Commentary

Nowitzki continues to expand his game

The quest to learn basketball's unblockable shot

Updated: October 19, 2009, 10:33 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- None of Dirk Nowitzki's franchise-record 19,084 points have come on a baby sky hook.

But Nowitzki sure looked comfortable with that shot when he softly dropped one in on the opening possession of the second half in the Dallas Mavericks' otherwise forgettable preseason win Saturday night over the LeBron-and-Shaqless Cleveland Cavaliers. As if the eight-time All-Star weren't difficult enough to defend, he's added to his offensive arsenal.

[+] EnlargeDirk Nowitzki
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images Dirk Nowitzki picked up some pointers from Kevin McHale during training camp.

New teammate Drew Gooden has guarded Nowitzki a lot during the course of their careers. His scouting report when Nowitzki catches the ball on the block: If he doesn't face up, which is his forte, he's shooting a turnaround jumper over his right shoulder.

Well, Dirk has gone to work to expand his back-to-the-basket repertoire.

After the longest layoff of his career, Nowitzki spent hours in a German gym with mentor Holger Geschwindner this summer working on his post-up moves. Then he had the opportunity to pick the brain of ex-Celtics star Kevin McHale, a legendary low-post scorer who spent training camp with the Mavericks.

"Dirk spending a week with McHale would be like Jason Kidd having a chance to spend a week with Magic Johnson," said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been buddies with McHale since their days as Boston teammates.

Nowitzki soaked up all sorts of wisdom from McHale, picking his brain at length on a pair of occasions. They discussed such things as attitude and leadership. And of course, McHale gave Nowitzki a tutorial on how to get buckets from the block.

"I mean, he's probably the best low-post player this game has ever seen," Nowitzki said. "He definitely talked to me some about angles down there."

Nowitzki, who had a game-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the win over Cleveland, scored half his buckets off low-post moves.

He could work with his back to the basket more often this season, since Gooden is a center with an excellent midrange game. If the 7-foot Nowitzki can exploit his height advantage over most power forwards, the Mavericks could have a heck of a high-low game.

Not that Nowitzki will suddenly morph into a traditional 7-footer. He's one of the toughest matchups in the league because he's such a unique, skilled player: a big man with ridiculous shooting range and the ability to score with a wide array of shots off the dribble.

The one thing missing from Nowitzki's offensive game for most of his career has been old-school, McHale-esque, back-to-the-basket moves. He's most comfortable with a one-legged lean-away shot that won't be found in any basketball textbooks. He's made steady progress with his post-up game over the past few years and might make be ready to make a leap down low this season.

"Great players, every year they come back with something new," Carlisle said. "This looks like something that's going to add to Dirk's game, but he's worked hard on it."

Nowitzki tried to downplay his low-post development, particularly regarding the hook shot, which he referred to as a work in progress.

"I work on it all the time," he said. "To use it in a game-time situation, it's something different. Now it's preseason, a good time to swing one. But I don't know if it's ready."

Try telling that to Cleveland's Darnell Jackson, who was defenseless when Nowitzki caught the ball on the block, took one dribble to the middle of the paint and pulled off a hook shot that would have made Kareem Abdul-Jabbar proud.

Is it ready? Looked like it. Another question: How do you stop that move from such a graceful 7-footer?

"It's almost impossible to block," Gooden said. "It's an unstoppable move."

It's another piece to a point-producing puzzle that opposing power forwards rarely have solved.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. Email him at tim.macmahon@espn3.com.

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