In the midst of the decay of Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki has become the late 90s perimeter version of Tim Duncan: the elder statesman that ages, but evolves with something beyond grace, something both practical and creative. At age 37 and in his 18th season, Dirk isn’t so much reinventing his great game as re-purposing and fine tuning it.
Forever known as an all-time shooter, Dirk’s career averages are 51.4% eFG and 38.4% from three. Through 12 games in November of 2015-16, he’s scoffing at those numbers with a career-best 60.8% eFG and 53.3% from three. He’s taking less shots and getting to the line less than at any other point in his career, but at 37 the 9-5 surprise Mavs are happy to trade a bit of volume for unnatural efficiency.
Basketball-Reference stats as of 11.22
Bill Simmons of Bill Simmons fame created the 50-40-90 club as a statistical marker that takes into account quality shooting from three measures: FG% (50%), three-point accuracy (40%), and free throws (90%). Prior to this season, just eight players (including Dirk) had achieved the informal milestone: Kevin Durant, Steve Nash (four times), Jose Calderon, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, and Larry Bird. In early 2015-16, three players are trying to join that company: Utah’s Joe Ingles with his 13 minutes and three FGAs/game, Steph Curry and his transcendent season (51.5%, 44.1%, 93.8%), and a 37-year-old power forward named Dirk.
Where’s this coming from after a 2014-15 appeared to be the beginning of the inevitable downward slope of Nowitzki’s career? Last season his eFG and three-point shooting were both below career averages. The team as a whole struggled to find an identity after acquiring Rajon Rondo in December. Of their top-20 five-man lineups in 2014-15, Rondo appeared in just two of the top-ten based on point differential per 100 possessions. Four of the bottom-five lineups featured Rondo.
It’s not all about Rondo though as the Mavs made significant off-season changes including acquiring Deron Williams, Wes Matthews, and Zaza Pachulia (three of the top-four minutes/game players on the new roster). A healthy Ray Felton and Chandler Parsons are helping as well. To communicate the lack of continuity from last season, the guy who assisted most of Dirk’s baskets was Monta Ellis with 84 assists in 77 games in which Dirk appeared. He was just a hair over one assist-to-Dirk per game. In 2015-16, Deron Williams is already close to two assists/game to Dirk which is a decent indication Williams is adopting the Rick Carlisle offense in ways that Rondo didn’t and the Mavs are benefiting by getting the big man better looks.
Even though his three-point numbers are most staggering, it’s his work inside the arc that’s equally deadly. From three-to-16 feet, he’s getting over 35% of his total field goal attempts and from those spots he’s shooting either career-best (10-16ft) or near-best (3-10ft). These are remarkable stats of the Barry Bonds variety – as in, Hall-of-Fame player gets older and somehow keeps getting better, but Dirk’s head and neck haven’t grown in comical ways and in place of Balco it’s just his shooting coach Holger. Just your normal German tandem shot genius and savant pupil.
So while it’s easiest to compare Dirk to peers of his own age, comparing him to this season’s most dominant player does a better job of conveying how deadly he’s been. In terms of volume, Nowitzki at his finest couldn’t touch the Curry we’re seeing this year with his five threes made/game on nearly 12 attempts/night. Where a conversation can be had though is around accuracy. Anything that’s weighted towards threes rightly skews in Curry’s favor as he’s massacring our notions of what a volume three-point shooter looks like. For Dirk to be shooting 53% from deep while taking nearly four threes/game is unprecedented. No player in the league has ever hit two threes/game while shooting over 50%. With 68 games on deck, it’s entirely likely that a combination of opponent adjustments and wear and tear bring Dirk closer to his career averages, but at this snapshot in time he’s shot the ball as well as anyone in the league and done it at 37-years-old.
Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone have each had more prolific post-age 37 seasons than what Dirk’s doing this year. They shouldered great loads on good (or bad) teams, but with the exception of Kareem’s timelessness, Malone and Jordan rightly struggled to remain efficient as they aged. Nowitzki’s early season has the makings of a masterpiece. He doesn’t need to be compared to the senior division as he’s still good enough to compete seamlessly with world beaters ten years his junior. He’s truly a master of his craft in his execution and adaptation. His fadeaway and the high arc are romantically iconic. The sun’s going to set on him like it does all of us, but for now he’s traveling through space in a stasis of sorts where time doesn’t seem can’t seem to touch him.
