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It's my favourite time of the NBA Season! All-Star weekend is finally upon us, and things kick off tonight with the BBVA Celebrity All-Star Game, the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam, and the D-League Dream Factory.
The only Thunder players participating tonight will be Serge Ibaka and James Harden, so to solidify this as a Thunder blog, I'll pay the most attention to their event, the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge.
2011 T-Mobile Rookie Challenge
When: 8 PM CST
This will prove to be one of the most intriguing Rookie Challenges yet. Last year, the Rookies absolutely dominated the Sophomores, ending a streak of seven straight wins for the Sophomore team.
What did it prove? Well, it proved that the draft class of 2008 was a farce in terms of top level talent. Aside from Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, and Derrick Rose, I highly doubt there will be any All-Stars from this draft. Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo have the talent to make it in the NBA, but their off-court tendencies are killing their careers (O.J. Mayo is currently serving s suspension after a season filled with troubles, and Beasley is languishing in Minnesota). Everyone else has proven to either be a bust (Joe Alexander) or just a role player (pretty much everyone else). I might be being a little hard on the class, because there are some guys who currently have the status of role player that could potentially blossom into All-Stars (Roy Hibbert, Eric Gordon), but they don't even come close to the 2009 Draft.
The team is stacked with talent. They are stacked with PGs (The injured Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, and Jrue Holiday), and they have their fair share of scorers (Stephen Curry, James Harden, Wesley Matthews, DeMar DeRozan). The only place they really come up short in is the big man department, but they have a slate of forwards (DeJuan Blair, Serge Ibaka, and Taj Gibson) that make up for any height deficiency the team might have.
Below: The Rookies, How the Game Will Go for the Thunder Players, Prediction, Celebrity Pandering and Prediction, and D-League Stuff!
The Rookies, on the other hand, are lacking. Blake Griffin headlines the club, but he's technically from the prior draft class, and he has little help in the front court. He's joined by the disappointing Derrick Favors, the ho-hum Greg Monroe, and DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is a nice player, but he also is hampered by off the court issues. Nevertheless, he and Griffin will make a nice front court in this game, if a thin one. Everyone else on the team is a guard, and John Wall is really the only name that excites me. I mean, come on, Gary Neal? Eric Bledsoe? Some of these guys are the 9th or 10th men off of the bench, or starting for a very bad team. The possible exception to this rule is Landry Fields, who starts at SG for the Knicks, but mostly functions as a cog in the system, and only the 5th or 6th guy they'd look to for a score.
The Bottom line is that, not even taking into consideration the age of the players, the Sophomore team has a huge advantage in terms of talent. Griffin, Wall, and Cousins are good enough, but when the other team has Jennings, Curry, Ibaka, Matthews, and Blair, I'll take that team 9 times out of 10. If nothing else, think of it this way: With Tyreke Evans injured, the Sophomores had to call up James Harden. If Blake Griffin was injured, the Rookies would have had to call up someone like Trevor Booker. 'Nuff said.
How will the game go for the Thunder players? With the stack of scorers on the Sophomore team, I don't see Harden getting a whole lot of playing time. He'll probably hit a three and call it a day. Ibaka will be a main feature though, and just might practice for the dunk contest on the following night with Blake Griffin. I'd love to see these guys go at it, back and forth. I don't think he'll get the MVP, though. Guards will hog the ball more, and guys like Blair can force their way into points better than Ibaka, who functions better in pick n' rolls, garbage buckets, and cuts to the basket.
Just remember, the official name of the event is the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth JAM. So expect to see a lot of JAMMIN'!
Prediction: Sophomores 110, Rookies 92. MVP: Brandon Jennings
2011 BBVA Celebrity All-Star Game
When: 6 PM CST
Okay, I'll admit it: This is my favourite event. Why? This is simply the most insane and entertaining basketball game you'll watch this season. Nothing compares to watching Special K Daley (from the Harlem Globetrotters) throw water on a referee, watching Stephen A. Smith make his team play zone defense, Terrell Owens cherry-pick the entire game so he can constantly dunk, old NBA stars fire up and clank threes, Jim Gray killing the mood by asking Reggie Bush about controversy in New Orleans, and watching Clyde Drexler try to do an alley-oop dunk but miserably fail and come up two feet short. And this is only a taste of what you'll get.
