The All-Star break has already begun for 26 of the NBA’s 30 teams, and the festivities from the Big Easy will officially kick off Friday night with the Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge. With perhaps the strongest overall field of talent in recent years across the five major events, the Behind the Buck Pass staff throws out some predictions for the weekend’s competitions:
Skills Challenge (Saturday)
Contestants: Damian Lillard, Michael Carter-Williams, Goran Dragic, Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke, DeMar DeRozan, Reggie Jackson, Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nick Whalen: Since this event began in 2003, only one non-point guard has won the event (Dwyane Wade). For that reason, I’m throwing out DeRozan and Antetokounmpo right away. Of the remaining point guards, I’ll go with Lillard – he has to start somewhere if he’s planning to sweep the weekend.
Zack Flipse: Knocking down the jump shot is huge in the Skills Challenge. For that reason I think it comes down to Lillard (40.6 3P%) and Dragic (41.0 3P%). I give the nod to the Renaissance Man, Damian Lillard.
Dakota Schmidt: Based on the skills needed to win this competition (passing, perimeter shooting and speed), I have to give the edge to Utah’s Trey Burke. While he’s one of the quickest youngsters in the league, Burke has proved himself as a good distributor and solid perimeter shooter.
Peter Myhrer: My heart wants me to pick Giannis, but there is that pesky jump shot included in the competition that more than likely will eat him alive. Putting feelings aside, this will be a three man race between the reigning champ Lillard, Dragic, and Burke. This event is designed with a guy like Dragic’s skill set in mind though, so the Slovenian Stud gets my vote.
Henry Russo: This is an interesting field as Giannis and Demar are not prototypical competitors. I’m looking forward to how they’ll fare but Damian Lillard will repeat after taking home the skills challenge title later year. Quite the honor indeed!
Paul DeBruine: As everyone has alluded to above, this event really is geared towards a point guards skill set. With that in mind, I have to go with the best point guard in this field, Damian Lillard.
Slam Dunk Contest (Saturday)
Contestants: John Wall, Terrence Ross, Paul George, Ben McLemore, Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes
Nick: The East is the clear favorite, but I heard last week that McLemore may have a 720 in his repertoire. I’ll believe it when I see it, but I’ll go against the grain and take the West with the rookie McLemore taking home the individual crown.
Zack: I’m picking the East because…uh…Paul George. And Terrence Ross. Those two gentlemen have the two biggest dunks on the year, and they’ll be dunking for the same team. When the fans vote for an individual winner, it’s going to be Ross because…uh…Canada (not to mention he’s the defending champ).
Dakota: Repeat participants of the dunk contest have usually been successful so I have to give the edge to the East because of Paul George and Terrence Ross. While they’ve had some of the best in-game dunks, the duo has had previous success in the contest.
Peter: I’m convinced that including Ben McLemore in this contest was just a last ditch effort by the NBA to lure LeBron into finally participating. Seriously though, the Eastern Conference will be the heavy favorites coming in and they will not disappoint. I’m picking the East to win and Paul George to dethrone Terrence Ross.
Henry: I was surprised to hear Damian Lillard would be in the contest. Yet I’ll pick him to win because if Nate Robinson can win this contest 3 times why can’t Damian win once? I just wish my favorite active NBA dunker Gerald Green was competing.
Paul: Terrance Ross is an absolute beast at dunking, so there’s that. I’m really excited to see what Paul George can do as well. He’s super long and has an awesome first name. I’ll go with the east and George taking the individual crown.
Three-Point Shootout (Saturday)
Contestants: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Bradley Beal, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Damian Lillard, Joe Johnson, Marco Belinelli
Nick: Stephen Curry. This is one of the stronger overall fields in recent memory, but Curry will probably be the fan favorite and I see him edging out Belinelli in the final round.
Zack: Joe Johnson probably got some tips from former Three-Point Shootout champ and current teammate Paul Pierce. He’s going to win it.
Dakota: How can you not give the edge to the finest sharp-shooter in the NBA? While Irving and Love have had previous success in the competition, Stephen Curry has to be in the odds-on favorite because of how lethal he has been from the perimeter.
Peter: Marco. Belinelli. The Italian shooting guard is shooting a career best 44.3% from range this year and will have very little attention going into this competition. That sounds like a good recipe for success to me.
Henry: Steph Curry’s shot is scary smooth. If the field included Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Peja Stojackovic and 2009 winner Dequan Cook I might consider someone else. So I’ll take Steph winning easily.
Paul: I’m a sucker for three-point shooting big men. Going with Love in this one, a man who’s already won this contest before.
