Dirk Nowitzki became the highest-scoring international player in NBA history on Tuesday night, passing Hakeem Olajuwon.
Here’s how he described the “Dirk Shot:”
“I came up with a shot where I just have to basically lean back, don’t be athletic at all and just hoist it up.”
“I came up with my own ‘Dream Shake’ I guess — the white version.”
Nowitzki is being humble, of course, because his patented step-back jumper — where he leans back at a steep angle, jumps off one foot, and shoots over a defender — is one of the most difficult, unguardable shots in the NBA. Other NBA players have tried to master it, but no one does it as good as Dirk.
He told the Star-Telegram earlier in the year that he invented the shot because he couldn’t create a traditional shot off the dribble:
“I was never the fastest guy beating somebody off the dribble, so I had to come up with something to create a little separation. The step-back is a good way of just creating a little separation and still get the shot over them.
“I’m 7 feet [tall] and there’s really not a lot of guys I can’t shoot over. So by creating a little separation usually they can’t get to it, and that’s how it started.”
The separation Nowitzki creates is key for the shot. ESPN’s Sports Science did a feature on the shot and concluded that Nowitzki leans back at about a 20-degree angle while also hoisting his right leg. Combined, it creates almost three feet of separation between him and his defender.
LaMarcus Aldridge (getting schooled by Dirk above) commented on the shot, “When he shoots it, he’s leaning back so far that you can’t block it.”
Lamar Odom similarly said, “He’s so good… As soon as he gives you that hard dribble, he gets you kind of leaning one way, and then he just steps back.”
Nowitzki says he started using the shot more and more as he got older, and it has paid off.
Former teammate Tyson Chandler recalled his first stint with the Mavericks and seeing Nowitzki constantly working in the gym:
“You know, when I first got here, I remember coming back late at night to try to get a lift in or work on free throws and this and that. And every single time that I got there he was there, putting up shot after shot after shot. And it just shows that, you know, he is never going to settle, he doesn’t want to settle, he only wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes.”
The consistency of the shot is insane. Nowitzki’s form is established and he shoots it the same way every time.
He also makes life easier on himself by taking it from close range. According to NBA.com/Stats, Nowitzki is 8-for-10 on fadeaway jumpers this season, and almost 60% of his shots have come from midrange, where he’s hit 57% of his attempts. Last season, Nowitzki’s volume of fadeaway jumpers was far higher and far more accurate than the rest of the league’s best scorers.
The shot is so tough and unguardable that players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony have all emulated the one-legged step-back. James told the Sun Sentinel in 2011 that Nowitzki’s patented jumper is the second-most unguardable shot in the sport of basketball, behind only thy sky hook.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle nicely described the impact of Dirk’s shot and its legacy:
“Now, big guys that can’t shoot really are of minute value. Power forwards that can’t shoot really hold a marginalized value. Dirk’s one of the all-time greats. He’s a pioneer because there’s no seven-footer that’s ever transformed the game the way he has. He’s why the league has made the term, stretch four.”
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