NEW ORLEANS — In an All-Star landscape filled with fresh faces and first-timers, Dirk Nowitzki was a relic from another era.
With Kobe Bryant injured and Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett past their primes, the Dallas Mavericks forward stood alone from a shrinking generation of superstars.
"It's a little sad," Nowitzki said. "When I first got in, there was always Kobe, Duncan, Shaq and Garnett who would be in ever year. Now I'm the old guy."
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Nowitzki, the 35-year-old who won the 2006-07 NBA MVP and was named NBA Finals MVP in 2011, was the oldest player in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, with his 12 appearances topping all players. He also is among the most influential players in recent NBA history.
Nowitzki is an oddity in the league, a 7-foot German power forward who has made his living shooting midrange jumpers and three-pointers. During the 2011 NBA Finals between the Mavericks and Miami Heat, LeBron James called Nowitzki's one-legged fadeaway the second-most unguardable shot of all time, after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky-hook.
Nobody has quite replicated Nowitzki's shot, but a glance at the other power forwards in the All-Star locker rooms reveals an NBA in which his style of play has become the norm for the position. The Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Love is a legitimate three-point threat. The Portland Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge is deadly from mid range. Heat center Chris Bosh is a repurposed power forward who creates matchup nightmares for opponents with his shooting range.
"Dirk is one of the pioneers of big guys shooting," Bosh said. "Once you saw him shoot the ball, you think 'OK, I can shoot good too.' I don't have to be 6-foot-6 and down to be able to step back and shoot.
"Once I saw that, I said, 'OK, I want to be able to shoot. I want to be able to go outside. I don't want being seven feet tall to limit my game.' "
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Nowitzki adds, "It's part of the game changing. Now, every four has got to be able to move and shoot a little bit, put the ball on the deck. Back in the day it was a lot of back-downs, a lot of isolations, and I just think the game went away from that. It's a lot of pick-and-rolls now, you've got to be able to spread the floor, play full-court, up-and-down style."
His style also has kept him performing at a high level while some of his peers' bodies have broken down as they aged. In his 16th NBA season, Nowitzki is averaging 21.7 points a game and shooting 49.2% from the field, third-best of his career, and 41.2% from three-point range. His All-Star selection wasn't a legacy vote: With the Mavericks a surprising playoff contender, he was well-deserving of the honor.
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Since jump shooters tend to age better than players who rely on physical inside play, younger big men hope that they'll have the same luck later in their careers. Aldridge named Duncan, Garnett and Karl Malone as his favorite power forwards growing up but acknowledges that the game has changed.
"Back in their day, power forwards didn't shoot threes," Aldridge said. "They were post-up players and midrange players. Now, you've got power forwards dribbling the ball up the court, taking threes and things like that."
Nowitzki can take some of the credit. But in the twilight of his career, he's just glad to still be playing at an All-Star level.
"The Mavericks are a great franchise, so they deserve to have a representative here every year," he said. "We have great fans, and also, '12-time All-Star' sounds really good. It's something for your legacy. I'm enjoying it."
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