Alright, today’s post is a consolidation of madnesses from Sunday and Monday; and make no mistake it has been mad; at least someone’s mad. We’ve witnessed referee’s being loosely assaulted, Caron Butler breaking his hand, an impossible 27-point comeback and Amar’s Stoudemire punching out a pane of glass and in the process shredding his hand. If you’re not getting kicked out of games or getting hurt, you’re not doing your part.
Utah at San Antonio, game one, Spurs won 106-91, lead 1-0: Tony Parker did that Tony Parker thing he does where he uses speed and timing to invade the opposition’s defense at will. That the Spurs now play to his strengths instead of Duncan’s is impressive and a credit to all parties involved. The Jazz took one of four games against the Spurs in the regular season and will be fortunate to do better in the playoffs.
Random fact: Gordon Hayward attempted a career-high twelve free throws in game one and hit all twelve.
Denver at Lakers, game one, Lakers won 103-88, lead 1-0: Andrew Bynum is big, tall, long, talented, occasionally immature and more. To the Nuggets, he was the boogeyman in the paint, a giant protecting his lair. Ten blocks in the playoffs? Tied Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton for most blocks in playoff game history? Yep, that’s Andy. While Dwight’s temporarily crippled by a herniated disc, Bynum looks like an invincible force doing battle with children.
Boston at Atlanta, game one, Hawks won 83-74, lead 1-0: It was yet another battle in years’ worth of battles for these two franchises. The Hawks overcame a historically dismal shooting performance from Joe Johnson (see random fact below) to control this game and hang on for the win. The story that ruled the day was Rajon Rondo’s little chest bump into the ref. The timing and reaction were both overboard and could result in Boston dropping into a 0-2 hole. With Ray Allen’s health in question, the momentum Boston had built in March and April is vanishing in acts of immaturity and inevitability.
Random fact: Joe Johnson joined three other players in playoff history in three-point shooting ignominy with his 0-9 performance. His fellow culprits: John Starks, Rashard Lewis and Derrick Rose.
Clippers at Memphis, game one, Clippers won 99-98, lead 1-0: Watching this game was like watching a movie where you expect one thing to happen, but then the director/writer throws a knuckleball that leaves you disoriented and questioning the events of the previous two hours. Did it add up? Was it believable? Did I enjoy being befuddled or did the director just play a joke on me? There wasn’t a script to Sunday night’s game unless the big director in the sky is a Nick Young fan. What happens from here is anyone’s guess, but I can confidently say the Memphis Collective (players, coaches, fans, employees) looked helplessly nauseous in that fourth quarter.
Random fact(s): Reggie Evans’s 13 rebounds in 21 minutes put him in rare company with five other prolific playoff rebounders who’ve grabbed at least 13 boards in 21 minutes or less: Danny Schayes (14 in 21), Kurt Rambis (14 in 21), Scot Pollard (14 in 21), Jeff Foster (13 in 21), Maurice Lucas (14 in 19).
New York at Miami, game two, Heat won 104-94, lead 2-0: Once again, anger steals the headlines. Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t take too well to the Knicks’ second straight loss in Miami and took it out on a pane of glass covering a fire extinguisher. David Aldridge proceeded to take the event far too seriously, treating it more like Stoudemire had severed his femoral artery and was at risk of bleeding out instead of addressing it for the loss of control that it was. All this really does it take away the focus from what was another strong Miami performance and further reinforced the fact that the Knicks are simply overmatched the way blind Chinese dissidents are powerless against their government … oh, wait.
Orlando at Indiana, game two, Pacers won 93-78, tied 1-1: This game is being relegated to the NBA TV slot which essentially makes it the least interesting series in the playoffs. Ratings considerations aside, Monday night’s game was the familiar storyline of a tale of two halves. After falling behind by two at the half and being firmly bullied, the Pacers responded appropriately with a 30-13 third quarter. I wish things were different, but I struggle to find intrigue in this series.
Random fact: The Pacers are 33-2 on the season when leading after three quarters.
