For Mavericks, Nowitzki isn't the answer

When Dirk Nowitzki's knee injury prohibited him to participate in basketball activities, Dallas Mavericks fans knew it was going to be tough.

There were going to be some growing pains with a new team mixed with veterans and young players who haven't played alongside each other. With training camp, preseason, and the season, there was some expectations that they could get some chemistry going. When Dirk was to turn, they were supposed to build some of that chemistry so Nowitzki can know how to fit into the scheme of things and help make it easier for his teammates to play alongside him at the same time.

The fans got something different though and it was exposed plain in sight by the San Antonio Spurs: it's a team that plays a one on one game instead of looking to make other players better for the sake of winning. The Mavericks struggled against the Spurs and when Dirk came in (with the exception of Shawn Marion), no one seemed to want to get involved. They played the same way when he was on the court like when he was injured: whoever has the ball gets to create however he wants, everyone else back off. Dirk made his shots and was winded pretty quick (which is no surprise coming off a knee injury without any kind of conditioning). That's the part that should worry Dallas fans. There was no motivation, no excitement. Their star player returned and it was just like any other game.

One of the reasons for that is the Mavericks have a tremendous amount of talent on their team, but they don't even come close to complimenting each other even with Nowitzki in the lineup. Their starting backcourt of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo aren't players who call plays for other teammates or look to pass first and shoot later. Collison's been frustrating his coaches and teammates with his poor decision making on both ends of the court (add inbounding the ball to that also). Mayo is a good player and is showing that this season, but like Collison, his strong point isn't getting others involved. If you have two guards who can't pass the rock to teammates, who will? Dahntay Jones has tried doing that a little and that's not his game at all. His history has been a guy who can defend well and shoot the ball spotting up, not a distributor. The passes he tried during the game against the Spurs weren't pretty and playing out of position at the small forward spot doesn't help either. Shawn Marion and Chris Kaman aren't guys who can pass the rock well either. Marion has always been a player who plays best when he's free to roam around and try to get a shot without a play called while Kaman is a guy who wants to post up. That's really the only thing on their offensive game with the exception Marion can shoot the occasional three pointer.

If you plug any of those guys out of the lineup to insert Dirk, there's no reason to think it will change anything. Nowitzki is a great individual player, but he's not a guy who can consistently get the ball at the top of the key or in the post and look to kick out if the defense sinks in on him like a Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard. He's a shooter and does a great job at it, but he does what everyone else on the floor is looking to do too. The Mavs are looking more to free agency this summer than winning a title so they can add a piece with plenty of cap space, maybe Dwight Howard or Chris Paul? Howard wouldn't help things if they sign the same kind of players this year. Chris Paul will certainly help, but with if they sign someone who doesn't choose to pass to back him up, they're exactly in the same situation. Paul would have to play extended minutes and if he goes down with injury, it'll be a long tough road for the team. The problem with this team is the mindset of the players and if they want to win this year or next, they have to sign guys who compliment everyone over only signing the best available players at that time.
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