Feb 25, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Western Conference forward Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers (32) leaves the floor as fans surround the tunnel following the 2012 NBA All-Star team practice session at the Orange County Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE
The All Star Saturday agenda includes the Shooting Stars (a shooting contest featuring four teams composed of one NBA player, one WNBA player and one former NBA player), the Skills Challenge, the Three Point Shootout and the Slam Dunk Contest. They all have official names with sponsors and stuff, but I'm not really interested enough in any of that to bother to look it up and get it right.
The approximate schedule will have the Shooting Stars from 5:30 to 6, Skills from 6 to 6:30, Three Point Shooting from 6:30 to 7 and the Slam Dunk contest starting at 7, if prior years can be used as a guide.
One of the most interesting aspects of these contests is who gets invited. In the case of the Shoot Out, it's pretty much all about convenience. Jameer Nelson is representing Team Orlando, where All Star weekend is being held. Rookie Chandler Parsons went to high school in the Orlando area and college at Florida, so he gets to represent Team Houston. Landry Fields is part of Team New York, and of course he was here already for the Rising Stars Challenge. Finally, for Team Atlanta, it was going to be Joe Johnson, but when he got hurt and had to pull out of All Star Weekend, they replaced him with Jerry Stackhouse, who barely plays for the Hawks. At least he's a former All Star.
The Skills Challenge seems to attract the most consistently high quality players in the ostensible discipline of competition. Pretty much all the point guards in either the All Star Game or the Rising Stars Challenge participate -- the one exception this year would have been Stephen Curry, the defending champ, who had to pull out with an injury. He was replaced by Rajon Rondo, who just happened to replace Johnson on the East All Star team. Rondo is joined by All Stars Tony Parker, Deron Wlliams and Russell Westbrook and Rising Stars John Wall and Kyrie Irving, the last two first overall picks. Conspicuous by their absence are Derrick Rose and the Clippers' own Chris Paul. Rose is a former winner of the event and Paul has been a runner-up.
The field for the Three Point Shoot Out this year, and seemingly every year, is the strange one. James Jones is a great shooter, but barely plays for the Heat these days. As defending champ, he kind of has to be there. Mario Chalmers seems like a strange choice -- yes, he's making better than 45% of his three pointers this season, but he's a career 37 percenter. He certainly doesn't strike me as one of the more marquee shooters in the game at present -- his high percentage this season would seem to have much more to do with the quality of the looks he gets playing for Miami than anything else. Anthony Morrow is a great choice as far as pure shooting, and Ryan Anderson is a good choice, as he's leading the league in threes attempted and threes made. Kevin Love? That's pure gimmick -- Love is shooting a lot more threes this year and has gained some notoriety for doing so, but he's under 35%, which is adequate at best. Joe Johnson was originally in the field, and he always struck me as more of a shooter than a maker, to borrow a line from NBA-TV -- he was under 30% from deep last season, which is terrible, and not much better at 34% this season. He's out, and Kevin Durant is in. I'm surprised Durant would even do this, as he was embarrassingly bad in the contest last year. Durant is a great scorer, and hits a solid percentage in games, but he's not really the kind of guy you think of as a pure shooter necessarily. Put it this way -- Durant's an infinitely better scorer than Daequan Cook, but Cook is a better three point shooter. It's just not Durant's specialty.
The dunk field is the worst in years. This was the problem with Dunk contests for many years -- populated exclusively with first and second year players who are great athletes, but far from established in the league. Of the four, only Paul George is even an NBA starter. Derrick Williams was the second pick in the draft, and so there's some interest in him. Jeremy Evans is a monster of an athlete and he'll no doubt break off some amazing dunks today; but the guy has played 89 minutes this season -- he barely qualifies for the 'NBA' dunk contest. I am excited about Chase Budinger, the first white dunk contest participant since Rudy Fernandez and the first white American since the Clippers' own Brent Barry.