Is Dirk reinventing himself?
February 26, 2013 1 Comment
Dirk’s shooting numbers have been up-and-down all year, and his shot charts the past three games have been pretty revealing. He’s been hot from areas he historically hasn’t frequented and he’s been ice-cold from where he’s usually been money.
In the three games since the All-Star break, Dirk’s TS% has been above 61, much higher than his 53% mark this year. (The formula for TS% is: Points/(2*[FGA+.44*FTA]).) Ever since coming back from a knee injury that sidelined him for 27 games, Dirk has struggled to find his sweet spots, and his true shooting numbers reflect that. He’s spent most of his career operating at or below the elbows, mostly in isolation situations, but his recent production suggests that maybe Dirk is reinventing himself to fit in better with the team, and he’s achieving that with awesome success.
Dirk was 4-of-13 against Orlando, 10-of-17 against New Orleans and 11-of-19 against the Lakers. In those games, he was only 6-of-18 from below the elbow and outside the paint, which has historically been the area he’s most efficient. (See his shot chart on page 5.) Dirk’s percentages from the two areas he’s been most effective throughout his career (the left baseline and right elbow) in the last three games haven’t necessarily reflected his career totals, though. From the left corner he’s shot only 5-of-11 (skewed by a 4-of-5 performance against New Orleans) and from the right elbow he’s taken only two shots, making one, during that time frame. (He was a combined 1-of-4 from the two regions in the two games immediately before the All-Star break, despite shooting 14-of-23 overall).
Seems like Dirk’s staying away from the areas he’s usually been most comfortable and most successful during the best seasons of his career. It’s not completely unusual for a player to shake up his game every few years, especially when he switches teams, something that basically happened this season, as Dirk is playing with eight new guys this year, and each of those players has his own hot spot. Darren Collison, for example, shoots a ton of elbow jumpers off screens set by Dirk, Elton Brand or Bernard James. Vince Carter and OJ Mayo both handle the ball more often than, say, Jason Kidd or Jason Terry did last year, and each of them handle at either elbow plenty as well. This means Dirk’s had to find different spots to shoot from.
The area he’s shooting most from during the past few games is the top of the key, especially from beyond the 3-point line. When Dirk’s at his most comfortable, he looks for fast break opportunities to rip off a long 2 or a 3, and that’s reflected in the numbers. He’s 11-of-15 from straight away and beyond the free throw line in the past three games, also making 4 3-pointers in 6 attempts.
Other than simple fast break offense (where he usually runs up behind Vince Carter or Collison as a trailer before receiving the pass), Dirk’s engaging in a lot of pick-and-pop action in half-court sets, especially with Collison. As Collison dribbles toward the elbow, the direction in which Dirk used to roll when playing with Kidd or Terry, Dirk now hangs back and waits for a pass to shoot a jumper, not unlike what he used to run with Steve Nash early on in his career. Remember, Dirk didn’t develop a post game until Nash left for Phoenix, and by the time he met up with Kidd in 2008 Dirk had already reinvented himself for the second time. Now we might be witnessing his third reinvention, something that isn’t at all unusual among NBA players, especially the greats. (Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, for example, immediately come to mind. Johnson changed his game more than once during his career, evolving from a supporting guy with Kareem, to the main guy with Kareem, to the guy with no Kareem.)
I’m not arguing Dirk has suddenly lost the ability to shoot from the spots on the court he’s virtually owned for the past 10 years. Instead, maybe those areas aren’t as desirable or effective now that Dirk is essentially playing on a new team. If Dirk were suddenly traded to the Pistons, for example, he’d have to alter the way he plays. And as Dirk continues to age and slow down, maybe banging in the post and battling for position below the free throw line won’t be possible. It’s admittedly a very small sample size, but this version of Dirk, the transition 3-point threat and pick-and-pop maestro, might be the one we see for the rest of his career. There’s no shame in being a spot-up shooter who can also run out of the isolation instead of acting as an isolation guy who can also spot up.
And as we’ve seen during the past five games, Dirk’s been a monster.