A subtle change to the Mavericks offense this year has been how Dirk has been positioned on offense. One of the keys to his MVP season was how the Mavericks offense ran picks and isolations for Dirk at the elbows and around the area of the free throw line. His incredible shooting touch over smaller defenders and ability to drive past bigger men led to his amazing season. Unfortunately, the consistency in the Mavs offense also made it easier to disrupt Dirk's game for aggressive defenses. Let's take a look at how the Mavs have made adjustments to Dirk's positioning to counter the "Golden State" defense.
First of all, let's look at the offensive area from the free throw line to the elbows. Is this truly Dirk's comfort zone? Well, outside of layups and dunks, the single spot on the court where Dirk took the most attempts last season was the right elbow, and he made an amazing 51% of his shots from there. In fact, the whole zone from right elbow to left elbow accounted for over 1 out of every 4 shots Dirk took during the 2006-2007 season. With layups and dunks accounting for another 24% of his attempts, it wouldn't take a genius to come up with the following defensive scheme: Keep Dirk out of the free throw line extended area and keep him out of the paint. Doing so cuts out roughly the best 50% of Dirk's game.
While this is a simplification, the above is what Golden State did last year by denying Dirk the entry pass at the elbow and doubling him when he did get the ball so he couldn't drive the lane.
Fast forward to this year, and let's look at how the positioning of Dirk's shot attempts have changed. Learning from Golden State, a logical goal would be to move Dirk around the floor, varying his point of attack so that Golden State's defense would have been ineffective. We should also note that by asking more of Dirk, it is possible we would cut down on his effectiveness, but we would theoretically be okay with that if it led to our offense being tougher to shut down overall.
So far this year, the area of attack that has seen the biggest drop in shot attempts has been--you guessed it--the free throw line extended, which is exactly as we would expect from a team learning from its mistakes. Overall, Dirk's attempts from this former comfort zone have dropped roughly 5%. Interestingly, the percentage of dunks and layups hasn't changed much (23.6% last year, 23.3% this year), which indicates this is more of a systemic change than Dirk being more aggressive at driving off the dribble.
So where are those former shots from the elbow coming from? Interestingly, they are coming from the baseline. Dirk's shots from each baseline have gone up 5.3%, which accounts for the decrease from the elbow and more. In other words, Dirk's game is moving deeper into the half court, even though it is not necessarily moving him closer to the paint. This is a big indicator that Dirk hasn't been asked to develop a post game over the first half of the year--he was asked to work on varying his point of attack and improving his passing out of double teams.
It will remain to be seen if this and other subtle changes to the Dallas offense will make them more formidable in the playoffs, but one thing can't be denied: The Mavs staff realized that part of the problem in the 2007 playoffs was Dirk's predictable game, and they are making changes to address that in 2008.