The Infuriating Consistency Of Dirk Nowitzki's Step-Back Jump Shot

If I were a real Lakers fan, which is a thing I've been told exists somewhere, and I had to watch the Dallas Mavericks handily beat my team at home twice in a week, then I would place an inordinate amount of rage in watching Dirk Nowitzki make shots like this one.


Because Dirk, when he has the right match-up, requires neither of the two essentials for the standard jump shot: he doesn't need space, and he doesn't need balance. He creates the sliver of space by not just stepping back, but leaning away, and falling back, and back, until it looks like he might never let go of the ball, until he does — and somehow, his release is perfect. His release is unmoved by the hand reaching towards his face and by the 45-degree angle he's fallen into. And he does it, often, on one foot.

It is the one foot that would kill me. Paul Pierce kills me because he consistently delivers a basket and-one from a clumsy, stumbling, elbow-protected drive to the hoop (practically with his eyes closed, it always seems) — but Pierce's effort is so painfully visible. He could not appear to be trying harder to make the basket happen. Nowitzki is different. I don't know if we can call what he has finesse, because it's not classically pretty in the way that a Ray Allen jumper is pretty, but it is infuriatingly consistent nonetheless. You watch Ray Allen make a mid-range jump shot and you know exactly how he did it, because it is just how jump shots should look, but you still want to watch it over and over again. You watch a Nowitzki mid-range jump shot on repeat and it slowly drives you to the brink: no one else can do that, but the more you watch it, the more freakishly natural it looks. "Everyone should shoot like this!" you start to think.

But no one else shoots like Nowitzki. Guards like Deron Williams and Dwyane Wade are known for their step backs, but they get clearance with their crossovers. Pierce and LeBron James have the same ability to create space for a good shot, but neither gets as much of a lean out of it, and both — like any sane human with a basketball — would rather come off of two feet. Carmelo Anthony loves the fade-away, but only in desperate moments. Nowitzki calmly backs down a defender, spins his shoulders suddenly to fall back as you know he will, picks up his right foot and sometimes kicks it out mid-jump like a restless colt, as if it keeps him centered. Really, it must ensure that he'll have the space he needs.

"I like the step-back," he's said. "Sometimes one feet, or with two feet; it doesn't matter."

He doesn't know that it should matter. He has unwarranted equilibrium. He might be entering another field of gravity on his fall-back. And once he's there, none of the rules of a traditional jump shot apply.

Goddammit, Dirk.