The Dallas Mavericks received bad news Tuesday night when they learned Dirk Nowitzki tore a tendon in his left hand in their Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals. Though Nowitzki will play through the injury, and though he shoots right-handed, the torn tendon will negatively affect his performance the rest of the way, says ESPN analyst and former NBAer Tim Legler. The role-player told the Orlando Sentinel he believes the splint Nowitzki must wear will impact his dribbling. "That's a big problem for Dirk Nowitzki because he actually prefers to go left, particularly when he starts from the middle of the floor at the top of the key," he said.
Scouting data from the stat- and play-tracking service Synergy Sports Technology bear Legler's analysis out. In the regular season, when Nowitzki isolated in the middle of the floor, he drove to his left 51.2 percent of the time, compared to driving right 22.5 percent of the time and shooting without a dribble 26.2 percent of the time. Further, when Nowitzki spots up--which is to say when he catches the ball, in space, facing the basket--he drives left slightly more often than he drives right (47.6 percent to 43.9 percent). On top of that, Nowitzki is markedly more effective when he goes left in those situations, shooting 53.8 percent driving left to 36.1 percent driving right. The splint indeed has the potential to impact one of Nowitzki's pet moves.
In general, players shoot more accurately driving with their non-dominant hand because doing so enables them to use it to easily transfer the ball to their shooting hand and immediately enter their shooting motion. Thus, the splint may not affect Nowitzki's stand-still shooting, but it almost assuredly will complicate the dribbling and transferring tasks when he's on the move. Given how much attention the Heat will pay Nowitzki, he won't get many chances to simply catch and shoot. He'll have to create his own shot, and the injury--even though it's to his non-shooting hand--will make that task more difficult.