The NBA blogosphere entered All-Star mode after the 2011-12 starters were announced last week. Analysts dissected the fan vote, but the real analysis surrounds the reserves and snubs, both of which we will find out today. A fan vote and an elite crop of superstars ruin any suspense regarding the starters; “snubbed” don’t take a hit because they are surefire reserves. More interesting are full-on exclusions like the 2010 Josh Smith or the 2011 LaMarcus Aldridge. Who will be left out this year? This year’s hot debate: Dirk Nowitzki.
In regards to Dirk’s candidacy, there are two dominant camps–there are opponents, who discount his All-Star status due to sub-par play, fewer minutes, and missed games, and then there are his proponents who recognize his MVP Finals, true skill, and place in the league’s landscape.
Dirk’s candidacy is interesting because it is a jumping off point for many overarching issues relating to the All-Star game.
1. Should we value the best players at the moment or the best players in the season to-date?
2. How much should we weigh per-minute performance and missed games versus gross production?
3. Is the All-Star game more important to fans, who buy tickets and jerseys, or to players, whose All-Star appearances affect their endorsements, contracts, and legacies? Furthermore, to what extent does the NBA and its fans know what is best for the NBA’s enduring popularity?
In the next paragraphs, I will use the 2012 Dirk to help answer the above questions, with a specific focus the last one.
Question 1: Best players vs. Best performance in season to-date?
Although I think this answer should be obvious–to me, we should value a player’s performance in the given season–there are reasons to think otherwise, especially in this funky, compressed season. Nowitzki is a posterboy for this debate–he was a stud in 2010-11, shooting a career high 61.2 TS% and winning Finals MVP, but he has been a dud in 2012. So far this season, he has the worst PER, WS/48, RB%, TO%, and Pts/36 since his second season! Moreover, his TS% and ORtg are the worst since his rookie season!
Going into today, players hadn’t played more than 27 games, and with that small sample size, it is dangerous to read too much into performance (as much as picking All-Stars can be dangerous). All-Star games typically come much later in the season when we have more stable ideas of players’ current value, and hence, it’s fair to look to last season as a gauge of a player’s current ability. For Dirk, this means he is bound to pick it up–he is adjusting to the schedule and detoxifying himself from his championship hangover.
The question remains: should we put the best players on the court for the highest quality game, which likely includes someone like Dirk, or should we reward current performance (even if it might be too good to be true), such as James Harden or Paul Millsap? Normally these things aren’t in conflict, but now that they are with the smaller sample size, my personal vote is to reward this year’s top performers. With the litany of quality remaining forwards in the West (Love, Aldridge, Gasol, Millsap, Al Jefferson, Duncan, Gallinari) and other non-forward wildcards (Nash, Westbrook, Harden, Lowry, Parker), there are too many deserving names for Dirk to be an All-Star, regardless of his “true” ability.
Question #2: How should we weigh per-minute and per-game performance versus gross production?
Dirk is playing his fewest minutes per-game (31.8) since his rookie season and has missed 4 of his team’s 25 games to recondition himself. While 4 games isn’t much, it’s a lot (16%) in the context of picking All-Stars this early in the season. Even if Dirk’s per-minute numbers were in line with his stellar career (which they aren’t), how much should we value gross production versus missed games and per-minute numbers? Obviously, this debate extends beyond Dirk’s All-Star candidacy and into MVP discussions and debates surrounding all-time greats (such as weighing “longevity vs. peak performance”). But as for Dirk being in the 2011-12 All-Star Game, there is no debate: he missed games, he played fewer minutes per game in the games he played, and in those minutes, his performance significantly declined.
Question #3: Does Dirk “deserve” to be an All-Star and would his All-Star status help the NBA and its fans?
I am not going to bother answering whether the All-Star game is more important for fans or players–it affects both the players (salaries, popularity, legacy) and the fans (they pay, watch, and care). I am more interested in putting forth the idea that by excluding Dirk, the NBA would have the opportunity to market a budding star–particularly one whose above-the-rim game caters itself to All-Star games more than Dirk’s floor-level, technique-based game.
It’s easy to say that Dirk’s popularity and legacy require his ASG presence. But think about this: Will LeBron, Wade, Blake, D-Rose, Kobe, Durant, CP3, Melo, Dwight, and the rest of the gang be insufficient in themselves to make this a memorable All-Star game? I think the NBA would be just fine.
“The All-Star game is not only about season-to-date performance. It’s an exhibition meant to sell the league in all its grandeur. In such a context, an absent Nowitzki hurts the game. For all the accomplishments of Paul Millsap this year, there are few fans outside of Utah who want to see him play with the league’s best more than they do Dirk.”
I agree with Freeman–the ASG is about fans and fun as much as it is about performance (he correctly points out that we have All-NBA selections for hoops meritocrats). But Nowitzki’s playing-style isn’t All-Star friendly, unless he starts draining threes from half-court. Dirk cannot enhance his fame or rep with a brief All-Star appearance. For the sake of the deserving players and the fans, the coaches should choose a player who has a chance to sparkle and shine in this year’s ASG–a player who can create his own legacy and add another face to the league’s family portrait. What if Rudy Gay did a cartwheel dunk? What if Harden dunked over LeBron and on Dwight a la Shaq on David Robinson?
We can’t know whether any of this year’s other candidates would blow us away, but by giving Dirk an All-Star berth–a man with an inferior 2011-2012 résumé and already-established fame–we will deprive other players and ourselves of the possibility for unexpected excitement and newborn superstardom. It’s important to appeal to fans and reward the past, but we should use the All-Star game as a stage to shine lights on the NBA’s rising stars. And on that note, I elect Dirk as the color-commentator and rising star James Harden as a wildcard.
What do you think about Dirk’s All-Star status? How do you feel about valuing the past versus promoting the future? Comment on the article or email us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and “like” us on Facebook!