Dirk Nowitzki is an MVP, champion, and perennial All-Star. He’s soon to be the No. 6 scorer in NBA history, and the only question in play regarding his post-career is where he’ll be seen first: at the Hall of Fame in Springfield or as a statue outside American Airlines Center.
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Those qualities all pertain to his legacy. But one of the defining elements of Nowitzki’s pro career is his ability and willingness to adapt to new coaches, new systems, and a new style of play over time. Since he’s come in the league, the hand-check was eliminated, the three-point shot became the key to offense, and isolation play has waned. Throughout all of it, Dirk’s remained one of the most efficient players in the league.
Stats only tell part of the story, though. The best way to communicate information is visually, and thankfully there are options out there to make it happen. One of the newer visualization programs out there is StatMuse, an engine that’s far, far more than just a shot chart site. For example, you can find out in about five seconds all of LeBron James’ stats on Wednesday games, you can see how many triple-doubles Kobe Bryant has had (and his averages in those games), and you can find out Bill Russell’s career record in Game Sevens — all by typing in a request in the search bar, like you would on Google.
But the man we care most about is Nowitzki, obviously. It’s #DirkWeek, after all. So I wanted to do a couple fun searches to see what Dirk’s shot chart has looked like over the course of his career, both yearly and cumulatively. First, here’s Nowitzki’s season-by-season shot chart, starting with his rookie campaign in 1999. (Note: Dark blue is better than light blue.)
Click and drag along the top bar to change the season range. You can also hover over each area of the floor to see how his numbers compare against the rest of the league.
You can clearly see how his game changed from when Don Nelson coached him, to when Avery Johnson coached him, to when Rick Carlisle stepped into the role. Also, as the German’s career has unfolded since winning the championship, he’s taken more three-pointers than he did when he was in his physical prime. Still, he’s remained an above-average shooter from just about every spot on the floor for as long as he’s been in the NBA.
Here’s his cumulative shot chart, meaning that as the years go by, his shots stack up on top of each other to give you the big picture of his efficiency for his entire career. Toward the middle, you’ll see his mid-range shots explode — that’s when Johnson and Carlisle had him both facing up and posting up while he was the unquestioned king of the power forward spot.
It’s remarkable to see how, as his career has gone on, every spot seems to get darker and darker, indicating he’s grown more efficient from every spot on the floor. Also noteworthy is how perfectly symmetrical his shot chart is. Early in the Nellie years, Nowitzki shot a lot from the right side of the floor, but as he entered his prime he added a reliable post-up game on the left side to become a nearly unstoppable offensive force.
You don’t see many players not only add various elements to their game, but also improve on what’s already worked for them — especially over the course of 18 seasons. There has never been a player quite like Nowitzki before, and I’m not sure when another one like him might come along. He’s had a career pattern that will be tough to match.