I've written about All-Star Weekend three straight weeks, so there's no reason to break the streak now. The NBA released the participant lists for all of the Saturday night events and the teams have been chosen for the Rising Stars Challenge. There's plenty to discuss so let's dive into it.
All of the events have new rules as the NBA has decided to make every competition a team event. I understand the NBA's desire to mix things up and try to inspire more interest in the All-Star evens, but I'm not completely sure I like this. These All-Star events are designed to showcase the best of the best, and teams introduce more variables that make it more difficult to isolate the top performers. I guess we'll have to see how it turns out and whether the NBA decides to stick with it going forward.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
I'm starting with the Skills challenge because it's the only one that includes a Sun. After appearing on numerous snubs list, including my own, Goran Dragic finally got some of the recognition he deserves and was invited to compete in the Skills Challenge.
Here are the teams:
- WEST: Goran Dragic (PHX), Reggie Jackson (OKC)
- WEST: Damian Lillard (POR), Trey Burke (UTA)
- EAST: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), DeMar DeRozan (TOR)
- EAST: Michael Carter-Williams (PHI), Victor Oladipo (ORL)
I really think Dragic and Jackson have an excellent shot to win this. In fact, I'd put them as the favorite. This competition is all about speed and precision, and the Dragic and Jackson duo has those qualities in droves. Both of the point guards excel at getting to the basket, which requires speed, athleticism and excellent ball-handling.
The Lillard-Burke duo could give them some tough competition, though. Lillard is going to be competing in every event at All-Star weekend, and he's going to try to win as many as he can.
Antetokounmpo (no, I did not copy/paste that) is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA, and basketball Twitter loves him. I do think it's pretty cool that they got him involved. However, I'm not so sure this pair has the precision ball-handling and passing needed to win this event. Just like the big event on Sunday, DeMar DeRozan was given the nod over his more deserving teammate Kyle Lowry.
The Carter-Williams and Oladipo team is all kinds of intriguing. Both guys have all the athleticism you could ask for in addition to possessing long strides. It wouldn't surprise me at all if these guys won it, but I wouldn't put any money on them.
My Pick: Dragic and Jackson
BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge
This year, Grant Hill and Chris Webber picked the teams for the Rising Stars Challenge featuring the best of the last two draft classes. Webber was given the first pick, and shocked the world by picking hometown big man Anthony Davis. It's good to see Chris didn't have any trouble making decisions with limited time on the clock; then again, I'm not sure timeouts were allowed (not that that stopped him before).
Here are the teams:
- Anthony Davis (Sophomore, F, NOP)
- Michael Carter-Williams (Rookie, G, PHI)
- Tim Hardaway Jr. (Rookie, G, NYK)
- Trey Burke (Rookie, G, UTA)
- Jared Sullinger (Sophomore, F, BOS)
- Mason Plumlee (Rookie, F/C, BKN)
- Victor Oladipo (Rookie, G, ORL)
- Steven Adams (Rookie, C, OKC)
- Kelly Olynyk (Rookie, F/C, BOS)
- Damian Lillard (Sophomore, G, POR)
- Bradley Beal (Sophomore, G, WAS)
- Andre Drummond (Sophomore, C, DET)
- Harrison Barnes (Sophomore, F, GSW)
- Terrence Jones (Sophomore, F, HOU)
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (Rookie, F, MIL)
- Jonas Valanciunas (Sophomore, C, TOR)
- Dion Waiters (Sophomore, G, CLE)
- Pero Antic (Rookie, C, ATL)
Oddly enough, with the way the teams turned out, this is pretty close to the Rookie-Sophomore game that this event used to be. Webber only has two sophomores on his team, Inspector Gadget Davis and Sullinger, while Hill only has two rookies, the Greek Freak Antetokounmpo and the Macedonian Monster Pero Antic.
Davis is the best player in this game, so that's one point to Webber. Carter Williams is made for this kind of event as well, so that's another point. I'm predicting a starting five of Carter-Williams, Oladipo, Hardaway Jr., Sullinger and Davis.
Lillard should be fun in this event as well, and Andre Drummond could very well dominate this event. Projected starting five: Lillard, Beal, GIANNIS, Jones, Drummond.
Man, MCW-Oladipo-Unibrow vs. Lillard-Beal-Drummond should be tons of fun. Honestly, I'd be just fine with a 3-on-3 game between those two trios while the other guys sit and watch.
My Pick: Team Webber
Foot Locker Three-Point Contest
Kyle Korver, who's streak with a made 3-pointer is sitting at 116 games and who is right at the top of the charts in terms of percentage, turned down an offer to compete in order to spend the weekend with his family. That's a shame for me, because I obviously wanted him to compete and would have picked him to win it without a second thought.
Here are the guys who are participating:
- Kyrie Irving (G, CLE, 35.4% 3FG)
- Arron Afflalo (G, ORL, 42.7%)
- Bradley Beal (G, WAS, 40.8%)
- Joe Johnson (G, BKN, 38.9%)
- Marco Belinelli (G, SAS, 44.3%)
- Kevin Love (F, MIN, 37.5%)
- Stephen Curry (G, GSW, 40.2%)
- Damian Lillard (G, POR, 40.5%)
Five of the participants are shooting 40 percent or better, which means three of them are not. Kyrie Irving gets an automatic invite as the reigning champ despite the fact that he has struggled this season. I'm not quite sure why Kevin Love was invited, and I'm pretty sure Joe Johnson made it simply to troll us all.
Obviously I'm biased, but I really thought Channing Frye deserved an invite. He's on of 11 guys shooting over 40 percent on more than five attempts per game (Curry and Lillard are also on that list). Combine the percentage and volume with Frye making a triumphant return from heart disease and the Suns having a winning season, Frye seemed like an easy choice to me.
Looking at that list, other guys who could and perhaps should have been invited: Jose Calderon, Wesley Matthews, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Curry was in the competition last year yet didn't do all that well. But he's still Steph Curry.
My Pick: Stephen Curry
Sprite Slam Dunk
The NBA completely shook up the format for this year's dunk contest. Check out Conrad Kaczmarek's explanation of the new rules on SB Nation for more details. Like the other events it will be a team competition. Here are the dunkers:
- Paul George (F, IND)
- Terrence Ross (G, TOR)
- John Wall (G, WAS)
- Harrison Barnes (F, GSW)
- Damian Lillard (G, POR)
- Ben McLemore (G, SAC)
This could be pretty interesting with the Freestyle round.
Paul George is the only one of these six who dunks on a regular basis, with 48 dunks so far on the season. He's thrown down some nice in-game dunks in transition. Ross is the defending champ, Wall and Lillard are little guys with big ups, and McLemore can certainly get up himself. Barnes, meh.
My Pick: East, Paul George
Sears Shooting Stars
The final event is the team shooting competition, with each team including a current player, a legend and a WNBA player. The teams are:
- Tim Hardaway Jr., (G, NYK), Tim Hardaway Sr. (legend), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky)
- Chris Bosh (F/C, MIA), Dominique Wilkins (legend), Swin Cash (Chicago Sky)
- Stephen Curry (G, GSW), Dell Curry (legend), Becky Hammon (San Antonio Silver Stars)
- Kevin Durant (F, OKC), Karl Malone (legend), Skylar Diggins (Tulsa Shock)
It's interesting that they aren't limiting themselves to geographic ties to determine teams. It's also pretty cool that we are going to see a couple players compete alongside their dads.
This is a shooting competition, so...
M Pick: Curry-Curry-Hammon
There you go Bright Siders. Who else deserves to be competing during All-Star weekend? What event are you looking forward to the most? What are your picks?