What distinguishes the NBA’s All-Star Weekend as the greatest of its kind in professional sports are the Saturday night events: the slam dunk contest, three-point shootout, and skills challenge. These competitions, played the night before the All-Star Game, regularly produce incredible moments, and are so exciting to watch that their viewership rivals the All-Star Game itself. The NBA announced the participants for these events on Thursday, and just looking at the lineups, I can’t wait to watch the drama unfold on February 16th. Here’s a preview of each of the three contests, along with my predictions for who’ll come out on top.
Slam Dunk Contest:
Participants- Aaron Gordon, Derrick Jones Jr., DeAndre Jordan, Glenn Robinson III
The dunk contest is all about creativity, and every year, some of the most athletic players in the league put their skills on display, doing things never seen before. In 2016, we witnessed one of the greatest duels of all-time, as Zach Lavine and Aaron Gordon put on a show that left us speechless. Although many (including myself) disagreed with the final result, Lavine won for the second straight year. With Lavine declining an invite to participate this year, Aaron Gordon enters as the clear favorite and my pick to take the crown. Considering last year’s dunks, which stood out for their innovation, I can’t wait to see what Gordon has in store this time around.
Interestingly, Gordon’s biggest competition might be a guy who hasn’t thrown down a single dunk in the NBA. Derrick Jones Jr., a rookie for the Suns, has spent most of his first season in the D-League, only registering 11 minutes of NBA action in three appearances. However, despite being a virtual unknown, Jones’ highlights for the Northern Arizona Suns speak for themselves. The dude’s got hops. We’ve seen players make a name for themselves in the dunk contest before, and Jones could make a huge impact as the wild card.
DeAndre Jordan had to participate in this event after receiving his first All-Star selection. Among other things, the Clippers center is known for his energetic, powerful dunks and proficiency in finishing alley-oops. It’s always interesting having a big man in the field. While they dunk more forcefully, their size typically limits them in terms of style points. However, in the past, we’ve seen guys such as Dwight Howard combine both elements and win the contest. There’s a difference in being a great in-game dunker and a dunk contest champion, and it’ll be interesting to see how Jordan utilizes his unique skill set.
Glenn Robinson III will enter somewhat under the radar. While he doesn’t have the notoriety of Gordon and Jordan or Jones’ level of intrigue, Robinson is a great dunker in his own right. I’d probably give him the longest odds of winning the competition, but he should still produce some exciting dunks.
Participants- Eric Gordon, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Wesley Matthews, C.J. McCollum, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Nick Young
Following a 3rd place finish in 2o15, Klay Thompson beat out teammate and reigning champion Stephen Curry in last year’s three-point shootout, tying Curry’s record for most points in a round in the process. This time, Thompson is back to defend his title and make it three-in-a-row for the Splash Bros. The star-studded opposition includes 2013 champion Kyrie Irving, and Eric Gordon and Kyle Lowry, currently second and third in the NBA in made threes. All eight competitors are shooting over 38% from behind the arc this season, meaning it’s really a matter of who’ll be able to get into their rhythm the quickest and stay there.
I’ll place my bet on Thompson to repeat, as I believe he’s the best pure shooter in the field. For an under the radar pick, look no further than Nick “Swaggy P” Young. He’s having the best shooting season of his career, currently stroking it at 41.9% from deep. We know he has the confidence to spare, and he might just give the fans something to remember.
Guards- Devin Booker, Gordon Hayward, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall
Big Men- DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis
The skills challenge is bringing back its guards vs. big men format adopted last season, where the seven-foot Karl-Anthony Towns stunned the crowd, defeating Isaiah Thomas in the finals. In 2017, Thomas, Cousins, and Davis have returned alongside five new competitors, headlined by Joel “The Process” Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis, who is the league’s tallest player at 7’3″. This single-elimination tournament features a combination of dribbling, passing, and shooting, and while that might seem to favor the smaller guys, all the big men competing have good handles and are frequent ball handlers for their teams. Despite this, I think the guards will take the title back this year, and I’m going with John Wall to get the job done. However, even more so than the three-point contest, this one is anyone’s guess, as just one perfect pass or made shot can make the difference.
What’s your favorite part of All-Star Weekend, and who do you think will take down the Saturday night competitions? Comment below.