Week in the Southwest: Is Dirk a Legacy All-Star?

Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks
Credit: Keith Allison on Flickr

This year’s All-Star rosters have seen a lot of upheaval. Ill-timed injuries have seen the likes of Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade, and Kobe Bryant drop out of the mid-season spectacle one by one.

The latest victim is Anthony Davis, who won’t be able to play in the All-Star game and the way-more-important Shooting Stars competition (just kidding!) due to a shoulder sprain, which has caused him to miss the Pelicans’ last two games. Commissioner Adam Silver has selected Dirk Nowitzki, of my very own Dallas Mavericks, to take Davis’ place and add a 13th All-Star selection to his stellar resume.

Does he really deserve the call-up?

Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks

Credit: Keith Allison on Flickr

Don’t get me wrong, it obviously pains me to ask the question. For all intents and purposes, Dirk pretty much is the Dallas Mavericks. He’s been the one constant in close to two decades of roster changes big (Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler) and small (Quinton Ross, we hardly knew ye). But he may not even be the biggest fish in his own pond nowadays.

Monta Ellis has established himself as the leading scorer and primary weapon of the Mavericks, with his constant driving causing all sorts of havoc in opponent defenses, and he’s tied for 4th in points scored in clutch situations (defined by NBA.com/Stats as a 5-point game in the last 5 minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime). The three guys above him? Kevin Durant, LeBron James and James Harden. All surefire All-Star selections.

Let’s also not forget that a certain Mr Michael Alex Conley Jr. is playing an integral part in helping the Grizzlies to second place in the wild wild West. He’s probably wondering what more he could possibly do to be noticed by senpai.

Dirk’s main contribution to all the teams he’s played on has always been his scoring, so I’m not going to dwell too much on how he isn’t leading the team in rebounds or blocks or any other stat. But he’s not even the best at his specialty anymore, on his own team. This All-Star selection has got to be a Lifetime Achievement Award, right?

Well actually… if Kyle Korver’s selection as Wade’s replacement on the East team can serve as a sort of precedent, there’s actually some legitimate logic to Dirk’s selection.

Everyone knows by now how unique an All-Star Korver is. He doesn’t create his own shot. He averages only eight shots per game. No one builds their team around a player like Korver. But his shooting is so incredibly potent that defenses can’t afford to sag off him to protect the paint. To borrow from Zach Lowe’s archive:

An open, uncontested dunk for Al Horford just because Wiggins can’t cheat off Korver to help inside. In other words, Korver is one of the rare One Man Spacing Machines in the NBA, one of the very few that you never, ever leave open no matter what.

Guess what, that’s exactly what Dirk is. Bonus: instead of a wing defender, he drags a big man, a potential rim protector, out to the perimeter, making things that much easier for Monta or whoever else is running the screen play with him to get to the rim and finish or draw a foul. Case in point:

Dirk’s man never leaves him, opening up space for Monta to drive, which in turn opens up more options. Monta opted for the pass to a diving Chandler in this instance, but you can see how Brandon Jennings was forced to help off Jameer Nelson, leaving him wide open for a three. Of course, Monta himself can finish in those situations as well, so Dirk is basically able to open up three very different yet highly efficient shots by just setting a screen. That’s the power of being a One Man Spacing Machine.

Want more evidence? Here you go (watch from the 2:13 and 4:38 marks):

Dirk may not be the monster who once posted 53 points on the McGrady Rockets, and if anything his scoring and touches will continue to trend downwards as the Mavs continue to surround him with increasingly talented teammates, but he is still an extremely key ingredient in the smooth Dallas offense. If Korver deserves his place on the East All-Star team, I think Dirk deserves his in the West.

Elsewhere in the Southwest, the Houston Rockets went 3-2 this past week. A decent enough record, but with both losses coming to Western Conference playoff rivals Portland and a Griffin-less Clippers team, their hold on the 4-seed loosened a little. They’re now just one game ahead of the Mavericks.

The Memphis Grizzlies posted a 4-2 record which included an impressive victory over the soaring Hawks (see what I did there) in which they held the Atlanta frontcourt of Al Horford, Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll to a combined 7-of-30 shooting. They remain three games clear of the third-placed Trailblazers, which is just about as much separation as you can hope for in the West. I mean, only two games separate the 3rd and 7th seeds. Goodness.

San Antonio keep humming along, beating up on Eastern Conference opponents en route to a 4-1 record, with their only loss coming against the Raptors. They’ll definitely be glad for the All-Star break, because they’ll be thrown right into the fray again right after it: they have a hellish back-to-back against the Clippers and the Warriors (both away games) to start the second half of the season.

Lastly, the New Orleans Pelicans, like the Grizzlies, also managed to beat the Hawks, snapping their 19-game winning streak, but then they lost The Brow to the aforementioned shoulder sprain in their loss to the Bulls. Posting a 2-4 record for the week, the Pelicans have been on the fringes of the playoff race all year long, but I think a combination of this Davis injury and a resurgent Thunder team (along with the dogged Phoenix Suns) means they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Maybe do something with Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans in the offseason and you’ll make it in next year, Pellies.

Winston Zhang

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A Dallas Mavericks fan since 2008, Winston is a Day 1 Luka Doncic stan.

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