Dirk Nowitzki has been dazzling in these playoffs in so many ways. Many of us would suggest that this is the best version of Nowitzki that many of us have ever seen, and that says something pretty substantial.
We often talk about how playoff basketball is different than the regular season, but what does that mean? Well, it means about 1,000 different things, but for a great scorer, it could mean that in games of great importance - against defenders who are far more determined and prepared (imagine the amount of preparation that goes into defending Dirk over a 7-game series versus a Tuesday in February) to deal with you.
Also, will that great scorer be even more determined and possessed to get better and better shots. To draw contact and get fouled and to make sure that the defenders are not dictating his game - rather, he is.
Dirk, in the 2011 Playoffs, has been a very determined scorer who at many different times, would not be denied.
In the regular season, for comparison's sake, Dirk took 1,179 shots in 73 games. This averaged out to 16.2 FGA per game and 6.1 FTA per game. Below, is his ADS and ADS+ (Average Distance Per Shot and Average Distance Per Shot weighted with Shooting Fouls):
That shows the average Dirk shot has been from 14+ feet away from the basket. He is an amazing shooter, so obviously this is not a bad thing, but almost 1200 shots and he was over 14 feet away.
In the playoffs, he has taken 256 shots in 14 games. This averages out to 18.3 FGA per game and 9.4 FTA per game. In those game, his ADS has dropped through the floor down to 11.5 and his ADS+ is under 10 at 9.7 per attempt in the Western Finals.
The numbers prove that even Dirk knows. A closer shot is always better. And drawing fouls is the best scenario for a number of reasons. 2 feet per shot over that big of a sample size is substantial. Here are the ADS numbers for each game so far in the playoffs:
The Portland series showed us that Dirk was not going to settle. In Game 5 in particular, he was not going to allow Portland to push him out to the perimeter after a Game 4 where he was dagger hunting from behind the stripe and it bit the entire team. His Game 6 was also fabulous by ADS standards. A very good start.
The Lakers had the defenders to deal with Dirk in the post over the course of the game. But, at crunch time, he still did some very heavy lifting although his averages are much higher in this series. I think you would look at the higher numbers in the Lakers series (although still lower than his regular season numbers) as "fishing where the fish are". He knew what the Lakers could handle and what they had no answer for and adjusted accordingly.
Then, in this Oklahoma City Western Conference Final, we are seeing some of his best work yet. His Game 2 - which some suggest he waited too long to take over - was unreal from an ADS standpoint because when he went to work in the 4th Quarter, it all ended up near the rim. Nick Collison does offer some resistance, but we see here that the Thunder do concede Dirk's ability to get shots wherever he wishes on the court. There are different levels of "unguardable" and with the Thunder, we have seen Dirk in the baseline post, high post, wing, and various other spots to counter what Scotty Brooks and the Thunder are trying to throw at him.
We can debate what the ADS numbers actually tell us when we compare team versus team and player versus player. There are certainly a number of variables that cannot be accounted for as is the case with almost all of the statistics in sports. But, I don't think there is much dispute that when used to compare a player against himself, it has very practical measurements about what kind of shot a player is capable of getting and what kind of shot he is getting today.
Dirk, who took 14 footers all season, is getting a full 2-feet closer on each shot in the playoffs. That is not a number that should be ignored.