Mavs’ Dirk adds more savvy to his game
Make no mistake, while Jason Kidd is assuredly one of the
most magnificent facilitators the NBA has ever known, this game and
this Dallas team belongs to Dirk Nowitzki. However, in his 12th NBA
season, Nowitzki conducts his on-court business in a vastly
different fashion than he used to do.
Whereas he once ran through a ball game like his pants were
on fire, jumped to touch the moon, looked to dunk on every drive
and dribbled freely from end-to-end, his game has slowed
Against the Thunder, only two of his 18 shots were put up in
the shadow of the basket — a two-dribble lefty drive from the
foul line and a baseline-spin from the right box. His other 11
makes were assorted jumpers — two treys, plus a wide variety
of step-backs, turn-arounds, face-ups and catch-and-shoots. Instead
of speed, quickness and untamed talent, Nowitzki now relies on all
kinds of head-, ball- and/or shoulder-fakes to create optimal
angles for his various jumpers.
No more rash dashes and wild assaults on the rim. No more
forced shots and passing fancies. Instead of showcasing his game
from baseline to baseline, with the ball in hand, Nowitzki’s
sphere of influence now has a three-foot radius.
Once he was a play-buster, but as a wizened veteran, he
executes Rick Carlisle’s offensive to perfection. He’ll
set two screens, then use another screen to pop to the top for a
catch-and-shoot. He’ll also screen and fade, muscle for
position in the low post, come to the ball off a down-screen in the
lane and/or take full advantage of every forced switch with a
And when the Mavs absolutely need a score, Nowitzki will
work his way through several maneuvers and wind up with the ball in
a foul-line iso. From there, any attempt to double-team him is
extremely dangerous since he can make easy passes to open teammates
on either wing. But except for two or three sequences against the
Thunder’s rather lax defense, Nowitzki prefaced each shot
with some manner of convincing fake that not even the most
disciplined defender can resist.
Speed and youthful exuberance have been supplanted by
cunning and deceit. Through it all, though, his jump shooting
It’s on the defensive end, however, in which
Nowitzki’s diminished quickness is most noticeable. On five
separate occasions, he was slow to make contact with his man as the
Thunder launched shots. This failure to box out enabled Oklahoma
City to score eight extra points. In addition, Nowitzki was slow
off his feet — of his 11 total rebounds, six were totally
uncontested, and only two were captured in the middle of a hostile
Notice, too, that his per-game rebound average has been
lower in each of the last five seasons.
Worse still, on a jump-ball versus Nenad Krstic, Nowitzki
remained floor-bound even as the Thunder’s center tipped the
ball to a white-jerseyed teammate.
At the same time, the experience he’s gained after
playing in 962 NBA games (counting both the regular season and the
playoffs) enable Nowitzki to anticipate instead of reacting on
defense — hence, his two steals and one blocked shot against
OKC. Aside from Nowitzki, Dallas doesn’t have any abundance
of players who can consistently create their own shots. Of the
starters, J. J. Berea is too short to be a reliable self-creator.
J-Kidd’s lost step has mostly reduced his offense to
three-balls. Shawn Marion’s individual moves are predictable.
Erick Dampier has no discernable moves.
Off the bench, Jason Terry is strictly a spot- and pull-up
shooter. Drew Gooden is ordinary. And Josh Howard is wild and
Except for Nowitzki’s iso — 14 of these in the
game at hand, good for 19 of his 35 total points — the
Mavs’ half-court offense mostly relies on high screens,
staggered screens, weak-side screens and handoffs to induce either
mismatches or missed defensive assignments. And this is where
J-Kidd excels. Indeed, the offensive sets tend to stagnate when
he’s taking a blow.
What else is new?
Finally, there’s a big D in Dallas. It was the
Mavs’ coordinated, quick-footed doubling of Kevin Durant
— and post-doubling recoveries — that ultimately won
And what’s old?
The fading memory of Nowitzki’s bogus MVP award in
2007 — an award announced even as the top-seeded Mavs were
upended by the bottom-seeded Warriors in the opening round of the
playoffs. A dreadful series wherein Nowitzki averaged a mere 19.7
points per game, shot 21.1 percent from downtown and 38.3 percent
However, unless the Mavs advance — at the very least
— to the conference finals, that memory will no doubt live
So, for the new Nowitzki and his rapidly aging Mav-mates,
this season could easily be their last chance for glory.
These guys are paid millions of dollars to play basketball
and they are, presumably, among the very best athletes in the
world. Yet their respective performances at the foul line are
Josh Boone – 30.0%
DeAndre Jordan – 34.6%
Kwame Brown – 41.5%
Hasheem Thabeet – 42.1%
Shaquille O’Neal – 45.1%
Chuck Hayes – 45.5%
Kyrylo Fesenko – 47.4%
Omri Casspi – 48.1%
Rajon Rondo – 52.1%
Lamar Odom – 53.5%
Ben Wallace – 53.7%
Dwight Howard – 58.4%
But there’s hope for all of them in a tried and true
technique that takes only about 10 minutes to master —
shooting free throws with a two-handed underhand motion.
