The middle of February marks the point in the NBA season when players get a week-long break from the grueling regular season, and if you’re one of the players selected for an All-Star event, you get to be a part of one of the most entertaining weekends in basketball. From Michael Jordan’s free throw line dunk to Larry Bird’s famous, “Which one of you guys is finishing second?” statement in the 3-point contest, All-Star weekend is home to countless iconic moments in basketball’s rich history. Let’s take a look at the field for each event and pick which players will be next to go down in history as All-Star event winners.
Rising Stars Game
Team U.S. (Jarrett Allen, Marvin Bagley III, Lonzo Ball (injured), John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, Jaren Jackson Jr., Kevin Knox, Kyle Kuzma, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum)
Team World (OG Anunoby, Deandre Ayton, Bogdan Bogdanović, Luka Dončić, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Rodions Kurucs, Lauri Markanen, Josh Okogie, Cedi Osman and Ben Simmons)
Here we have two teams each consisting of 10 of the most talented young basketball players in the world. Divided up by where they are from, we get two fairly even teams playing each other to kick off the weekend on Friday night. While Team World is top-loaded with the three best players in the competition, Team U.S. makes up for it with supreme depth.
Simmons and Dončić are known around the league as two generational talents with amazing all-around games that remind NBA historians of Magic Johnson breaking the barriers of the point guard position. Dončić is averaging 20.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting 35 percent from 3-point range on seven attempts per game. These are some of the best rookie numbers we’ve ever seen, and The Wonderboy is only 19 years old. Simmons plays a similar game to Dončić as an oversized point guard, but doesn’t have the same shooting touch (there’s even a Vegas prop bet for the All-Star game as to whether or not Simmons will attempt a three). But what Simmons lacks in shooting ability, he makes up for with top-notch athleticism.
Team U.S. boasts a deep lineup, with names that we all know like Jayson Tatum, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Donovan Mitchell and De’Aaron Fox. It’s the names that we need to double-take at that I think we need to pay attention to. Jaren Jackson Jr. and John Collins are having impressively quiet rookie and sophomore seasons, respectfully. The 19-year-old that’s become known around Memphis as “Triple J” has shown an impressive inside-out game as a 6-foot-11 240-lb power forward. He also plays great defense for his age and has the physical build to become one of the best perimeter and post defenders in the game. John Collins has made a resurgence after a so-so rookie campaign. Collins is averaging 19.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game on the overachieving Hawks, who many thought would be the worst team in the league this season.
My pick for this game is Team World. Dončić and Simmons are just too good at basketball. Either one of them could create a highlight play at any given moment. Add on the number one pick from this last year’s draft, Ayton, and Team World has a deadly big three. The 7-foot-1 Phoenix Sun center is averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game while shooting a remarkable 59 percent from the field. If it weren’t for Dončić, Ayton would be the midseason Rookie of the Year favorite. Team World should take the win here, and do it in style.
The field: Mike Conley, Luka Dončić, De’Aaron Fox, Nikola Jokic, Kyle Kuzma, Jayson Tatum, Nikola Vucevic, Trae Young
Here we see four names from the Rising Stars Game plus rookie Trae Young, showing that we have an impressive group of young playmakers in the league today. But let’s not forget about resident old-man Mike Conley. The grizzled Grizzly of Memphis heard his name circling around the rumor mill around the trade deadline, but ultimately couldn’t be dealt, unlike his career-long partner in grit ‘n grind, Marc Gasol. I can see Conley coming out with a chip on his shoulder and taking the win, showing the youngins how it’s done. However, my pick for this contest is going to be Nikola Jokic.
“The Joker” defies everything we know about the center position. He averages 7.7 assists per game, which is sixth in the NBA and the most out of everyone in this competition. His 3-point stoke is also impressive. Though his long-range shooting percentage is down to 30 percent this season, he shot 40 percent the last on the same number of attempts. Though this is an event created for guards, we’ve recently seen that a big man can take the win in this contest. In 2016 and 2017, we saw Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis wow everybody with premier displays of accurate passing, tight ball-handling and wet 3-pointers from the top of the arc. I think Jokic will be the next addition to the list of big men to win this contest.
