During Nowitzki's NBA career, however, this righthander developed a a radically different shot where he takes a step back with his left foot, lifts his right leg, and jumps off his "wrong" (left) foot.
The big advantage in leaping off the left foot, I believe, is that Nowitzki can simultaneously raise his right leg as a shield to keep the defender farther away.
Of course, just because a shot is effective doesn't mean it will be imitated -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar poured in about a million skyhooks on TV between 1966 and 1990 and the rest of basketball treated the shot as if Kareem has the intellectual property rights to it tied up until 70 years after his death. The skyhook is the ultimate example of jumping off the left foot to maximize the right hand's height.
The reflection behind it is quite simple. How do you have to throw the ball so that, despite committing as many mistakes as possible, it still finds its way through the net? It’s a question of error tolerance. But every college student should be able to make the same calculations. Take differential and integral calculus. Make some derivations and create a curve. Everybody can do it. It’s no secret. The optimal angle depends on the player’s height and the distance. I’ve calculated it for Dirk and my other players.
I'm certainly not up to date on basketball, but my impression is that the 1970s conventional wisdom of black players as innovative and white players as fundamentalist was already outdated by the 1990s, partly because of the arrival of goofy Europeans, partly because blacks got much better at fundamentals, partly because white Americans got increasingly winnowed down to the ones who had something extra in their repertoire (not just Larry Bird -- anybody remember Jeff Hornacek and all the bizarre-looking shots he took?)
Forty years ago, Earl Monroe was doing all sorts of crazy spin moves, but I don't see that much statistical evidence they were overwhelmingly effective, which is why he remains a legend -- he didn't have that many successful followers. Moving laterally along the court in unexpected ways is cool, but it's mostly a distraction from moving up and at the rim. I watched a lot of Michael Jordan and, sure, he had a lot of "How did he do that?" plays, but not as many "How did he think of that?" ones. Jordan's game was fundamentally sound and (until, after his baseball exile, when he developed an effective fall-away jumper to save his body--here's MJ's video tutorial on shooting his two-footed fallway), his predominant instinct was the predictable but most rational one: to head for the rim.