1. Dirk’s own words of what allowed him to make the top 10 of NBA scoring.
The main story of tonight’s game is Dirk Nowitzki’s ascendance into the top 10 of the NBA’s all-time scoring list, and fairly so. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and really reflects just how impactful Dirk has been over his career. It was an occasion for Dirk to be reflective on how he got this far, and he said some really interesting things.
“[It's] amazing. Talking to [Oscar Robertson] is unreal. It’s been a crazy ride, passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous1 seasons. It’s unbelievable. It kind of feels surreal, still. Like I always say, that stuff will mean more to me once my career is over, but this is a sweet one. Top 10 is definitely unbelievable.”
“You want to say that you knew from day one what was going to happen, but that would be a lie. My first year was really tough. I stated that numerous times. The lockout year, and I had a concave chest and guys were just pushing me around. I had to get stronger and keep working on my game. I think what helped me in my first year, the end, we were out of the playoffs and Nellie (Don Nelson) kind of threw me back in there and said, ‘Hey, just get better, work on your game.’ I think that was huge for my confidence and then coming back for my second year, I got a little lucky. For us, it was unlucky. But Gary Trent got hurt and then I was really the only four-man we had on the roster and that meant I played like 40 minutes a night. That was a huge step for me confidence-wise and since then, I’ve been just rolling, trying to get better from year-to-year.”
It’s wildly unfair to compare any player to Dirk Nowitzki, indeed, you can say that only 9 players in the history of the NBA do compare. But from a Jazz perspective, it’s interesting to hear him assert that the opportunities he received in his first two years had a large influence on his development to become an all-time great. 2
The 1998-99 Mavs were out of the playoff contention for the final two months of the lockout season. Dirk Nowitzki was a shooting PF that had made just 36.6% of his FGs and 18.6% of his 3PA in 15 MPG of his first 33 games. This was the sample that Nelson had to work with before deciding to start him for the final 14 games. But Nelson gave Dirk an opportunity. As Dirk says above, “I think that was huge for my confidence.” In the 14 games after Nelson started him, he shot 45% on FGs and a better, but still bad 24% on 3Ps in 33 MPG. He finished the season with a 12.8 PER.
In season two, Nelson started Dirk in 81 of 82 games, playing him 35.8 minutes per night on a team that really didn’t have other PF options.3 Dirk delivered, though. He became a far better shooter than in the previous season, raising his percentage significantly from inside the arc, outside the arc, and at the line. He finished that season with a 17.6 PER. Again, Dirk says “That was a huge step for me confidence-wise.”
In season three, Dirk made a second leap (though this time largely in rebounding), putting up a 22.8 PER in 38 MPG. After these first three years, he continued to improve throughout his career, but incrementally.
It’s hard for this cold analytics guy to admit, but maybe it’s all about confidence. It’s clear that Dirk made the leaps in his game during the summer4, but he points repeatedly to the confidence given to him by the playing time he received early in his career as important in becoming who he is today. Perhaps his confidence, gained with playing time, led him to work harder in the offseason.
As I said earlier, the Jazz young players weren’t ever going to become Dirk. But maybe they could use some confidence leading into a very important summer for their overall development. The Jazz do have some hope: it may turn out the important timeframe to consider when analyzing player development is not seasons, but age. In that case, the Jazz would still be in a good position: Favors, in his fourth year, is younger than Nowitzki was in his third, and Enes is about the same age now as Dirk was in his second year.
2. Jeremy Evans’ artwork was displayed at EnergySolutions Arena. There’s no database containing information regarding a current NBA player’s artwork being shown for public consumption, but I have to believe that Jeremy Evans’ gallery at EnergySolutions Arena was a unique occurrence. Below are some examples of Jeremy’s work shown tonight and elsewhere.
Jeremy’s artwork is really impressive in person: he’s clearly actually good, not just NBA player good. Perhaps most interesting is how his talent stretches across multiple mediums, quite the accomplishment for someone who also has a full-time “getting better at basketball” job.
3. One high note and one low note on Enes Kanter.
I’ll start with the good. Enes Kanter recorded his season-high in rebounds today, garnering 19 total, including 9 valuable offensive rebounds in just 28 minutes of play. SportVu indicates that he had 21 rebound chances tonight 5, so it’s impressive to see him accumulate over 90% of those opportunities6. We’ve talked about Kanter’s declining rebounding earlier this season, so it’s good to see him get back to what was called his “NBA skill” in his rookie year.
On the other hand, there’s some worrying longer-term statistical evidence that Enes Kanter has a negative influence on his team’s offense when in game. Jeremias Englemann, the man behind ESPN.com’s new Real Plus-Minus numbers, recently released a new statistic indicating how much impact a player has on his team’s PPS when in the game. 7 Enes Kanter ranks very last in the entire NBA in this stat with a -3.0. This means his teammates’ PPS goes down by 3 points per 100 possessions when he’s in the game; the Jazz get lower quality shots when Enes is on the floor. This makes intuitive sense: Enes isn’t yet a passer from the post, and doesn’t exactly draw defenses with his long-range shooting. But it’s still worrying to see from a player who right now needs team offense to improve while he’s on the floor, given his defensive production.