The field: Devin Booker, Seth Curry, Stephen Curry, Danny Green, Joe Harris, Buddy Hield, Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Dirk Nowitzki and Kemba Walker
There are so many great shooters in this contest, it makes it a really tough call. While I love to see Dirk included in this, I’m not sure if he’s going to have enough time to get every shot up. It will be interesting to see who gets more love from the Charlotte crowd. Will it be the Curry brothers that grew up there with their father and Hornets legend Dell Curry, or Charlotte’s new favorite son Kemba Walker, who will more likely than not sign away the rest of his prime with the Hornets this summer? We all know here at UConn what Walker is capable of when stakes are at their highest, so I wouldn’t dare to count him out in this contest. Booker is coming back to defend his title, and Stephen Curry won this contest back in his first MVP season in 2015. It isn’t going to be any of those guys.
I’m going to pick the dark horse from the Brooklyn Nets, Joe Harris. Harris has been in the league since 2014 but just made a name for himself this season by doing one thing: splashing 3-pointers. Harris is shooting 45.3 percent from three this season, which only trails Curry and Davis Bertans (who has been outrageously snubbed from this competition). Harris attempts five 3-pointers per game, which makes up half of his field goal attempts. This guy is on the planet to put basketballs through the net from at least 22 feet from the basket, and there is no other competition that suits him quite like this one.
Slam Dunk Contest
The field: Miles Bridges, John Collins, Hamidou Diallo and Dennis Smith Jr.
Here we have four of the highest flyers in the NBA armed with basketballs with one mission: to destroy the rim with as much showmanship as they possibly can. Miles Bridges is the hometown favorite, and the rookie forward has thrown down some of the most powerful, devastating dunks this season. However, in the history of this contest, powerful dunks aren’t what win. The judges don’t feel what the rim feels, and are typically on the lookout for flashy, athletically impressive dunks. For that same reason, I don’t think Collins will win either. Big men don’t normally score well in this competition, which was much to UConn fans’ disappointment when Andre Drummond couldn’t win the judges over in the 2016 Dunk Contest.
That leaves high-flying Thunder forward Diallo and the recently traded point guard Dennis Smith Jr. Both players are capable of pulling off some insane, gravity-defying dunks, but I give the edge to DSJ. Smith participated in this competition last year, and many believe that he was robbed of the win by the judges in favor of Larry Nance Jr. Smith undoubtedly had the best dunk in the contest with his between the legs 360 slam, and I’m excited to see what he pulls out of his bag of tricks this time around.
NBA All-Star Game
The field: Team LeBron (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, LaMarcus Aldridge, Karl-Anthony Towns, Bradley Beal and special addition Dwyane Wade)
Team Giannis (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, Joel Embiid, Paul George, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Nikola Jokic, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Lowry and special addition Dirk Nowitzki)
First thing’s first: Let’s talk about how great of fits the two special additions are for each team. We have Wade and LeBron teaming up one last time, and I would bet my entire bank account that they hook up on an alley-oops attempt during the game. We also have Dirk, who has been the European NBA legend for the last two decades, passing the torch to Antetokounmpo, who is appropriately nicknamed “The Greek Freak.”
I think Team LeBron has the most talent. Durant and Harden are one-man offensive wrecking crews that can put 40 points on the board without thinking twice. Irving, Thompson and Lillard are three of the craziest heat-check players in the league, able to unleash a barrage of shots from deep. Davis has probably been the most talked-about player in the game the past two months, and rightfully so. He was on the trade market, and everyone who wanted to land the star was willing to give up absolutely everything they had for him. Having the most talent, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win in an All-Star game.
The NBA All-Star game has more to do with pageantry than anything else. That’s why I think Antetokounmpo was genius in drafting who he did. Team Giannis has two hometown heros on the team in Walker and Curry. Walker is the best player in Charlotte Hornets history at just 28 years old, but all indications point to him signing with the team for the remainder of his career. Even though the Hornets haven’t done anything to put a decent team around Walker, he knows nothing but loyalty to the franchise that drafted him ninth overall in 2011. I think the city will show him that same loyalty and love in return, and as a result he will put on a show. If part of the way through the game it is apparent that Walker is in the running for All-Star MVP, I think his teammates will feed him the ball and give him shots. They know how much winning that MVP award will mean to him and his city.
As UConn fans, I’m sure that’s what we all want to see. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that part of the way through the game, it is way more likely that Curry will be in the running for All-Star MVP and instead, he will get fed all of those looks by the team. Curry is having yet another legendary season of historic 3-point success, averaging over 28 points per game and shooting 45 percent on an absurd 11.4 attempts from deep per game. I can see him going for the All-Star scoring and 3-point records on the very same court he watched his father play on as a child. I’m picking Team Giannis to win the game and Stephen Curry to come away with his first ever All-Star MVP award.
Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.