Three ways to stop Dirk Nowitzki

May, 16, 2011
5/16/11
12:13
PM ET
By Peter Newmann and Dean Oliver, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
How do you defend a player who has averaged 25.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for his playoff career? That's the question the Oklahoma City Thunder will ask as they face Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki
Nowitzki

Nowitzki is one of four players to average those numbers for his postseason career. The other three -- Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit -- are in the Hall of Fame. He's been a part of a Mavericks team that has made 11 straight postseasons, all 50-win seasons, as well.

So how should the Thunder attack such a daunting task that the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Lakers this postseason couldn't handle?

1. Defend him out to the 3-point line
Nowitzki shot 50.2 percent during the regular season from the field outside the paint. That was the highest percentage in the league among players whose majority of shots came outside the paint and had at least 500 field-goal attempts outside the paint.

Nowitzki shot 49.2 percent in the regular season from 10 feet and beyond. That was the third-highest percentage in the NBA (Al Horford, Elton Brand).

He also doesn’t mind taking mid-range two-pointers on the baseline outside the paint. The Thunder didn’t get the message in the regular season as Nowitzki hit 57 percent of his shots against them in that spot.

2. Double-team when the shooters are off the court
The vast majority of double teams on Nowitzki result in passes to spot-up shooters. Often, these passes result in 3-pointers. As the Lakers found out in Game 4, the Mavericks don’t shy away from an open 3-pointer. During the regular season, 27.4 percent of the Mavericks field goal attempts were 3-pointers, the third-highest percentage in the NBA.

However, who do you leave open? Using “effective field goal percentage”, a metric adjusted for three-pointers, the Mavericks have four players who had a higher effective field goal percentage on spot-up shots than the league average of 48.3 percent.

3. Keep him off the free-throw line
Nowitzki is the only 7-footer to rank in the top 100 in NBA history in both free throw percentage (14th) and three-point percentage (86th). He has the highest free throw percentage (87.7 percent) and highest three-point field goal percentage (38.1) in NBA history for a seven-footer.

During the regular season, Nowitzki got to the free-throw line 19 times in two games against the Thunder, missing just once.

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