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May 26, 2011
Special Scorer
Nowitzki's Playoffs

by Dan Feldman

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Dirk Nowitzki has never looked better. The Dallas forward's primary skill is scoring, and he's doing it better than anyone else in this year's playoffs. The reasons are relatively straight forward:

Shot making and shot selection.

Let's start with shot making. Based on regular-season shooting percentages from each of the locations HoopData tracks and the number attempts Dirk has made from each location in the playoffs, he's scored almost as much from the field as expected. In the playoffs, defenses tighten. Lately, that's meant effective field-goal percentage drops. So, even if Dirk doesn't score as much from the field as expected, coming close is impressive.

None of the top-end scorers who reached the conference finals can say they've done that.

Player Points from the field Expected points from the field Difference
Dirk Nowitzki 296 298 -2
Kevin Durant 347 363 -16
Dwyane Wade 238 256 -18
LeBron James 264 282 -18
Russell Westbrook 284 308 -24
Derrick Rose 303 338 -35

Of those six players, none of their offenses has migrated closer to the hoop in the playoffs from the regular season that Dirk's. He's still a jump shooter, but he's taking fewer long twos and threes.

Here's the change, in percentage points, in percentage of total attempts at the rim and inside 16 feet in the playoffs from the regular season:

Player At rim Inside 16 feet
Dirk Nowitzki 4.53 13.83
Kevin Durant 2.27 4.01
Derrick Rose -0.15 0.08
LeBron James -2.90 -2.22
Dwyane Wade -4.88 1.23
Russell Westbrook -4.97 -5.58

Dirk operating closer to the basket has led to more free throws. Here's the FTA/FGA change for each player. Notice how the order of this chart resembles the order of the previous chart.

To top it all off, Dirk's free throw percentage has risen from 89.2 in the regular season to 92.9 in his 15 playoff games. That just comes with the territory for a shooter like Dirk. In the regular season, he had 12 15-game stretches with a higher free-throw percentage. Maybe it's lucky timing that it's happening again in the playoffs. Or, especially given Mark Cuban's belief in acquiring players who perform better in clutch situations, maybe Nowitzki is rising to the occasion. Either way, he's excelling from the charity stripe.

Add it all together--expert shot making, smart shot selection and a well-timed hot streak from the free-throw line--Nowitzki is scoring at a legendary clip.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Playoff Prospectus (05/26)
Next Article >>
Premium Article Finals (05/27)

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