Tonight, the All-Star weekend continues, and by all accounts, it should be pretty awesome.
The Thunder players participating tonight will be Russell Westbrook taking part in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Kevin Durant taking part in the Foot Locker Three Point Contest, and Serge Ibaka taking part in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. In other words, there's a Thunder player to cheer for in every contest tonight but Haier Shooting Stars, and nobody cares about that event anyway. But, for the sake of doing the events in order, I'll preview that one first.
NBA All-Star Saturday Night
When: 7:30 PM CST (Shooting Stars is first, each successive event is about 30 minutes later)
Haier Shooting Stars
It's not the most exciting contest in the world, but back in the day, it was your only shot to see old NBA stars go at it. Back then, the Celebrity All-Star Game actually consisted of celebrities. But now, it's just the boring event that TNT can use to fill time while you hope that Rick Fox can hit a Half-Court shot.
The returning champions are Team Texas, who include a player from all three NBA Texas teams. Sharpshooter Dirk Nowitski returns from last year, as does Rockets "legend" Kenny Smith. New to the competition is Roneeka Hodges, who is an alright guard from the San Antonio Silver Stars, but in no way as good as Becky Hammon, who was with the team last year.
This opens up the competition to strong contenders, such as the hometown Team Los Angeles. They feature Pau Gasol, a big man who can actually shoot, Rick Fox, a middle of the road NBA player who thinks he can act, and Tina Thompson, the best WNBA player in terms of PPG.
The other two teams are pretty much underdogs. Team Chicago features possibly the best 3 Point Shooter in the history of the NBA in Steve Kerr, but they are hampered by Taj Gibson, who can shoot from mid-range but can't really shoot threes, and Cathrine Kraayveld, whose points and shooting percentages have gone down throughout her career. Perhaps the biggest underdog is Team Atlanta, who features Steve Smith as a nice shooter, but they also have Al Horford, who doesn't shoot threes, and Coco Miller, who is more of a frontcourt player and shot an atrocious 19.3% from three last year.
Below: How the Haier Shooting Stars Will Pan Out, the Skills Challenge, the Three Point Contest, the Dunk Contest, and the D-League All-Star Game!
All in all, I expect Texas and Los Angeles to advance to the final round, with Los Angeles winning in their hometown because they'll care more about this farce of an event. But the half-court shots make this event have too much of an element of randomness, so everything I say could easily be made irrelevant a a couple of miracle shots. Oh well, it's fun to watch anyway!
Predicted Winner: Team Los Angeles
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
This year, fans had the opportunity to vote for who would get in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and it was an excellent move. It resulted in Stephen Curry, John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook rising to take on Chris Paul, while Baron Davis, Tyreke Evans, Derek Fisher, and Tony Parker all sitting out. In essence, we get to see more young talent that will actually care about the contest, rather than veterans who will lazily jog through the course.
Essentially, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge consists of two rounds of dribbling around obstacles, passing the ball through obstacles, and shooting two shots. It can get pretty intense, especially if you're egging on your guy to win and he misses a pass.
Who will win? Well, Chris Paul is the obvious choice, as all of the other competitors are more of scorers than he is, and the competition usually hinges on the ever-important pass. I'm sorry to say that Russell Westbrook is the underdog here, because he'll probably dribble the ball off his foot while weaving in-between the obstacles.Then again, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose aren't pass-first guards either, so they might have trouble on pass obstacles. John Wall is a Rookie and the biggest player participating, so he might not have the quickness of other competitors.
But, who wins this event is anyone's guess. These are all excellent competitors, and it should be a tight contest that will be decided by the slightest of mistakes. Assuming two players get into the final round, I'll say that Chris Paul is experienced and wily enough to get in, and Stephen Curry will get in with his quickness. Derrick Rose misses the cut because he's more of a scorer, Russell Westbrook misses it because he's not very clutch, and John Wall barely misses out because he's too big and slow. Then, Stephen Curry upsets Chris Paul in the final round because I'm a big homer and never take the favourite.
Predicted Winner: Stephen Curry
Foot Locker Three Point Contest
It's the All-Star staple that nobody ever talks about. It's been in NBA games as long as I can remember, but other than when it first came out in NBA Live 98, I can't remember ever really wanting to play it.
But, when it's here, it's a whole lot of fun to watch. There's 6 competitors who participate in a 2 round competition, with three being eliminated in the first round. The competition is largely dependent on who is hot, and who has the most sustainable jumper. In other words, if you're a bigger guy and barely jump when you shoot, you're going to be able to make a lot more in less time while wasting less energy than short guy who jumps three feet in the air and kicks his legs. In this sense, Kevin Durant has the advantage, since he's the tallest guy in the competition, and doesn't jump as high.
