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Friday, February 10, 2012
Dirk Nowitzki catches All-Star assist

By Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPNDallas.com

If Dirk Nowitzki didn't consider himself worthy of being an NBA All-Star this season, then who am I to disagree with him?

Dirk Nowitzki All Star Game
Dirk Nowitzki was named to his 11th consecutive All-Star Game despite averaging just 17.6 points, the lowest total since his rookie season.

Frankly, he didn't deserve to be an All-Star based on the first 26 games of the season.

Still, it was nice to see Dirk was among the reserves named to the Western Conference team for the 11th consecutive season.

No shame in that.

After all, only eight players in NBA history have played in more consecutive All-Star Games than Dirk.

Wow.

That said, we all know some guys get to the All-Star Game a year after they're worthy -- LaMarcus Aldridge comes to mind -- and some guys get one or two nods at the end of their careers based on their bodies of work.

That's what Dirk received this season, though we should all know this is probably the last pass he's going to get in the All-Star Game.

Aldridge. Kevin Love. Blake Griffin.

The power forward spot is loaded in the Western Conference and, at 33, Dirk is clearly heading toward the end of his career while Aldridge, Love and Griffin are still ascending players.

Hey, Kevin Garnett's 14-year string of All-Star appearances -- tied for the most in NBA history -- will end this season, as will Tim Duncan's 13-year streak.

You could also argue the Lakers' Pau Gasol, Memphis' Rudy Gay or Utah's Paul Millsap should've been named to the team. And if Memphis' Zach Randolph hadn't suffered an apparent season-ending injury, there was a good chance he would've taken Dirk's spot.

Such is life.

Many of you have forgotten Dirk started the season strong, scoring 20 points or more in six of his first seven games.

Then his game fell apart.

You can blame it on his sub-par conditioning. Or you can blame his balky right knee.

It doesn't really matter because professional sports is all about production. And for a guy who was the NBA MVP in 2007 and the NBA Finals MVP last summer, Dirk has been awful for much of the first six weeks of the season.

He's averaging just 17.6 points, his lowest total since his rookie season, and he's shooting just 46.1 percent from the field and 21.1 from beyond the 3-point arc.

In case you don't remember, he averaged 23.0 points last season while shooting 51.7 percent on 2-pointers and 39.3 percent on 3-pointers.

For the first time in forever, we've seen Dirk play tentatively, at times, because he lacked confidence in his jumper. For lack of a better word, for a few games he became more a point-forward, trying to facilitate the offense, rather than the unstoppable scorer we've seen for a decade.

He even took an eight-day sabbatical to improve his conditioning and strengthen his knee, because any jump shooter will tell you the foundation of their shot comes from their legs.

Well, he still stunk for a couple of games after the hiatus, including an awful 2-for-15 shooting performance in a loss to Oklahoma City.

That's what prompted Charles Barkley to say Father Time was on the verge of delivering a knockout punch to Dirk's career.

He spoke too soon.

Dirk has been on a three-game tear -- and that's why he's in the All-Star Game again.

In the last three games, Dirk has scored 30, 24 and 25 points. He's shot better than 50 percent from the field and he's playing with confidence because he's moving better.

You can tell because he's getting to the free throw line with more frequency, which has been the most important part of his evolution as a player.

When the Mavs get Dirk the ball at the free throw line, he's virtually impossible to stop because if defenders play off him, he shoots the 15-foot jumper, and if defenders crowd him, he maneuvers around them -- left or right -- and attacks the bucket, where he usually either scores or gets fouled.

The one-legged, stepback fallaway jumper is falling again, and the ball is rarely touching the net.

The guy we've seen the last week is among the NBA's best players.

Enjoy every facet of Dirk's performance in the All-Star Game this year. There's a good chance it's his last one.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.