Dirk Nowitzki should take All-Star break
Mavs leader worthy of honor, but he should rest and let an NBA young gun step in
DALLAS -- Don't mistake this for criticism of Dirk Nowitzki.
The face of the Dallas Mavericks' franchise is in the midst of what might be the most efficient offensive season of his surefire Hall of Fame career. He deserved mention as an MVP front-runner before suffering a sprained right knee and the Mavs' miserable performance in nine games without him arguably made his case even stronger.
It's just that everybody would be better off if Nowitzki's streak of All-Star Games ended this season. The league could use the roster spot to showcase some of the spectacular young talent filling up box scores and creating buzz in the Western Conference. And Nowitzki needs the rest.
It'd be different if Nowitzki, the NBA's 10th-leading scorer at 23.4 points per game, needed his ego massaged by making his 10th consecutive All-Star appearance. That's not the case. It doesn't sound as if it would bother him a bit if the West coaches voted for rising stars such as the Clippers' Blake Griffin, Timberwolves' Kevin Love and Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge and leave him watching from the couch.
"You want to be healthy for the real games, but representing the Mavericks has always been important to me and to the fans in Dallas, so it is a little bit of both," said Nowitzki, whose ground-bound, fundamentally sound game isn't really suited for the All-Star stage anyway. "If I'm not 100 percent, then I probably shouldn't be out there."
Nowitzki mentioned that there is still a long time to go before the Feb. 20 game at Staples Center, but the coaches vote for reserves next week. If selected, Dirk must play unless he gets an injury exemption.
His health issues give coaches an excuse to leave him out of the West's loaded frontcourt rotation.
Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Denver's Carmelo Anthony will be the starting forwards, barring a bizarre late ballot stuffing or a blockbuster deal that ends the Melo Drama and ships him to the Eastern Conference.
San Antonio's Tim Duncan and the Lakers' Pau Gasol are listed as forwards, but they're the closest thing the West has to All-Star-caliber centers. One of them ought to take Yao Ming's spot in the starting lineup. (Should the commissioner decide that the West must have a true center, the Mavs would lobby enthusiastically for Southern California native Tyson Chandler, their emotional leader.)
Duncan's numbers are down, but he's the cornerstone of a team on a pace for 70-plus wins. Gasol is averaging a double-double and gets the hometown benefit of the doubt.
Griffin, who makes his American Airlines Center debut Tuesday evening against the Mavs, also gets the hometown edge. And he absolutely must make the cut. This All-Star Weekend could go down as the time he cements his status as the NBA's next household name.
For goodness sakes, Griffin has already pulled off the impossible during his injury-delayed rookie season. He has managed to make the Clippers relevant. He also has caused sleep deprivation for basketball junkies across the country who stay up late to catch his nightly highlight reel.
Griffin, who is averaging 22.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, is so good that grizzled vets such as Jason Kidd already are comparing him to Karl Malone, perhaps the best power forward ever to play the game. Except, as Kidd noted, the Mailman didn't deliver that high above the rim.
That likely leaves a glut of great forwards competing for a pair of reserve spots. With all due respect to Memphis' Zach Randolph and others, let's focus the debate on Nowitzki and a pair of potential first-time All-Stars, Love and Aldridge.
There's really only one argument against Love, a UCLA product: He plays for a miserable team in Minnesota. But his numbers (21.6 points and 15.6 rebounds per game) are way too impressive to ignore.
Love is on pace to become the first player to average more than 15 rebounds in eight seasons. If he keeps this up, he'll be the first 20/15 player since Moses Malone in 1982-83. And he's shooting a better percentage from 3-point range (.437) than Nowitzki -- who, by the way, is averaging less than half as many rebounds as Love -- has in any season of his career.
The Trail Blazers' record is a major reason Aldridge merits an All-Star invitation. He has put Portland on his back since knee problems sidelined co-star Brandon Roy, keeping the Blazers in the playoff picture by averaging 25.8 points and 10.2 rebounds in a 13-6 stretch heading into Monday's game.
Plus, there probably isn't a player in the league who would cherish an All-Star berth as much as Aldridge, who starred at Seagoville High School before heading to Texas. He is motivated to give his mother, Georgia, as much joy as possible while she battles cancer.
"If I make it, that would give her something to look forward to other than having chemo," Aldridge recently told ESPN.com's J.A. Adande.
Nowitzki, on the other hand, would go out of obligation. There's no need for that this year.
Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.