There's only one problem though: Kevin Durant sucks at shooting threes. There. I said it. He's probably the best mid-range shooter in the league, and can finish near the basket with the best of them. But his three point shooting is mediocre at best. During the blowout against the Kings on Tuesday, where he basically shot in an empty gym, he went 1-8. The game before that, against the Warriors? 2 of 7. This season, he's only shot 33.8 from behind the arc, his worst percentage since his Rookie season. Not to mention the fact that his shot is extremely flat and prone to rimming out. He doesn't have a chance.
Other competitors include James Jones, who benefits from being able to shoot wide-open threes while the other team is busy guarding LeBron and Wade, Daniel Gibson, the best three point shooter everyone has forgotten about, Ray Allen, one of the league's best sharpshooters, Paul Pierce, one of the league's best scorers, and Dorrell Wright, a streaky shooter who can get extremely hot and cold.
For getting into the second round, I'd say Daniel Gibson, Ray Allen, and Dorrell Wright isn't too much of a stretch, with Paul Pierce barely missing out. The clutchness factor should come through for Ray Allen and allow him to win, but Dorrell Wright could get hot and win the whole thing. The analyst in my goes for Allen, but my heart sits with Wright.
Predicted Winner: Ray Allen
Sprite Slam Dunk Contest
Ah, the Slam Dunk contest. Two rounds, two dunks each, four competitors, and a whole lots of disappointment. Every year this is pumped up as the best All-Star event. And sometimes, it is. But sometimes, it's a travesty. Like last year. Honestly, what do you remember about last year's dunk contest? The entire thing has slipped my mind. Of course, Nate Robinson winning it two years ago by jumping over Dwight Howard, Dwight Howard winning it three years ago by jumping from the free throw line, and the Igoudala-Robinson showdown in '06 all stick out in my mind as excellent dunk memories.
Really, it just depends on the year. And luckily, this year is going to be totally awesome. The best dunker in the league, Blake Griffin, is going up against the dunk champion of Spain and Thunder fan favourite, Serge Ibaka. Oh yeah, and there's JaVale McGee and DeMar DeRozan as well.
To Oklahomans, it's like a dream come true. Griffin, the best player to ever play at OU, versus Ibaka, the fans most favourite player on the Thunder. Worlds collide, dreams come true, that sort of thing. Sure, JaVale McGee has nice touch around the basket, but he doesn't have the height or power of Blake Griffin. And there's DeMar DeRozan, but he had his chance last year, and while he has the hops, he just doesn't have the showmanship to win in a dunk contest against Griffin or Ibaka.
I think I'll just leave you with some dunk videos to chew over. GO IBAKA!
Predicted Winner: Serge Ibaka. Sure, Griffin is a huge favourite to win, but I've got to predict the Thunder to win something. This is a hometown blog, right?
When: 4 PM CST
Oh yeah, this is going on too! I'm not going to pretend to know who all of the players are, or have any inkling as to how the game is going to turn out. But, I can give a few tidbits.
- Trey Johnson averages 25.8 PPG, which is 5 more than Othyus Jeffers, the next guy on the list. Can you say superstar?
- Two years ago, Joe Alexander was selected 8th in the NBA Draft. He was almost in the Dunk Contest, but got outvoted in a one-off voting system for the final spot. After that, he bounced between various NBA teams and got signed to the D-League, and is now in this All-Star game. A sign of things to come for him? Hopefully.
-Zabian Dowdell was the guy featured in a Sports Illustrated piece a couple weeks ago about trying to make the NBA. Well, there's a good ending to his story. He finally got signed for the rest of the season, and is capping off his D-League career with an appearance in the All-Star Game. I guess dreams really do come true....until he's cut again at the end of the season.
-Remember Sean Williams? That Nets big who had off-the-court problems and never panned out? Yeah, he's in the D-League now as well, playing for the West. It's almost like this is the game of second chances.
-Orien Greene used to play in spot minutes for the 76ers. Despite his awesome name, the Sixers have since found out there are better options at SG not named Iverson.
-Mustafa Shakur, a former Thunder player, is in this game. He's a great combo guard and scorer, but I doubt he'll get called back to the Thunder, as he's now playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He'll definitely get NBA time again though, and is one of the top prospects to be considered out of the D-League.
-OU fans can hate on Dexter Pittman in this game.
-Honestly, there's probably stuff I'm missing, but that's all I really know about the players in this game. It will be a learning process for all of us.
Prediction: West 109, East 100. MVP: Trey Johnson
Remember, feel free to post your thoughts about tonight's festivities in the comments!