Now that the dust around the trade deadline has settled and the major period for drama has unfolded, the NBA all-star break gives fans a chance to take a breath and enjoy a weekend of superstars, regardless of their fanbase.
Saturday’s festivities are always a feast for the eyes, as the day features three iconic events: the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest, and high-flying Slam-Dunk Contest.
It all tips off at 8 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW. Here’s a closer look at each competition:
In the second edition of the revamped Skills Challenge, three teams of three are going head-to-head in a contest showing off shooting, ball-handling and passing.
The challenge features three initial events — a shooting challenge, a passing challenge and a full-blown obstacle course — as well as a final round half-court shooting contest between the two highest-scoring teams.
Last year’s inaugural iteration in Cleveland saw the hometown trio of Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley take home the trophy over Team Antetokounmpos (Giannis, Alex and Thanasis Antetokounmpo) and Team Rooks (Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham and Josh Giddey).
This year, host Utah Jazz are sending a delegation of Jordan Clarkson, Collin Sexton and Walker Kessler to take on the returning Team Antetokounmpos and a new Team Rooks featuring Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey and Jabari Smith Jr.
As it stands, Team Jazz look like the favourites, as they feature a blend of shooting ability, experience and burst. However, Team Rooks could play spoiler with Ivey looking like one of the most nimble players in the league, Banchero essentially a lock for rookie of the year, and Smith Jr. looking like a solid all-around contributor. Team Antetokounmpos meanwhile … well, it’s cool that they’re there.
The 3-Point Contest seems to have taken the Slam-Dunk Contest’s place as the premier event during All-Star weekend, attracting the biggest names from across the league to test their shooting skills.
Last year saw a centre win the contest for the first time ever with Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves beating out the likes of Fred VanVleet, Trae Young and Zach LaVine.
The eight-man field this year consists of players like 2020 champion Buddy Hield, three-time participant Damian Lillard, MVP candidate Jayson Tatum and Julius Randle, who is currently shooting 33.8 per cent from long range this season.
Here’s the full list of participants for the event:
Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons won’t be participating, unfortunately, as the young sharpshooter has been sidelined after suffering an ankle injury on Wednesday. Randle was the shock last-minute replacement.
Of those slated to shoot, Hield is shooting best from deep this year. Hield has hit 42.6 per cent of his shots and has made the most 3-point field goals in the league this season. Next up percentage-wise is Jazz forward Lauri Markannen, who is shooting a career-high 41.2 per cent and might be invigorated by the Salt Lake City crowd.
The final event of the night, the pinnacle of Saturday’s festivities, is the Slam-Dunk contest. Though the field has felt watered down in recent years, with the biggest names in the league choosing to forgo the competition, the hype around seeing high-flyers do their thing is always a spectacle.
This year’s show features Trey Murphy III of the New Orleans Pelicans, Kenyon Martin Jr. of the Houston Rockets, Jericho Sims of the New York Knicks and Mac McClung, a G Leaguer who recently signed a two-way contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. All of them are first-time participants in the event.
Unfortunately, sky-shattering Canadian rookie Shaedon Sharpe of the Portland Trail Blazers dropped out of the event, but every night he seems to show off enough to keep fans happy.
Here’s a short breakdown and some highlights from each of the contestants:
Murphy is a second-year, hyper-athletic wing who has caught more than a few bodies in his short time in the league including postering guys like Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, and Scottie Barnes.
Small forward Martin Jr., the son of former all-star Kenyon Martin, is seventh in the NBA and first for his position in dunks this season with 122 despite coming off the bench for the Rockets.
Knicks big man Sims joined the event as a replacement for Sharpe, however, this is hardly a downgrade, as the second-year centre has the athleticism to routinely get his head above the rim.
Last but not least is McClung, the first-ever G League player to participate in the contest. The guard was originally scouted out of high school for his dunking ability, his highlight mixtapes seemed to go viral the moment they dropped, and he was labelled “one of the nation’s most exciting players.”