Every NBA superstar changes his game. It's a natural process of any perennial All-Star NBA career.
Because no NBA player, no matter the advances of modern medicine, can play the exact same way he played at the age of 25 when he's 35. There can be flashes, glimpses into the high-flying or high-energy past but those spurts come few and far between.
The reason Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and other 30-plus aged stars can still be productive (and in some cases, even more so) in their older years is because of the transformations of their game. Garnett is no longer playing above the rim on offense and defense and relies on smarts and guile over pure athleticism. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce steadied their shooting because of work ethics and a better understanding of how to operate on the court. Jason Kidd would have left the league three years ago if he hadn't reintroduced himself as a physical defender (for brief stretches) and reliable long-range shooter. Imagine Kobe Bryant if he never mastered the post game and still relied on throwing himself to the rim, play after play. Grant Hill would have retired years ago if he didn't accept the fact that injuries had taken away his athleticism and reinvent himself as a reliable mid-range scorer and corner three-point shooter.
Static players in the NBA rarely last too long (unless their specific trade is low-impact on the body such as a three-point specialist.)
Dirk is in the same boat. He arrived in 1998 a tall, skinny jumper shooter and has put himself in the gym for thousands of hours to eradicate the belief that all he can do is hit threes and isn't a tough enough player to battle in the post or get to the rim.
And over the last two years, Dirk is doing everything he can to go back to where he started.Dirk is averaging 3.2 three-point attempts per game, the highest average for him since the 2005-2006. Since that first campaign under Avery Johnson, Dirk's threes have progressively dwindled each season until he hit an almost career-low with 1.5 per game in the 2009-2010 season (his career-low is 1.4 per game in his rookie season.) In those five years, Dirk increased his isolation attempts, his post-up attempts and generally made a more valiant effort to get to the rim. His game exploded off the efficiency charts, posting some pretty bonker true-shooting percentages (true shooting percentage factors in threes and free throws.)
But last season started the trend of Dirk launching more threes from beyond the arc, because he had to transform himself again. Age has finally crept into Dirk's play – a normally durable workhorse has missed 13 games in the last two seasons, which is more then he missed from 2005-2010 combined. Dirk's body is starting to react to all the tough drives and physical post play. So last season, he decided to stay more perimeter oriented.
These increased threes aren't just out of self-preservation for Dirk. It's also expanding the Mavericks offense. In the playoffs of those dwindling three-point attempt seasons, the Dallas offense was entirely too predictable for most of the game: Dirk would set up on the left or right wing/elbow, he'd back down his defender, drive to the rim or shoot a fade as the four other Mavericks watched. Dirk never played with an offensively capable center, so teams were able to cheat off and force the ball out of Dirk's hands and into less capable players. Jason Terry was always there to knock down shots, but the other cast of Mavericks were inconsistent offensive threats – at best.
Last year, Dirk was able to spot up more outside the arc as the Mavericks finally found another pick and roll capable big man, who of course was Tyson Chandler. With Chandler running the pick and roll action at the top of the key, defenses were left in a precarious position – slide toward Chandler to prevent an easy two or leave one of the best shooters of all time alone behind the arc. Even if the defense rotated to Dirk, he would have two more reliable options (Terry and Kidd) to swing the ball to.
This season there is no Chandler, but Brendan Haywood, Ian Mahinmi and Brandan Wright have proven more than capable of replacing Chandler as a reliable pick and roll option, allowing Dirk to knock down spot up threes. Last season, he took 128 spot up threes, making 42 percent according to mysynergysports. This season it's down to 34 percent but that can be attributed to Dirk's rough two months to start the season then a break down in quality looks.
Besides just spotting up more, Dirk is also attempting more threes in transition. This has been a staple of Dirk's career, with Dirk slowing up in transition, letting the defense rush back to the paint, then launching a back-breaking three with deadly accuracy. This season, according to mysynergysports, Dirk is hitting 23-of-55 (41 percent) transition threes. He made 24 all of last season.
Dirk is aggressively looking for his three-point shot, something he had tried to abandon for about five years. It's another evolution of one of the most efficient shot makers the NBA has ever seen. An evolution that helped win a long-awaited title in 2011 and provide a capable title defense in just a month.