12. June 2011 00:48
Was thinking about some of the coverage of Dirk Nowitzki's run through the playoffs. Wanted to make sure the media discussion reflects the full extent of what he's accomplished.
First, it's been noted that Dirk has lifted his per-game scoring average from 23.0 in the regular season to 28.1 in the playoffs. That sounds like a big leap. It IS a big leap. But, he is playing more minutes per-game as well. In the postseason to this point Nowitzki is averaging 39.4 minutes per game. In the regular season it was just 34.3 (a level of pacing that looks very intelligent in retrospect since he seems fresh through an increased grind in the playoffs).
He jumped five points. He jumped five minutes. Don't those just cancel out?
Well, let's pro-rate them to 40 minutes...
Regular Season: 26.8 points per 40 minutes
Playoffs So Far: 28.8 points per 40 minutes
Not quite. Dirk is scoring more productively even after you adjust for minutes per game. Let that register for a second. Dirk's per-minute scoring has gone up...IN THE PLAYOFFS!
*In the playoffs, you're not facing a composite of NBA defenses that can range from great to horrible...and from fired up to indifferent. You're only facing playoff caliber defenses...all of which are battling for their playoff lives to to speak. Scoring is more difficult in the postseason than in the regular season, particularly if you're a focal point of opposing defenses.
Here's how Nowitzki's playoff opponents ranked this year in defensive efficiency starting with Miami and working back to the opening round.
Oklahoma City: 11th
LA Lakers: 6th
There are 30 teams in the NBA, so we're looking at the upper half of the league obviously. It's also important to remember that Oklahoma City upgraded its defense at the trade deadline. Over the last 18 games of the regular season, OKC had a defensive efficiency equivalent with "best quadrant" play. Nowitzki has faced three good defenses and an average one.
So...he's jumped two points per 40 minutes while facing a much tougher defensive challenge.
*In the playoffs, games slow way down. Possessions are treasured. Dallas averaged 93.2 possessions per game during the regular season. It's only 88.2 so far in a sequence of grinder rounds through the playoffs.
Dirk increased his per-minute scoring production...in slower games...versus better defenses.
Let me give you a quick recent example from another sport where that DIDN'T happen.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots were fantastic offensively in the second half of the 2010 NFL season. They averaged 37.4 points per game in their last eight outings. New England entered the postseason amidst hoopla about having one of the greatest offenses ever. Then they ran into the New York Jets.
Facing an elite defense, that was playing at peak intensity with its season on the line...the supposedly unstoppable Patriots offense had 3 points at halftime, and only 11 at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, before picking up some late numbers in a 28-21 loss that stunned more than a few football pundits.
Here's one from college hoops. Ohio State took the #1 "adjusted offense" in the nation (using Ken Pomeroy's numbers) into a Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky (15th ranked "adjusted defense"). The Buckeyes shot 33% from the floor in a low scoring 62-60 loss you probably watched on TV.
It's a much tougher environment in the postseason. Any team or individual who can consistently maintain regular season norms is doing something impressive. Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 28 points per game...in 88 possession grinders...against top caliber defenses.
Given the changing context, standing pat is "rising to the occasion." Dirk's done better than that. And, his scoring increase isn't just a matter of playing more minutes. It's doing more in those minutes in a tougher environment.
And, none of it will end up mattering if Dallas doesn't win Sunday or Tuesday night! Dirk Nowitzki is about to face a top notch defense that has its backs to the wall for the first time in the playoffs. His and his team's toughest challenges may still be ahead.
So many storylines in play Sunday evening. We'll touch on as many as we can after the game with numbers and notes around midnight. See you then...