All-Star Weekend has meant a break not only for NBA players, but also for me. Between classes, assignments, midterms, meetings, and the million other things I have to deal with in university, I’ve been barely keeping my head above water. But you didn’t come to read this article to hear me rant about my life; that’s for my therapist. You came to talk about All-Star Saturday Night, where skills will be challenged, three-pointers will fly, and dunks will be thrown down. So without further ado, let’s get into this event-filled night.
Taco Bell Skills Competition
The Skills Competition is easily the least exciting event of the evening. I love obstacle courses as much as the next guy, but spending an hour watching dudes dribble through cones, pass through tires, and shoot threes isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Nonetheless, this event has very, well, skilled participants, and I am a fan of this “Backcourt vs. Frontcourt” style. The bigs have taken advantage of this style change, winning three of the four matchups since. This year’s competition features three former champions in Jayson Tatum, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Patrick Beverly. I wish there was a bracket I could go through to state my winners on a round-by-round basis, but the NBA isn’t cooperating with me right now, so I’ll go with my gut on who the real contenders and pretenders are.
I believe most of the competitors fall in this category. Despite having laid claim to the trophy of late, almost all of the frontcourt players fit in this category. I love my Nigerian brother Bam Adebayo and enjoy watching Domantas Sabonis give us flashbacks of his father, but they don’t really stand a chance against a quicker, better shooting field. Joining this group is Tatum; I know he won last year, but it’s rare for a player to win this event back-to-back. I’d put money on Tatum getting a taste of his own medicine, leading his opponent for much of the first round only to be taken out by a come from behind three-pointer. As for the guards I don’t believe in, there’s Kris Middleton and Patrick Beverly. Middleton is having a quietly elite season – one that went under even my radar for a long stretch – but when I think of “skilled players”, he’s not one of the names that comes to mind. He might be the least athletic of the bunch and while he can shoot, he might be too far behind his opponent for his three-point abilities to matter. My case against Beverly follows suit for Middleton, only amplified. Beverly is hustle personified, not a polished, “skilled” player. I don’t know how he managed to win five years ago, but lightning won’t strike twice
By your power skills of deduction, you’ve determined my top three consists of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (replacing the injured Derrick Rose), Spencer Dinwiddie, and Pascal Siakam. While only one of them is an All-Star, both Shai and Spencer had solid campaigns with their performances this year. Shai has taken a massive leap from his rookie year and has become a silky smooth scorer. Dinwiddie has more than filled in for the injury riddled Kyrie Irving, having numerous big games and taking over in the clutch. As for Spicy P, he’s a deserving All-Star starter as the leader of the post-Kawhi Toronto Raptors that is still proving doubters like myself wrong. I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of these three won; they have the speed, handle, and shooting ability to get the job done. However, if I have to pick one, I’m going with my country-man Shai to win it all.
Prediction: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander beats Spencer Dinwiddie in the Final Round
Mountain Dew 3-Point Contest
We’re used to having this competition headlined by at least one of the Splash Brothers, if not both. However, having Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out has opened up the field, as we have a diverse range of players in this year’s shootout. This competition is harder to predict since players have the money-ball rack, which is truly a game changer. With eight players, I’ll break the competitors once more into Pretenders and Contenders.
While all of these players are amazing three-point shooters, there are different ways in which they hit from distance. Some are mostly catch-and-shoot guys while others do most of their damage off the dribble. I find in competitions like these, the latter group tends to struggle more often than not, since they’re taking 25 set shots. For that reason, I’m knocking out big names like Trae Young, Buddy Hield, and Devonte’ Graham. Whittling down the field further, I’m eliminating Joe Harris. You might have noticed my bias against defending champions, but especially of late, they return and put on lackluster performances.
With those four eliminated, we’re left with Davis Bertans, Duncan Robinson, Devin Booker (replacing the Damian Lillard), and Zach Lavine – that’s a lot of “D” names I just rattled off there. Bertans and Robinson play very similar roles on their respective Southeast Division teams: forwards who are on the court to let it fly and the knock it down at a very high clip. Booker has won the competition before, beating out both Splash Brothers in the final round no less. Lavine is the wildcard in my opinion. He’s arguably the streakiest shooter of the bunch, but he has home court advantage. This is his city, he could’ve been an All-Star this year despite the Chicago Bulls’ terrible play, and all the lights will be on him. He’s not called “Young Hollywood” for nothing; I think the hometown hero takes it, becoming the first person to win both the 3-Point Contest and the Slam Dunk Contest in NBA history.
Prediction: Zach Lavine beats Devin Booker and Duncan Robinson in the Final Round
AT&T Slam Dunk
There are many things that can be said about the Slam Dunk Contest. It is no longer what it once was; where multiple All-Stars used to compete, it has become a place where reduced to young, unproven, role players often come out to make a name for themselves. Pat Connaughton and Derrick Jones Jr. fit that bill to a tee. Aaron Gordon – who should’ve won in 2016 and you can’t tell me otherwise – returns, as does Dwight Howard, becoming the oldest participant in the contest’s history. While lacking the true star power, this could turn out to be one of the better contests in recent memory; we don’t have Zach Lavine (due to…”reasons”) , but we do have a former champion and two runner-ups, after all.
Derrick Jones Jr, aka “Airplane Mode”, made a name for himself in the 2017 Dunk Contest, where he questionably lost to Glenn Robinson III. This dude is one of the most entertaining dunkers I’ve ever seen; he truly seems to fly and yet still throws down such forceful dunks. We know what he can bring to the contest, and I expect him to be on his A-game.
Let’s be frank, Pat Connaughton is the ironic black sheep of this group. It reportedly took a six month campaign from him and the Milwaukee Bucks to convince the NBA to let him participate. He’s coming into this competition as an underdog, and he’s certainly buying into that mentality. While he has the highest vertical of any of the competitors, I don’t know exactly how creative he can be in a contest setting.
We’ve seen two versions of Aaron Gordon, one where he was apart of one of the greatest showdowns in dunk contest history, and one rather forgettable performance the following year. We all hope he resembles the former and he is currently the betting favourite to win what will likely be his final dunk contest appearance. We know he has the imagination to come up with wild dunks and the athleticism to pull them off.
Last but not least, we have Dwight Howard, the only champion of the bunch. Howard has “big-man bias” working against him, as the last center to win the contest was him in 2008. However, this is a more athletic version of Howard than we’ve seen in several years, and he might have the emotional factor necessary to win. The late Kobe Bryant was supposed to be a feature in Dwight’s performance, but it is reported the Black Mamba will still be a part of it in some way. With the league still reeling from Kobe’s tragic death – as far as changing the entire All-Star Game to honour him – Dwight will play on everyone’s emotions en route to hoisting his second Slam Dunk trophy.
Prediction: Dwight Howard beats Aaron Gordon in the Final Round