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NBA All-Star Weekend: All-Star Saturday Night Preview
By Mike Jasko

Ever since I was young, All-Star Saturday has been my favorite part of the NBA All-Star Weekend. The game itself is nice, but I was always captivated by the Slam Dunk Contest and its various undercards. I remember watching in amazement in 2000 as Vince Carter stole the show in Oakland with arguably the greatest solo exhibition in Dunk Contest history. Even though none of the contests since then have quite lived up to that night, the Dunk Contest and the NBA Saturday Night at large has long-been a night to celebrate all the great talent across the league.

So here is my guide to this year’s All-Star Saturday night. Admittedly, the first two events are a little more filler than substance, but those that love the NBA will still find enjoyment in the spectacle. First up is the Degree Shooting Stars.

The Competition

Teams are made up of three players; one current NBA star, one NBA Legend, and a WNBA star. Teammate alternate shots as they attempt to make a basket from four locations of increasing difficulty. First is a 10-foot bank shot from the right side, then a jumper from the top of the key, then a 3-pointer from the left wing, and finally a half-court shot. Fastest team wins. There is a preliminary round featuring four teams and then the team with the top two times advances to the finals.

The Competitors

Team Bosh: Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), Dominique Wilkins (Hawks’ Legend), Swin Cash (New York Liberty)

Team Curry: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Dell Curry (Hornet’s Legend), Sue Bird (Seattle Storm)

Team Davis: Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), Scottie Pippen (Bulls’ Legend), Elena Delle Donne (Chicago Sky)

Team Westbrook: Russell Westbrook (OKC Thunder), Penny Hardaway (Magic/Suns Legend), Takima Catchings (Indiana Fever)

My Take

Team Bosh is the two-time defending champions of this event, so I have to give them the edge. However, it will be interesting to watch the Father-Son combo of Steph and Dell Curry. But in reality, getting a good time on this course is all about hitting that half-court shot. Still, I’m picking Team Bosh for the 3-peat.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

The Competition

In an update to the format, 8 players will complete head-to-head in a bracket-style competition. Opposing players will take the court simultaneously, where they work their way through dribbling obstacles and passing targets, making baskets along the way. The biggest change in this years’ event is that the course ends with a three-point shot, whereas in previous years the course ended with a lay-up or dunk. This puts enormous emphasis on shooting efficiency, as each miss adds significant time to your run.

The Competitors

Patrick Beverly (Houston)

Trey Burke (Jazz)

Jimmy Butler (Bulls)

Michael Carter-Williams (76ers)

Brandon Knight (Bucks)

Kyle Lowry (Raptors)

Jeff Teague (Hawks)

Isiah Thomas (Suns)

My Take

All these guys are in this contest because they are fast and skillful guards, but as I mentioned, shooting will play a major role. Patrick Beverly is best 3-point shooter out of the bunch at 36.5% and Kyle Lowry is the next best at 33%. I’ll pick Beverly to win although Lowry should also be considered one of the favorites.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

Alright, now we get to the main events. The NBA has done well and assembled a fantastic field for this year’s three-point contest. Five players have made 140 or more threes so far this season in the NBA, and all five will be in this contest. All eight players in the field are shooting over 38% from the 3-point line and all but defending champion Marco Belinelli are in the top 10 in the league in 3-pointers made this season. There are also more big names in this year’s edition, with the NBA’s most talked about MVP Candidates Stephen Curry and James Harden, as well as 2013 three-point champion and budding superstar Kyrie Irving. Add to that list Kyle Korver, who is shooting a mind-numbing 52.3% from behind the arc this season, and you have a recipe for the most exciting three-point shootout in years.

The Competition

Players shoot from five designated locations on the floor: beginning in the left or right corner (the player’s choice), then the left or right wing, then to the top of the key, then from the opposite wing, and finally the opposite corner. The player takes five shots from each position. The first four balls on the rack are worth 1 point, and the finally ball, known as the “Money Ball,” is worth two. That makes the maximum score 30. Players have one minute to take all 25 shots. The best 3 scores from the first round advance to the finals.

The Competitors

Stephen Curry (Warriors)

Klay Thompson (Warriors)

James Harden (Rockets)

Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers)

Kyle Korver (Hawks)

Marco Belinelli (Spurs)

Wesley Mathews (Blazers)

J.J. Redick (Clippers)

My Take

Oh boy, this ought to be a great one. Any of these shooters are capable of getting hot and winning this contest. Kyle Korver has been the undisputed King of the Three this season, but one of the things that is interesting about this contest is how different types of shooters adjust to its format. Korver hits so many three pointers off of screens, it will be interesting to see how he does standing still, pulling balls off the rack.

Then you have guys like Harden and Curry, who take a large number of pull-up jumpers. I’m not sure which type of shot is closer to what the players will be doing during the competition. But whether off a rack or off a screen, all of these guys can just plain shoot; this will come down to who gets hot and stays hot during the final round. Despite being a former champion of this event, Kyrie Irving comes in as an underdog of sorts; I like him to sneak up and grab his second title in three years.

Sprite Slam Dunk

And then finally, after the three point champion is crowned, the Dunk Contest can commence. It may not have a hyper-elite field like the three-point contest, but it does have its share of exciting young athletes, eager to prove themselves on a national stage. All four players are on teams that don’t get much national exposure, and three of the four are on teams from small markets. They will certainly be ready to put on a show.

The Competition

Four players compete in the two-round event. All four players will have three attempts to perform each dunk, with no time limit. Each player will get two dunks in the first round, with the players with the top two cumulative scores advancing to the finals, which also consists of two dunks. There are five judges that will rate each dunk on a scale from 6 to 10, meaning a perfect score is 50 and a minimum score is 30. The player with the highest cumulative score from his two finals’ dunks will be the champion

The Competitors

Giannis Antetokoumpo (Bucks)

Zack LaVine (Wolves)

Victor Oladipo (Magic)

Mason Plumlee (Nets)

My Take

The least athletic of the bunch is probably Mason Plumlee, he’s not a real contender in my opinion. That doesn’t mean he won’t bring some great/creative dunks out for this contest. There is video online of him dunking 3 balls at once, something we haven’t seen in the NBA Dunk Contest.

Victor Oladipo is very athletic and judging from this 360 that he pulled off in a game, I’m sure we’ll see something even more dramatic in the dunk contest. Now Giannis Antetokoumpo is an interesting case. I haven’t seen him do any dunks that are too spectacular in a game, excluding this windmill jam he threw down a couple of weeks ago. But they don’t call him “The Greek Freak” for nothing; he’s 6’11” with a 7’3” wingspan. If he can come up with a creative way to use that length of his, I could see him performing a dunk that no one else is capable of making. For that reason, he has a pretty good chance in this contest.

Lastly, there’s Zack LaVine. He’s played less than a lot of the other guys in this contest, but this video of him on Youtube makes him the favorite to me. I can’t wait to see what he comes out with in this contest. If LaVine makes his dunks, he’ll probably win. However, I’m picking The Greek Freak to win, banking on him coming out with something creative using his length. I hope I’m right, but either way, these guys will put on a show. 

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