Who's the most successful at this event? I'll give you a hint: Not the old NBA stars. In the past, this event featured Globetrotters and athletes from other sports, but they dominated so much that it was almost worthless to have anyone else in the game. By far the most impressive pure celebrity I've seen (I.E., not an athlete from another sport) has been Ice Cube, who did not f*** around and get a triple double, but played as a solid PG, basically willing his talentless team to victory.
Who can you expect to be good this year? Well, the NBA "legend" who most recently retired is Jalen Rose, who last played for the Suns in 2007. He's kept up his physical fitness since then, so you can expect him to be reasonably good.
Scottie Pippen, who last played for the Chicago Bulls in 2004, could also be a force. Okay, technically he played in Finland in 2008 and did well (had a 21 Point and 12 rebound game). So he's probably your best legend bet at having a good game, but that's just my opinion.
The other "legends" are mostly jokes. Chris Mullin can't shoot worth a darn anymore (as seen last year), B.J. Armstrong hasn't played in ten years, Magic Johnson hasn't played since 1996 and has gained weight, and Bill Walton hasn't played since 1987. Not to mention the fact that Bill Walton had chronic foot and back problems....I wouldn't be surprised to see him fall apart after about a minute in this game.
The celebrities? One of them played an NBA star in a movie (Common), and is about 6'1", so he could be a decent PG. Rob Kardashian, Ty Burrell, and Zach Levi are all almost 6 foot, so I suppose they could play, but no one really knows how good they are at basketball. I suppose Bill Simmons could shoot, but he spends a lot of time behind a desk. Jimmy Kimmel sits behind a desk and is quite portly, while Jason Alexander qualifies as a Senior Citizen in some places. And Justin Bieber? He's by far the shortest player at this event, unless a WNBA PG shows up to play. It's almost a complete farce that he's here. Usually he's not in events that allow him to be degraded in any way, shape, or form, though, so he might just be the best celebrity here. I mean, never say never baby.
MVP Prediction: Scottie Pippen. Best Celebrity: Justin Bieber.
2011 D-League Dream Factory
When: 10 PM CST
TV: Online only at NBA.com/dleague
I don't know a whole lot about the D-League. And, quite frankly, the D-League dream factory is just like All-Star Saturday night, except without the talent and flair. But it's still nice to glance at, so I'm previewing it here.
The Haier Shooting Stars Comeptition is pretty unpredictable, especially since players will be on random teams and it's more about luck than skill. So I'll leave the previewing of that one undone.
But the Dunk contest is a different story. Dar Tucker won last year's contest with a dunk over a 7 foot tall player last year, which was more impressive than Nate Robinson's dunk over Dwight Howard last year. He'll be going up against Chris Johnson, who is a really tall and lanky guy that can get up, so he should provide some excitement. There's also Derrick Byars (who was once on the Thunder Training Camp Roster) is more of a scorer than a dunker, so I don't think he has a huge chance. Lastly, there's Marqus Blakely, who should provide the biggest competition to Dar Tuckers crown, as he is extremely athletic and has a great sens of the ball when he dunks.
Prediction: Marqus Blakely steals the crown.
The three point contest will be defended by Booker Woodfox, who shoots almost 40% from three point land. His biggest competitor will be Andre Ingram who shoots a staggering 47% from beyond the arc. There's also Scottie Reynolds and Marcus Landry, who both shoot below 40%. Anything else I'd have to say about this competition would be just a guess, so yeah.
Prediction: Booker Woodfox keeps the crown because his name is so awesome.
Remember, feel free to post your thoughts about tonight's festivities in the comments, and if it is before 6PM CST, fill out a WTLC All-Star competition prediction ballot!