Is it too old-fashioned for today’s flashy, hyped-up
Not any more old-fashioned than screen-and-rolls,
give-and-goes, back-door cuts, lob passes, boxing out and so on.
Would the players be too embarrassed to shoot this way?
Not any more embarrassed than missing a pair of free throws
and therefore, transforming a seemingly advantageous foul on the
defense into what is essentially a turnover.
Not any more embarrassed than not being permitted to touch
the ball, or even be forced to the bench, in clutch situations.
Rick Barry wasn’t at all embarrassed to shoot this way.
All he did was to lead the NBA in scoring (35.6 ppg in 1967), lead
Golden State to a championship (1975), make the All-NBA First Team
several times (1966-7, 1974-76), get voted into the Hall of Fame
(1987) and get named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA
History (1996). By the way, his lifetime mark at the stripe was
The point being that if shooting underhand free throws was
good enough for Barry, it should be good enough for Shaq, Howard,
In truth, shooting underhanded is comfortable, easily learned
and incredibly effective. The drop-and-flip shot release insures a
“soft” ball that turns virtually every near-miss into a
Within one week, each and every convert to this technique
would see his free-throw accuracy increase by at least 20 percent.
Can you honestly say that J.J. Redick has a higher
basketball IQ than Kobe?
Ronel Baldizon, Lake Forest, CA
Absolutely. And here’s why:
Kobe habitually makes bad decisions on defense — mostly
abandoning any personal responsibility for the player he’s
supposed to be guarding in order to follow the bouncing ball. This
frequently creates serious imbalances in the Lakers’ team
defense, resulting in open shots and in fouls on teammates who must
scramble to compensate for Kobe’s misadventures.
The easy points scored by opponents greatly outnumber
Kobe’s occasional steals and blocks.
On offense, Kobe is guilty of taking too many too-quick
perimeter shots, and conversely of disrupting the flow by massaging
the ball at inopportune times.
For sure, Kobe is the best player in the league, but
he’d be even better if he made a more sincere commitment to
the Lakers’ game plan.
Redick, on the other hand, is certainly not one of the
league’s best players. In fact, his relatively inferior
athleticism would ordinarily disqualify him from even being in the
Even so, Redick has become a valuable player on the basis of
two qualifications: His unerring jumper and his understanding of
Indeed, Redick’s apprenticeship lasted for three
seasons, during which he slowly but surely learned his lessons.
Watch both of these guys play. Notice how often Kobe’s
incredible skills overcome his mistakes.
Notice how Redick never tries to do something that he
can’t do well. And notice how rarely he makes errors of
position and timing.
This is certainly not to say that Redick is anywhere close to
Kobe in any other possible category. But sometimes intelligence is
just as vital as sheer will power.
TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY
While I can certainly understand Rick Adelman being upset at
the NBA’s “ridiculous” scheduling that has his
team playing four back-to-back dates in the next few weeks, I
don’t feel any sympathy for him.
That’s because the CBA often booked teams for three
games in three nights in three different cities. And most of those
trips involved two or three connecting flights.
In addition, coaches and players had to catch cheapo 6 a.m.
flights, undergo a long and tedious public check-in process,
squeeze into coach seats and eat fast-food airport meals on the
After reaching our destination, the home team would hopefully
have a van waiting that the coach (or rarely a resident team
flunky) would drive to the motel. About 25 percent of the time,
however, the promised vehicle would be missing and the visiting
coach would have to spend at least 30 minutes on the phone trying
to discover what was what. Then, upon arriving at our motel,
we’d usually lack the available site, the time and/or the
energy to have any kind of pre-game practice.
Since most CBA franchises were appropriately located in
minor-league towns, for our post-game meals we’d normally
have to settle for having pizzas delivered to our rooms.
And it was literally impossible to win 3-of-3 in these
Compare these ordeals to the pampered way in which NBA teams
When on the road, they pack their luggage and leave it
outside their doors. The next time they see their various suitcases
and garment bags will be when they enter their hotel rooms in their
next destination. No schlepping, and no airport check-ins
Of course, all NBA teams charter jets that come and go at the
team’s convenience and also come equipped with extra-large
swivel seats, fancy buffet meals and video screens to re-watch the
game just played.
So, while Adelman’s complaints are justified and do put
his team at a certain disadvantage, I know plenty of ex-CBA
players, coaches and even many more civilians who wouldn’t
mind getting NBA money for traveling like royalty and working for
two hours two nights in succession.
Adelman is advised to get as much rest as he can, eat well
and play his bench.
After all, oftentimes the difference between the sublime and
the ridiculous is in the eyes of the beholder.