The Basketball Jones 40: What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s a little hard to define. It’s certainly not a list of the 40 best players in the league right now — in fact, a couple players on the TBJ 40 would be ones that teams would gladly pay just to go away (and some have). And it’s not a list of our 40 favorite players, either — the combined man-hours that some of us have spent rooting against a couple of these guys would certainly disqualify that as well. It’s not even the 40 funniest or most interesting players, as a couple players are dull as dishwater off the court, but do enough on the hardwood to make their inclusion undeniable.

No, the best way we can define the Basketball Jones 40 is as the 40 players that are most important to our site right now. The players we write about the most, the players we follow the closest, the players that TBJ could least afford to be without. And what goes into that is an entire series of factors, ranging from their on-court success to their off-court headline making to their general likability as athletes, celebrities and human beings.

And now, time for No. 1 on our list …

NO. 1: DIRK NOWITZKI

The unlikely reigning king of the NBA, it looked not that long ago that the epitaph for Dirk Nowitzki’s basketball career could be pre-loaded: Great scorer, unique player, post-season disaster. Now with the one remaining hole on his resume filled — in epic, unpredictable fashion, no less — there is no reason to look at Dirk as anything but what he is: One of the best, coolest, and most singular players in NBA history. We certainly wouldn’t have guessed at this time last year that Dirk would be topping the TBJ 40, but now that he’s here, it feels kind of right, doesn’t it? Until next season…

2011 Season: Not gonna get much better than this for the guy. He had a typical Dirk regular season — 23 and 7, shooting 51% from the field, coming a combined .015 away from his third 50/40/90 season — even garnering some early MVP buzz as the Mavs got off to a hot first half. He wound down a little at the end of the season, but came back in full force in the playoffs, carrying the team past the Blazers, outplaying Kobe against the Lakers, and going off in a historical way against the Thunder. His finals against Miami was more up and down, but he made all the key plays late to carry the over-the-hill Mavs against the would-be dynasty-in-the-making of the Heat. Perhaps the greatest testament to Dirk’s awesome ’10-’11, though? The Mavs’ record with him, including playoffs: 71-23. Without him? 2-7. (20/20)

Career/Legacy: You know Dirk has a shot to finish his career as a 30k/10k guy? He’s at 22.8 and 8.3 now. Another three or four seasons at a high level, a couple more as a supporting guy, and he’s there for sure. You know who else is a 30/10 guy? Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (And if you want to count ABA, Dr. J as well). That’s the kind of historical company Dirk will be keeping when all is said and done. Not to mention the MVP, the finals MVP, the ten straight All-Star appearances (and counting) … yeah. (10/10)

Drama/Controversy: The name “Cristal Taylor” ring any bells? That was Dirk’s con woman ex-fiancée, whose arrest briefly made the baller a rare subject for some pretty nutso tabloid fodder. Besides that, Dirk’s mostly kept it clean off the court, though on the court, he’s also been at the epicenter of two of the great playoff meltdowns of recent years — the ref-assisted ’06 finals loss when Dallas was up 2-0 and looked like they were about to deliver the death blow to Miami, and the embarrassing first-round loss to the Warriors as the Mavs had just come off a dominant 67-win regular season. Dirk’s probably sleeping pretty easy these days, but it wasn’t always like this. (7/10)

Go-To Move: What do you think? The off-balance, high-arcing, one-leg fadeaway, very possibly the most unmistakable and impossible-to-copy signature move in NBA history. You’ll probably see a hundred combined Dream Shakes, Sky Hooks and, uh, Tim Duncan Bankers before you see another version of the Dirk Fallaway. (10/10)

Highlight Play: For circumstance, probably the and-one layup against the Spurs to tie the game in the final minute of Game 7 of the ’06 Conference Finals. (8/10)

Comedic Potential: Dirk gets a lot of comedic mileage just out of being exceptionally German, which can result in brilliantly nonsensical catch-phrases and unforgettable renditions of championship anthems. His incredible grasp of the game combined with his sporadic grasp of the English language will one day result in an excellent post-pro career as a color man, we predict. (8/10)

Nicknames: The Big German was a good start, but somewhat lacking in defining Dirk’s je ne sais quoi. Thank the lord for Flula, then, whose oddly specific dubbing of Dirk as the German Moses has finally given him a sobriquet worthy of his singularity. (9/10)

Definitive Quote: “TAKE DAT WIT CHEW!!!!” (8/10)

Non-Hoops Ventures: Minimal, as Dirk is far from the most extroverted of NBA players — even his finals celebration was enacted in private — nor among the most marketable. Expect a reigning champion Dirk to be a little more likely to say “yes” to the talk show appearances, prime-time cameos and endorsement deals, though. (2/5)

Poignant NBA Relationship: You wouldn’t expect “Holger Geschwinder” to become anything resembling a household name among Stateside audiences, but as he was often cited (and shown in the audience) throughout the ’11 playoffs as Dirk’s mentor and primary shooting coach, he became an oddly compelling figure, and his relationship with Dirk one of the league’s most touching. Don’t be surprised if Holger gets a commercial or two of his own out of all of this, either. (4/5)

TOTAL SCORE: 86/100