The Dallas Mavericks' iconic Dirk Nowitzki is 13th in NBA history in scoring and is 35 years old.
Yes, we're aware of Charles Barkley's haunting, "Father Time, bro'' remark. So, fine. How much time does Dirk have to ... get how high Dirk can get?
DB.com reader and Mavs season-ticket-holder Darren E. Squires helps us with the charts and graphs and guesstimates ...
Dirk is currently averaging 21.6 points per game through 28 games. With 54 games left this season, if he keeps on his present pace, that’s an additional 1,166 points that would put his end-of-2014 total to 26,822.
At that rate, we will watch Dirk pass John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and Oscar Robertson and we will see him poised just 124 points shy of Hakeem Olajuwon in ninth place. Dirk will also be only 587 points behind Moses Malone for seventh at the end of this year and 1,774 points behind sixth-place Shaq.
Our calculations tell us that Dirk would only need to average 11 points a game for the ensuing two years to pass Shaq.
First, let's all agree with Toronto coach Dwane Casey, who said, "I haven’t seen any signs of decline whatsoever from him. He’s still one of the elite players in our league."
Now, what happens as Dirk slows down a bit, in a customary-but-competitive manner? Say, to being an 18-points-per-game guy, and then a 16-points-per-game guy?
If Nowitzki stays healthy and productive and wants to keep playing -- and we're quite certain he will re-up as a free agent this summer and hopefully play at least two more seasons -- it is quite perobable he ends up in the top six scorers of all-time. (It will be interesting to see how Kobe does after this second injury, as he, of course, will remain active and climbing as well.)
“I prepare a lot, I do a lot of stuff outside now to be ready when the ball goes up, and I lift a lot and do some cardio and try to stay ready,” said Dirk, explaining how in his 16th NBA season he remains a force. “Hopefully I can ride it out a couple more years and then slowly fade away.”
So what can we reasonably expect after this year?
That's 31,250 points. That's Wilt. That's Kobe. That's almost Jordan. Bur wait: There's a reason that's not quite "reasonable.'' ... which we'll get to in a moment.
In looking at Dirk's numbers, the decline in scoring is more about his minutes than his productivity. Coach Rick Carlisle has consciously reduced his minutes the last several years; however, as a scorer he continues to be very efficient for the minutes he plays.
Last year, with the knee injury, there was a drop in productivity, but Dirk has bounced back and on a points-per-minutes-played basis, he is not showing any significant drop and is still above his career average.
Looking at his line of stats, really the only drop-off has been his rebounding. This year, Dirk's assist, steals, and all of his shooting percentages are above his career averages. Again, no real sign of decline.
Shooting percentages over the years? No real decline:
We concede there is a fatal flaw in our calculations here. Well, not "fatal''; but it's an "injured flaw'' in the sense that we're basing Dirk's future production on 82-game seasons and we acknowledge that it's essentially impossible to expect such a thing.
Injuries. Rest. Oh, and the dreaded possibility that Dallas is less competitive than Nowitzki hopes for in his twilight years ... so he lets his twilight year come sooner than we can figure here. To get to 31,000 in three seasons after this one would take extraordinarily good health and good fortune. So let's peel it back.
How about, considering the occasional game off over the course of this year and three more, 30,000 as a worthy goal? Then Dirk is not quite Wilt and he's not quite Kobe ... but he's top-six, so he's Shaq and he's Moses.
Whatever the final tally, what we're witnessing is a 35-year-old superstar whose scoring numbers (and most other numbers) aren't showing signs of succumbing greatly to "Father Time, bro.'' And we're seeing numbers that have a chance to be so impressive that when the decline does inevitably come, Dirk lands comfortably among the top six scoring legends of the sport.
The other day, Carlisle said, "He's The Great Dirk Nowitzki. He’s the franchise. He really is. He’s the franchise player."
That seems like the highest possible praise, and yet ... given the numbers, it might actually end up being an understatement.
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