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How Dirk Nowitzki still gets buckets

In what may be his final season, Dirk is relying on patience and savvy to score.

Sacramento Kings v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Dirk Nowitzki made his NBA debut on February 5, 1999 and scored two points—both free throws. Since that game, Dirk has scored 30,411 points in regular season games over the course of 20 seasons. Excluding his rookie season, Dirk has only been held scoreless twice in a game—and he only played six and seven minutes in those two games.

Dirk’s go-to move is the perfect matchup nightmare. His patented one-legged fadeaway, a shot he can take until he starts getting letters from AARP, is so still deadly that defenders can’t stop it even when they knows it’s coming. The shot is legend at this point (it should be the NBA logo), but how is Dirk still scoring? Dirk’s points per game average (10.5) is way down from his career average of 21.6, but the drop off in his per-36 numbers hasn’t been quite as steep thanks to his lower usage rate (20.5 percent) and minutes per game (24.2).

So, how is the 39-year-old appropriately nicknamed The Big Mummy this summer still getting buckets?

Tall Baller Shot Caller

That patented turnaround fadeaway is still deadly. Dirk is shooting 63 percent on it this season, per But there’s something a little different about the 2017-18 version of the One-Legged-Fade.

That knee just isn’t getting the elevation it used to, and that’s part of that Big Mummy stiffness.

Tall Baller Crawler

One way that Dirk is getting easy shots is setting faux-screens of sorts for ball handlers and subtly popping out. Okay, “popping” is being generous, it’s more like sliding. But Dirk and Dennis Smith Jr. have run this action a lot during the season, like they do here against the 76ers. Joel Embiid tries to help Jerryd Bayless keep up with Smith Jr. (good luck). Dirk barely slides over, but Embiid’s massive hedge means Dirty is left wide open.

On this play, Dirk rolls just slightly off the pick, but that puts him right into a space where he’s wide open again.

It’s amazing that someone as slow as Dirk could ever get a shot that wide open, but there’s another way he’s making it happen. On this play, he sets a pin down and when everyone reacts to Smith Jr. in attack mode, Dirk just slides back into the open area at the top of the key. Dirk receives the pass and the closest defender is three or four feet away from him—still too far to stop him.

Dirk also pulls this out of his bag of tricks when he’s already in the post area and sees daylight at the top of the key. J.J. Barea distracts the Warriors defense and Dirk slinks back out to just beyond the free-throw line. He gets just enough separation to square up and get a shot off—he doesn’t need much.

These subtle movements have always made Dirk an incredible player, but they’ve really defined this part of his career. As he admits, at 39 years old he’s so stiff that there’s only so much he can do athletically. But even in the most athletic league in the world, patience and staying in one spot can still be effective when you’re in the right spot.

Tall Baller Staller

On this play Dirk is tussling with Marcin Gortat down low when they both see Dennis Smith Jr. attacking the basket. Gortat slides over to protect his house while Dirk sneaks in the backdoor—by literally not moving.

Again against Atlanta, Smith Jr. waves off Dirk’s screen with a hesitation, but Dewayne Dedmon and Dennis Schröder stick with the 19-year-old rookie, who finds Dirk right where the defense left him.

Then, of course, if you hang around the basket of a jump-shooting team enough, something is bound to fly your way. But when Dirk gets the ball he knows exactly what to do with it.

Tall Baller is Taller

If the 76ers have taught us anything about basketball this season it’s that being tall makes everything easier. Dirk has lost his vertical jump, but he’s still seven feet tall and that allows him to get tap outs like this once in a while.

Extra effort like this is what makes him a legend.

Tall Baller Trailer Hauler

One of the most exciting plays in basketball is something all MFFLs know about but isn’t common knowledge for general NBA fans: the Dirk Trailer. Even Dennis had to throw up his hands on Dirk’s first basket of this season.

Just look at the Tall Baller from the G as he hauls tail, catches the ball with his own hop, and throws up a shot “from Ft. Worth.”

Some games it seems like Dirk Nowitzki will never stop playing, but father time is undefeated. In what could be the last season of Dirk, get your butt to the AAC and watch the Tall Baller still get buckets.