Rising Stars Challenge (Friday)
Webber: Steven Adams, Anthony Davis, Michael Carter-Williams, Tim Hardaway, Trey Burke, Jared Sullinger, Mason Plumlee, Victor Oladipo, Kelly Olynyk
Hill: Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Andre Drummond, Harrison Barnes, Terrence Jones, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jonas Valanciunas, Dion Waiters, Miles Plumlee
Nick: Team Webber has the best overall player in Anthony Davis (sorry, Lillard), but Team Hill is deeper and more experienced, with eight second-year players. Regardless, I’ll go with Hill’s team for the sole reason that this is precisely the environment Dion Waiters lives for.
Zack: Grant Hill’s team because Grant Hill doesn’t lose. Also, Lillard is the best player in the game, Drummond is probably the biggest dude, and our very own Gio is on their team. The only way they lose is if Waiters takes a bunch of shots.
Dakota: While the Rising Stars challenge hasn’t really been known for it’s defensive play, I really like what Chris Webber did with this team. The foursome of Davis, Adams, MCW and Oladipo have showcased themselves as some of the best young defenders in the NBA. While Hill’s team has some scoring touch with the Lillard and Beal combo, I still have to give the edge to Webber’s solid team.
Peter: Chris Webber as a head coach? At least he won’t hesitate to call a timeout *cue snare drum*. Luckily for him, not much coaching will need to be done in the free flowing Rising Stars Challenge. The key component of his role in this process was drafting his team and I must say that he did a quality job. He paired shooters with more shooters without having to compromise athleticism. Speaking of athleticism, Victor Oladipo will put up a triple double and win MVP honors with his team prevailing in the 2014 Rising Stars Challenge.
Henry: I can’t bet against Chris Webber because I have a special place in my heart for the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings. Victor Oladipo’s athleticism and playing style is made for this type of game so I see him putting up huge numbers. Anthony Davis isn’t half bad either. It will be exciting yet painful watching young Kiwi Stevan Adams solely because I can’t think too many other players who will look so awkward in this game environment. Michael Carter-Williams will be the MVP while putting up 20 points and dishing out 20 assists.
Paul: I have a hard time picking against a team that has Giannis on it (as long as that team isn’t the Bucks). I love the length of Hill’s team with Drummond anchoring the middle and the outside shooting Lillard and Beal provide. The real question here is which Plumlee brother is going to win MVP of the game. All kidding aside I’ll go with Beal winning the MVP on a hot shooting night.
All-Star Game (Sunday)
East: Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Paul Millsap, John Wall, Joe Johnson, DeMar DeRozan
West: Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul, James Harden, Tony Parker, Damian Lillard
Nick: It’s impossible to play the matchup game and predict what will happen in a game where defense is at such a premium for three-and-a-half quarters, but this West team is so deep that there really isn’t much of a drop-off between starters and reserves. The same cannot be said for the East, where the starting five are a cut above names like Millsap, Johnson and Hibbert. Lebron and Co. will keep things close, but the West will close it out behind a second straight MVP performance from Chris Paul.
Zack: Not only is the West a far superior conference, but they also have a better All-Star roster make-up. Paul and Parker are both good facilitators, where the East’s Wall and Irving are primarily shoot first point guards. West wins. Durant is the MVP.
Dakota: The All-Star game has always been known as an high-powered, high-scoring event. While the West has a lethal team, I have to give the edge to the East. With a balance of superb scorers (Irving, Anthony, James and Wade) with great defenders (George, Noah, Hibbert and Wall), the East has the perfect balance to take the competition.
Peter: The West clearly has the more talented offensive team here. They counter the East’s Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert with the much more offensively gifted Dwight Howard and LaMarcus Aldridge. If this was Game Seven of the NBA finals, I might just prefer the East’s roster, but it’s not and quality defense will make few appearances in Sunday night’s festivities. That being said, the West will win this one with Blake Griffin scoring 25 and pulling down 20 rebounds (all uncontested) to become the 2014 NBA All-Star game MVP.
Henry: Between talent and star power the West is far the far superior team. The difference in the game will be that the West has too many guys capable of hitting 3’s in bunches. Like nearly every all-star game the teams will coast until the last 6 minutes and then the game will become a real competition. I think Durant keeps his current offensive tear going, putting up 40 while leading the West to victory and taking home MVP honors. Only fueling the Durant regular season MVP talk that has been dominating headlines for the past month.
Paul: The fact that defense isn’t played until the end of the fourth really limits the value of Hibbert and Noah. What I would love to see is those two come out and go balls to the walls defensively. Knowing that won’t happen, though, I’ll go with the West. I have a feeling Durant is going to drop 50 in this game and will end up with MVP honors.