Where Have You Gone Dirk Nowitzki?

Halfway through the end of the end- you may know him. In 84 days, the NBA career of Dirk Nowitzki will be in the record books and the wait for the Hall of Fame will begin.

Everything Dirk is this year is everything we thought we knew he would be at the age of 40 (going to be 41), but amazingly, and sadly, it has been worse. The greatest European player to dominate the league with his scoring, to win a MVP, to lose a title and then win it as an underdog, is in the deep recesses of Old Man River. On the season, he has played 130 minutes which amounts, in game time, to less than three full NBA Games. He is making 29% of his shots, 24% of his threes. This is not the Dirk who invented a move scorers copy, from Kobe Bryant to Dwyane Wade to Kevin Durant.  This Dirk is just old.

It’s not a surprise. In a retirement year, an elite player’s descent into ordinary plays tricks with the brain. Yes, that is them. No, it is not. Yes. No. Yes. No. But Michael Jordan in his goodbye year had (3) 40 point games, 12 games with 10 or more rebounds, 33 games playing over 40 minutes, 15 games with 3 or more steals. Jordan was 40 when he retired on April 16th 2003.

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar was 42 years old on April 23rd 1989, his last NBA game. He played 30 minutes (11) times that season. He scored over 20 points twice and had more than 10 rebounds (4) times.

Three months after he retired, Karl Malone turned 42 years old.  During his last season, Malone played 40 minutes (7) times. He scored over 20 points (4) times. He pulled in 15 rebounds or more, 3 times.

Jordan, Abdul-Jabaar and Malone all left the game in their 40’s. They all are ahead of Dirk on the all-time scoring leaderboard. All had last seasons that paled in comparison to what they did to earn their Hall of Fame cred. But they went out a little less than. Certainly not a ghost-like figure where you don’t even recognize their game.

Dirk Nowitzki is unrecognizable.

This was what happened in Boston on January 4th. He took 10 shots. He missed every one of them. 8 of the 10 shots were threes. They all clanked the rim. He didn’t attempt one free throw in the 16 minutes he was out on the court. He had a -23 for the game. The last time that happened was March 11, 2018 when he played a game against the Rockets and made 1 of 6 threes and finished with 13 points.

This season, it has been the body quitting on Dirk and then his game following suit. He missed the first 26 games of the season. His first game of the year was a 2 point affair. It was an indication this was going to be a Dirk unfamiliar to you and I. Consecutively, after his season debut, he scored 3 points, 3 points, 0 points, 3 points. Then a game off. His high this season was 11 points, three days after Xmas.

It’s not business as usual for the greatest German player in NBA history.

Almost 21 years ago, Dirk Nowitzki was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and then traded to the Dallas Mavericks because the Bucks, coached by George Karl, and with a young Ray Allen, wanted Robert “Tractor” Traylor, a Michigan star at power forward. The Bucks didn’t need a project and that was what skinny Dirk was. Don Nelson saw the potential and gladly handed over Traylor who had a short NBA career. The fun loving, always smiling Traylor couldn’t get a handle on his weight problem and died too young, while playing basketball in Puerto Rico.

Dirk’s breakout season was his 3rd year in the league, 2000-01. 51 times he scored 20 points or more. He played 40 minutes 34 times. He had 10 rebounds or more 38 times and he managed to block 101 shots that year, the third best of his career. The Mavs went to the playoffs and Dirk averaged 23 and 8. It initiated six years of 20+ points in the playoffs. Over the course of his 15 year playoff career, he averaged 20 points or more 13 times. The two times he didn’t average 20 ppg, he averaged 19 ppg.

Dirk Nowitzki was a special player and like all elite players he had a lot of triumphs, some misery tossed in to keep him humble, and extraordinary accomplishments. 13 All-Star games. 6 Player of the Month awards. 12 times All-NBA. 1 MVP. 1 NBA title.

He is 4th all-time in games played. 3rd all-time in minutes played. 8th all-time in field goals made. 12th all-time in 3-point field goals. 6th all-time in free throws made. 5th in defensive rebounding, 7th in points, 6th in Offensive Win Shares, 8th in Win Shares.

Dirk introduced a thing before it had a name, the stretch four. Now the league is looking at Lauri Markkanen and calling him Dirk. Looking at Kristaps Porzingis and calling him Dirk.

It is the sensational Dirk career that makes me wince whenever I happed to check out League Pass and there he is. It is cruel irony. He looks the same but the game, the footwork, the shot, even the body…it’s all about his 84 NBA days and what is left before the end.

This Dirk Nowitzki is appreciated and applauded and I’m glad, and selfishly, I’m not. I just want the old Dirk Nowitzki back. You know the one. The Dirk who scored 29 points in a quarter against Utah or his 50 big ones in the playoffs against the Suns or 48 points on 15 shots against the Thunder.

I want that Dirk back.