- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Don’t expect to see much of Dirk Nowitzki during Sunday’s All-Star Game.
Nowitzki would be fine with just playing a handful of minutes during his 12th All-Star appearance, getting up a few shots and grabbing a seat to watch the high-risers on the West roster put on a show. His 35-year-old legs can use all the rest they can get, and Nowitzki knows nobody tunes into the All-Star Game to see midrange jumpers.
“It wasn’t even really my type of game when I was young,” Nowitzki said, “so it definitely isn’t my type of game now that I’m old.”
Nowitzki has never been an entertainer, not a guy who fills up highlight reels with astonishing athletic feats. He’s a hardwood artist, a revolutionary player who requires a certain level of basketball sophistication to fully appreciate.
That’s why Mavericks fans should savor the next few seasons, regardless of whether the front office succeeds in its mission of constructing a roster around Nowitzki that gives him a chance to compete for another championship.
It’s not often that you get to watch an all-time great put the finishing touches on a career that changed the game. It might be even more rare for those finishing touches to be as beautiful as those Nowitzki is putting on the canvas now.
This 12th All-Star appearance was no lifetime achievement award from the Western Conference coaches. Nowitzki remains one of the most impactful offensive players in the league, and precious few have been so good while being so old. He’s on pace to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Elgin Baylor, Alex English and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to average at least 21 points per game at age 35 and older.
And it should come as no surprise if Nowitzki , who ranks 13th on the all-time scoring list now and has a legitimate chance to become the sixth member of the 30,000-point club, joins Abdul-Jabbar and Malone as the only players in NBA history to have more than one such season.
The big German has the game to age extraordinarily gracefully. As Mark Cuban half-kiddingly points out, it’s not like Nowitzki ever had a lot of athleticism in the first place. He’ll be 7 feet tall the rest of his career (and life, for that matter). He’ll always be able to knock down open jumpers in his sleep. And the unique work ethic that has allowed Nowitzki to maximize his potential is just part of his wiring.
There has never been a player who had Nowitzki’s combination of size and shooting touch. Not that NBA teams haven’t searched the globe to find those guys. The term “stretch 4” was coined because of all the copycat power forwards with perimeter-based games.
But part of the beauty of Dirk is the way his game has evolved over the years. Often criticized as soft because he wasn’t a low-block threat early in his career, he’s developed into one of the most lethal back-to-the-basket scorers in a most unconventional fashion.
That one-legged fadeaway perfected by Nowitzki is this generation’s sky hook, an unblockable shot fit for a statue. It’s a remarkably difficult shot that Dirk makes look easy.
A few of the league’s elite scorers -- Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant -- worked for summers to add it to their repertoires, an ultimate sign of respect for the face of the Mavs’ franchise. But nobody can shoot it with all the different variations of footwork and from all the different angles like Nowitzki.
Maybe Nowitzki will knock down one of those one-leggers in Sunday’s midseason showcase, which might be his last All-Star appearance. Maybe not on both counts. But there will be many more from him in a Mavs uniform.
There won’t be many more All-Star minutes for Nowitzki, but there’s still plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of the big German’s game.