It showed throughout the series as the Spurs took away much of what Dirk wanted to do and forced other Mavericks to be the difference makers.
The first four games saw Dirk fail to reach 20 points in such a stretch for the first time in his playoff career. Dirk had plenty of help in the series to push the league-best Spurs team to seven games in the 1 vs. 8 seed matchup.
Dirk would finished the final three games of the series averaging 23.3 points and 9.7 rebounds, but eventually lose the series battle in a lopsided Game 7 defeat.
Over the course of the season, Dirk showed he’s still an elite level player, especially at his age. Dirk doesn’t drive as much anymore which results in fewer trips to the free throw line, but his game as a whole exemplifies he can remain highly effective for several more years.
He played 32.9 minutes in the 80 regular season games and one should expect that to drop some going forward. While never a legit defensive player, Dirk has regressed to simply a very poor product on that end with opposing players scoring with ease when matched up with Nowitzki.
Now there were spots in the season where it seemed Dirk would disappear and it didn’t feel right. Whether the box score resembled it or not, we witnessed nights in which Dirk was a complete non-factor in both team wins and losses. Then again, it speaks loudly of how amazing his statistical end result on the year played out.
Dirk more than makes up for his defensive woes in other areas, but expect Mark Cuban and company to pursue a defensive anchor in the paint to pair with Dirk this summer. The Mavericks have plenty cap space and flexibility to explore options from a Tyson Chandler reunion, taking a chance on the Larry Sanders project or safe play with another veteran such as Marcin Gortat.
When it’s all said and done, Dirk’s year was one to remember for sure.
After spending his first four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, DeJuan Blair chose to sign with the Dallas Mavericks who could only offer him the veteran minimum contract.
Most viewed it as a value signing at the time because Blair likely could have received more elsewhere, but down the line we’d understand why the ACL-less Pitt Panther product would choose the Mavs.
Blair was on the Spurs team that blew an opportunity to win the NBA championship last season. He wasn’t given the chance to be a difference, riding the bench behind Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter. This didn’t sit well with Blair who made it known he had all Spurs game marked down after signing with Dallas.
It’s not as if Blair completely blew up and shattered seasons past, he actually had better statistical years in his first three seasons as a Spur.
Blair’s lone Mavericks season was more a bounce back from his last year with the Spurs. In Dallas, Rick Carlisle utilized the physical forward in his rotation almost the entire season. Blair had some ups and downs with DNP-CD based on opponent match ups.
Dallas’ need for a hustling rebounder who played with reckless abandon was filled nicely by Blair. Blair more than makes up for his lack of height with effort and it showed throughout the year with his ability to keep possessions alive.
His impact was felt most in the first round series against his former club. The combination of motivation and determination ignited Blair’s play and made him one of Dallas’ most important pieces.
In four games of meaningful minutes, Blair posted 9.5 points and 9.3 rebounds with three steals in 18.5 minutes. Blair was suspended Game 5 for the kick to the head of Tiago Splitter. His energy was missed and it was evident how big an addition Blair truly was for Dallas this season.
The question isn’t whether Dirk will be back next season, but rather at what cost. Dirk has joked he won’t get Kobe money (2 year/$48.5M), but would like something where he still feels respected for his time in Dallas while leaving room to hopefully bring in star free agent help.
Early into the offseason, it appears the Mavericks have no interest in Chris Bosh, but will pursue Knicks’ star forward Carmelo Anthony who is set to opt out his final year with New York.
As for DeJuan, he’s one of four key Dallas free agents whose return isn’t set in stone. Blair is only 25 which makes him more attractive to keep on board. It’s possible the Mavericks could use an exception on Blair, but several things will need to play out first before Dallas likely makes a decision of his future.
Images via Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty; Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports; AP Photo/Eric Gay; Video via Phenom Clips (YouTube);