Dallas at OKC, game two, OKC won 102-99, up 2-0: Combined score after two games 201 – 197. The Mavs have had their chances, but unlike last season when they couldn’t miss in crunch time, Dirk and Jason Terry have come up short two games in a row and are dangerously close to seeing their title defense end early. Being pushed to the brink is nothing new for this Dallas crew, but in small spaces of their group consciousness, questions are being asked. Notable observations:
I’m not a Brendan Haywood fan, but the more I see him, the more I feel Shaq was justified in referring to him as “Brenda.”
Does Billy Hunter watch NBA games and if so, does he openly cheer against Derek Fisher? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, last night had to be particularly bitter for him.
Random fact: Miniscule sample size for sure, but through two playoff games, Kevin Durant is shooting 34% from the field compared to 52% for Russell Westbrook.
And that concludes three days of playoff basketball. We’ve had anger, controversy, pain and loss. Negativity is the overwhelming theme and I look forward to exploring the more affirmative aspects of these games in the coming days.
It didn’t take long for the big red balloon of optimism to pop over the city of Chicago and rain down tears in the shapes of dripping red-hued question marks. All the finger pointing in the world (at Thibodeau, at the shortened season, at Derrick’s delicate 2012 body) won’t put Derrick’s ACL back together again, so let’s march on for a quick review of Saturday’s agonies and ecstasies:
Philly at Chicago, game one: The Bulls were their controlled, dominant selves with Rip Hamilton flashing and dashing off baseline screens and running Philly defenders ragged like it was 2004 all over again. If the Bulls, sans Rose, can somehow continue to score close to 100 points, this series won’t last long. They know how to behave with C.J. Watson at the helm and will continue to execute Thibodeau’s air tight game plans, but can Doug Collins’s squad find a way to step up their defense and put points on the board against a stubborn Bulls team? I don’t know, but I’m guessing Lavoy Allen is not the answer.
Random fact: Chicago was 22-0 when scoring 100 points or more this season.
New York at Miami, game one: 100 to 67? So much for the hype machine, Melo vs. Bron, Amar’e vs. Bosh, Shumpert vs. Wade (?) and New York’s three-point bombing bench. This was supposed to be the matchup we were all slobbering over, but instead game one had that dreamlike falling feeling, but we never woke up; or at least the Knicks didn’t wake up. Since no one really knows who the Knicks are (Knicks included), it’s impossible to imagine what we’ll get in the next three to six games, but my buddy Bug made a great, although mostly unrelated, point: Miami with Tyson Chandler instead of Chris Bosh would be a nightmare.
Random fact: Miami finished the regular season 18-0 when shooting over 50% as a team. Translation: LeBron and Dwyane: Don’t give into temptation, avoid the three.
Tragic ending: To Iman Shumpert’s season. Like Rose an hour or so before, the rookie who’d been somewhat prematurely anointed as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders (already?) tore his ACL as well.
Orlando at Indiana, game one: Here’s another one I caught on the highlight reel. The stories of this game: Danny Granger wet the bed, Roy Hibbert blocked nine shots (life’s a lot simpler when you get Big Baby instead of Dwight Howard) and Stan Van Gundy continues to build support in the ongoing Dwight vs. Stan feud.
Random fact: The Magic is 10-1 all-time when winning game one of a series.
Dallas at OKC, game one: The legend of Kevin Durant continues to grow. He got a true shooter’s bounce to win the game for OKC and send the bench and hometown fans in euphoria. Even though some of the names and faces have changed and James Harden’s beard takes up a little more mass, it felt like carryover from last year’s Western Conference Finals—minus Dirk being perpetually en fuego.
Rejected!: OKC led the league in blocks per game and their 8.2bpg is the fifth most per-game total in league history. They tallied eleven blocks on Saturday.
Sunday’s games added more piss and vinegar to the mix (we see you, Rajon). I’ll be back here tomorrow with another recap. And in the meantime, leave us all to ponder if anyone plays with a Marc Gasolian zeal for the game. It’s like he took all that energy his brother has channeled into primordial roars and re-directed it to positivity and an acknowledgement that he’s paid to play basketball for a living.