In Search Of The Dirk 3 For Mavs' Game 7
During this Dallas Mavericks season, Dirk Nowitzki attempted more three pointers than he had in any season in the past 10 years. Over the course of his career Nowitzki's game evolved in a way that saw him being much more selective with his three-point shooting while he developed a more versatile repertoire of offensive moves allowing him more high-percentage shots.
So the trey faded ... for a while.
In 2013-2014 Nowitzi increased the volume of his three-point shooting, more specifically the trailing three-pointer in semi-transition. Part of this development may be due to another natural evolution in his game as he has adjusted to the slow decline of athleticism that comes with being an over-35 power forward. It may also have to do with the personnel of this year's team. Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Devin Harris are both excellent at running the fast break and keenly aware of Nowitzi's presence trailing a play.
However, that three-point threat had been nearly non-existent through the bulk of this best-of-7 Round 1 series, which goes to San Antonio for a dramatic 2:30 p.m. Game 7 tip.
During the regular season, Nowitzki attempted 4.1 three-pointers per game. In Games 1 through 5 against the Spurs he attempted just seven three-pointers total and made only one of those attempts (a transition 3 in the Mavs' Game 2 victory).
In the Mavs' Game 6 win (detailed here with our Video Visits)? Dirk scored 22 ... and he shot a trio of treys ... and he missed them all.
So ... Dirk is 1-of-10 from the arc in this series. That's 10 percent shooting and not enough shots.
This is a significant change in shot selection and while six games might be considered a small sample size, it's enough to be considered a trend. And hey, a series is a mini-season. Six games is suddenly a lot.
Here's Dirk's Video Visit from after Game 6 in which he says, "Everything that happened before goes out the window. Nothing matters anymore but this one game ...''
Dirk, of course, is talking about Game 7. But in another context, everything that happened before does matter. ... as it relates to getting another 20-plus out of Dirk.
I had actually expected Nowitzki's high volume three-point shooting to continue or perhaps even increase prior to this series because I thought that Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan were bound to lose him coming up the floor, forgetting to come up and defend and instead waiting for him closer to the basket. This has not been the case and perhaps I was just naïve in thinking that a Greg Popovich-coached team would have not been constantly reminded to pick up Nowitzki at half court.
But that's exactly what Splitter, Duncan and Boris Diaw have done on most possessions. They don't lose Dirk.
Defensive awareness isn't the only reason for less long-distance attempts by Nowitzki. Popovich isn't the first coach to realize Dirk is one of the best three-point shooters on the planet.
Another reason is increased three-point attempts by other Mavericks. Ellis has upped his three-point attempts in the postseason. During the regular season Ellis attempted just 2.5 three-pointers per game. In the first five games of the series, he attempted 4.4 per game, a significant increase. And on Friday he shot six more -- but made three of them.
Ellis is a capable three-point shooter and after his 29-point outburst in Game 6, he's the wrong guy to criticize. But considering his driving ability -- very much on display Friday -- the three-point shot is one that they would like Ellis to limit, especially off the dribble.
Shawn Marion had also gone from 2.1 attempts per game to 3.2 attempts per game through the first five games (and shot and missed one more on Friday). In fact, Ellis, Marion, Calderon and Carter have all attempted more three-pointers than Nowitzki in the postseason. These shots are all OK in the flow of the game, but ultimately the more three-pointers they take the fewer Nowitzki will end up taking. The floor has to be spread for Nowitzki to get an open look and three-pointers by any Maverick are only really good shots when they are the product of good ball movement.
None of this is to say that Nowitzki's decrease in three-point shooting is the reason for his offensive struggles prior to the fourth quarter of Game 5. It's certainly not that simple -- and indeed, Dirk has now scored 20-plus in back-to-back games. However, the absence of the Nowitzki trailing three has taken away a crucial ‘back-pocket' weapon from the Mavericks' arsenal.
Along came Game 6. Again, Nowitzki missed all three of his shots from behind the arc in the Mavericks' 113-111 victory.
Yet there's something of note about those three misses: they were all good looks.
In the second and third quarter, Nowitzki got open looks at the top of the key from behind the arc. While neither shot fell they were both signature shots within the Mavericks' offense and prior to game six that look had primarily been taken away. In the fourth quarter he missed an open look from the left corner.
Most notably was an open look that Nowitzki decided not to take. In the second quarter he got the ball at the top of the key with an opportunity to launch a three. As the Spurs' defense scrambled to try to contest the shot he launched a pass to a wide-open Marion under the basket. That play was an example of the threat that that shot presents to defenses. The sweetest-shooting 7-footer in the history of basketball with the potential to shoot a straightaway three is a nightmare for a defense.
In a high-scoring, fast-paced Game 6 that featured Ellis at his most effective, it might seem odd to point to three "random'' misses and one Nowitzki assist as a point of interest. However, those moments were important because they came in the flow of the offense and they cause the defense to scramble. The fact that Nowitzki missed those shots is less significant than the fact that those shots were taken away -- or not taken at all -- prior to Game 6.
If those shots are once again made available in the flow of the offense in Game 7 -- and if Dirk desires his precious "air space'' -- hey, it's out there. The law of averages, "The Due Theory,'' would suggest that Nowitzki will make them, meaning we might get a chance to celebrate seeing a vintage Dirk in the biggest game of the 2013-2014 season.
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