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Does Dirk Nowitzki deserve an 11th All-Star appearance over the likes of Gasol or Millsap?

The 2012 NBA All-Star Game rosters have been set in advance of next weekend’s festivities, and arguably the biggest surprise in the typically predictable field was the inclusion of Dirk Nowitzki, set to make his 11th All-Star appearance since 2002.

It might sound odd to call that “surprising,” considering that the reigning Finals MVP is a worldwide superstar and one of the league’s signature players, but it’s been painfully obvious to anyone who has followed the now-resurgent Dallas Mavericks since their early season struggles that Nowitzki has been one of the last members of the defending champs to shake off his lockout-induced torpor.

A handful of high-scoring games in February have helped save face for what began as a truly un-Dirk-like year. Despite averaging a solid, if underwhelming (for him), 18 points per game, Nowitzki has seen his usually stellar statistical contributions approach or achieve career lows nearly across the board, including his rebounding, 3-pointers, and true-shooting percentages.

 Is an at-times listless Dirk who doesn’t have his shot falling quite right deserving of All-Star consideration over the other worthy candidates?

He’s still the kind of position-defying, moment-defining stud that most franchises would kill to build a title contender around. But is an at-times listless Dirk who doesn’t have his shot falling quite right deserving of All-Star consideration over the other worthy candidates?

Even in spite of a grueling, shortened schedule and the nightly grind it has put some of the greatest athletes in the world through, consider the wealth of Western Conference talents who have submitted worthy campaigns in the young season, only to be denied access to the Association’s most glamorous night.

Pau Gasol, like Nowitzki, has hardly been the two-way force this year that made him a back-to-back-to-back All-Star since joining the Lakers in 2008. Unlike Dirk, however, Gasol has still played at a consistently elite level on both ends of the floor since tipping off on Christmas Day, and he’s been an anchor for a Los Angeles squad that might otherwise have already fallen out of contender status.

Less famous than either Gasol or Nowitzki, Paul Millsap has quietly put together one of the finest seasons of any forward in 2011-2012 for the upstart Utah Jazz, which continues to hang tough in the most competitive division in NBA, despite playing one of the league’s hardest schedules to date.

Also in the Northwest, Danilo Gallinari has made a lot of Carmelo Anthony fans think twice about last season’s blockbuster deal, leading the Denver Nuggets in scoring and emerging as one of the most dynamic and versatile offensive threats in the game today before being sidelined by an untimely ankle injury.

And that’s not even counting the non-forwards who could have slotted into the West team’s roster over Nowitzki, such as Oklahoma City’s not-so-secret weapon James Harden, or Houston’s Kyle Lowry, who’s been the most underrated point guard in the league since his break-out campaign last year.

 Less famous than either Gasol or Nowitzki,  Paul Millsap has quietly put together one of the finest seasons of any forward in 2011-2012 for the upstart Utah Jazz.

Of course, there’s a screaming retort that every diehard Mavs fan can, and should, be repeating in light of all this doubt about Dirk: “small sample size.” Picking an All-Star team after just 20-something games was a matter of cold-necessity, as the NBA is still forced to pack its most profitable peripheral event into the allotted space on the calendar, even with the late start to the season.

But practically half of the players in the league showed up not ready to play, and it’s not unforgivable that even one as great as Nowitzki hasn’t been quite up to snuff, statistically speaking.

Yet if we’re supposed to humor the sentiment of such a patently ridiculous “honor” in the 2011-2012 season, shouldn’t we at least pretend to apply the same standards of All-Star assessment that we would in any other year?

Certainly Dirk Nowitzki will round into his casually brilliant form as the season wears on, but if he had played like this over the usual stretch before ASG selections, we would not only be discussing who should rightfully take his place amongst the West reserves, there would also be more than a little “Decline of Dirk?” talk, as well.

If fair is fair, NBA coaches would have listened when the future Hall-of-Famer called himself undeserving of the honor, and maybe sought out somebody who truly was.

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