Jason’s record on his early NBA picks for 2013-14, up to January 2 inclusive:
Everyone loves it when the old guys fight off Father Time. Tim Duncan did it last year for the San Antonio Spurs; now it’s Dirk Nowitzki’s turn. The 35-year-old power forward is having his best season since 2009-10, and his Dallas Mavericks (19-14 SU, 18-14 ATS) are holding steady in the very tough Western Conference. Not bad for a team that was projected to miss the playoffs this year.
The Mavs aren’t out of the woods yet. Nowitzki turned his ankle in Wednesday’s 87-78 victory over the Washington Wizards (–2 at home), and although he was able to stay in the game, Nowitzki ended the night shooting just 3-of-14 for nine points. That probably won’t be good enough against the Los Angeles Clippers (22-12 SU, 20-14 ATS) on Friday night. Our early NBA betting lines have L.A. favored by 1.5 points on the road with a total of 204.5.
The Rebirth of Disco
It’s tough to be productive in the NBA at age 35, especially when you’re a big man. But Nowitzki, much like Duncan, plays a style that allows him to age gracefully. These guys aren’t banging bodies down low; for Nowitzki, it’s all about that sweet stroke and his tremendous handle. Disco Dirk can light it up from just about anywhere, and at seven feet tall, he’s a matchup nightmare for opponents.
You can see the gradual decline in Nowitzki’s Player Efficiency Rating since he was named league MVP in 2007. We’ll skip a few years for brevity’s sake:
2006-07: 27.6 PER
2007-08: 24.6 PER
2011-12: 21.7 PER
2012-13: 19.8 PER
For those of you new to PER, it’s an advanced metric devised by John Hollinger, who is now living the dream as the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies. PER doesn’t measure defense well, but it’s still a very useful and quick way to get a handle on a player’s productivity. The indexed league average is 15; a 20 PER is worthy of borderline All-Star consideration, and Nowitzki did indeed miss the All-Star Game last year for the first time since 2001. Sitting out the first 27 games of the season with a knee injury didn’t help his cause.
So what accounts for Nowitzki’s renaissance? Health is important, but just like Duncan had an improved supporting cast last year, Nowitzki has been revitalized by the arrival of PG Jose Calderon (16.0 PER) and SG Monta Ellis (17.9 PER) in the backcourt, and centers DeJuan Blair (18.8 PER) and Samuel Dalembert (15.7 PER) in the frontcourt. These piecemeal additions made it look like Dallas was simply marking time during the offseason, but that’s only made it easier for the Mavericks to beat the NBA odds.
With Nowitzki tweaking his ankle early in the game against Washington, Ellis put the team on his back, scoring 23 points and committing just one turnover. That was against the No. 14-ranked defense in the NBA (102.7 points allowed per 100 possessions); the Clippers are No. 7 in defensive efficiency (100.1 points allowed/100) as we go to press, and their perimeter is loaded with quality defenders.
SF Jared Dudley (9.1 PER) has historically been one of those players, but he’s struggled the past couple of years, and wing play is one of the few weaknesses the Clippers have shown this season. Which made it all the more interesting when Dudley lit up the defensively stout Charlotte Bobcats (+10.5 away) for 20 points – including 6-of-9 from downtown – in a 112-85 victory to tip off the New Year. Maybe we’re about to witness another renaissance. We'll put our money on the Clippers scoring high, and holding down the Mavs for our NBA pick.
NBA Pick: Take the Clippers -1 (–110) at BetCRIS