Chauncey Billups in 2005, Tony Parker in 2008…..these guys failed to make the All-Star team despite winning an NBA Finals MVP the year before. It’s understandable, Billups was on a talented and very balanced team while Parker wasn’t even the best player on his own squad (see Tim Duncan and, occasionally, Manu Ginobili). This year, however, it’s a far more bizarre occurence. Dirk Nowitzki is poised to miss the All-Star game despite coming off a dream season for the Dallas Mavericks.
Last June, Dirk was sitting on the NBA’s Mt. Everest and enjoying the view that so many immortal players have gazed at…and that many Hall-of-Famers haven’t (see Charles Barkley & Weight Watchers for more details). Here we are just eight months later and the big German himself admits that his play this season isn’t worthy of participation in the mid-season classic. He’s averaging 17 ppg and 6 rpg (boards were never his strongsuit anyways), hardly eye-popping numbers for a player that was given consideration for league MVP just a season ago.
Let’s be real here, Nowitzki’s play this season isn’t all that strange. Just a few years ago his team got run in the playoffs (multiple times) and the team’s seven-foot “leader” was nowhere to be found. He shrunk as the competition level grew. Plus, it’s not as if Nowitzki is great at a lot of things. If it wasn’t for his uncanny shot-making ability he’d be just another European “big man” taking up space on the court and shying away from contact (coincidentally, Pau Gasol is also likely to miss the All-Star game). Defense and rebounding are two subjects that don’t seem be taught enough in German classrooms. ‘The Great Dirkulous’ became decent at these two facets of the game seemingly by default…after years of playing in the league old dogs learn all the necessary tricks. Much like Steve Nash eventually learned how to stay in front of his man on defense Dirk learned to keep his opponent off of the offensive glass. The German was never a great all-around player in my humble opinion. However, the man is a freak of nature offensively and also the biggest gym-rat this side of Kobe Bryant. In this whirlwind 66-game season over four months, he’s not the only player behind the eight ball. It’s about being healthy and being at your best in April, not February…and Dirk still has a chance of accomplishing this.
If Nowitzki makes the All-Star team this year, though, it would hardly be a shocker. We all know that this honor is something many have been grandfathered in to. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Tim Duncan got a nod despite his very human 13 & 8 nightly averages. Fans vote for the starters based on the ‘sizzle’ factor, but coaches vote for the reserves based on a mixture of reputation and team record. While Dirk does have great name recognition the Mavericks just aren’t winning as many games as they should be right now. A record of 14-11 may be over .500 but if the playoffs started today they’d be on the outside looking in.
I think it would be wrong for Dirk to get into the game in Orlando this year, and he seems to agree with me. “To me, it’s more about getting right again and getting my body back in rhythm, getting used to all the grinding and running and jumping again,” Nowtizki said recently. “I think that’s more important than an All-Star…to make a push after the All-Star break. That’s ultimately where my head is at.” Meanwhile, head coach Rick Carlisle ultimately is just hoping his team can get out of the 1st round of the playoffs this year.
All isn’t lost for the Mavs, though. One would think that veterans like Lamar Odom and Vince Carter will only play better as this new cast gets more time together. Regardless, the plan for Dallas is to be big spenders this offseason. If Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea were on this squad (and this payroll) Mark Cuban would have even bigger problems than he does now.
At least this supporting cast of Mavericks will be free agents in a few months. When it comes to rebuilding this team, Cuban truly feels that where there’s a ‘D-Will’ there’s a way.
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