Every summer Dirk Nowitzki locks himself away in a small, hot gym in Germany. He's with his mentor and personal coach, Holger Geschwindner, and they work. They work on Dirk's game, adding to his already vast array of shots and moves.
This is Dirk's 17th season in the NBA. He's evolved from a spot-up perimeter guy to a pick-and-pop dynamo to a post-up and isolation nightmare. It's amazing how much Dirk has added since he's entered the league and how he's stylistically changed as well.
Which is why it was somewhat surprising that Dirk said he was going to continue to tinker with his shot. Doesn't he already have it all? Apparently not.
Our fearless leader Tim Cato took a quick look at Dirk's quicker release after the first handful of preseason games. I wanted to dig a little deeper and try to see how Dirk's looked throughout the preseason and even after a couple regular season games. Here are Tim's gifs from that post:
First off, while Dirk's shot does look quicker it isn't a drastic change. As Tim said in his post, it appears he's shooting in one fluid motion instead of waiting to release after raising the ball over his head.
Dirk himself said in September to ESPN's Marc Stein that the change in his release might not even be that noticeable to us mere mortals:
"I don't think, to the naked eye, you would see it," Nowitzki told ESPN.com. "I don't know if the [average] fan will see the difference. But I'm always trying to get better, and this is just a little tool for me to shoot a little quicker. We'll see how it works during the season."
After looking at Dirk's shot in the preseason and these first two games of the regular season, it actually reminds me of Dirk's release back in 2003:
He still waits a tick at the top of the release but he doesn't appear to raise the ball as high as he has been in the last two to three seasons.
Just to see if I'm crazy or not, here's a gif comparing 2003 to Dirk from last week against the Jazz. Quality is shaky but they look pretty similar to me and slightly different from Dirk's release a year ago.
For what it's worth, I got to speak with Dirk after the last Mavs preseason game a week ago. Surprisingly, Dirk talked about how it wasn't all necessarily about getting his shot release to be quicker for quick's sake.
I poked around and asked if how he performed in the Spurs series back in April and how the Spurs guarded him (1-on-1 defense and crowding him on the perimeter) encouraged him to speed up his release as defenses close in.
"I figured, I gotta do something, might as well work on something," he said with a smile. "It wasn't going to be me running quicker or me jumping higher so I figured I'd work on something I can control.
"The shot was one. Not even sure if it's quicker but more efficient. I want to be even better when I'm open and try to knock it down. I'm just always working."
Dirk shot around 43 percent against the Spurs in the first round of last season's playoffs despite lots of single coverage. Dirk usually torches single defenders in isolation and post situations, but Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw really crowded him into some uncharacteristic misses.
Dirk probably also wanted to tinker a bit with his shot knowing that as he continues to age, he won't be able to rely on getting to the basket and free throw line as much. Dirk's free throw rates have plummeted in recent years and he's said it himself that he can't play the same way he did in 2006 right now because it takes a toll on his body.
So Dirk must continue to take advantage of his spot up looks. He'll get plenty of them this season with Tyson Chandler sucking in defenders during pick and rolls, much like he did in 2011 when Dirk had off-the-charts shooting numbers in spot up situations.
So far, the results are sparkling. Dirk was 24-of-43 from the field through his first two games (55.8 percent). Here's his first couple of games worth of elite shotmaking.
He looks a little springy-er, doesn't he? And even though the Mavs lost the Spurs game, I still get chills seeing him take over in the fourth quarter of that game, just abusing Diaw (a noted Dirk pest) for that final bucket.
It's 17 years in and Dirk is still working, still adjusting. And if these past few games are any indication, he's still damn good.