In just a few days the NBA world will converge on Toronto for a grand All Star jubilee. Among the myriad of events happening this weekend from the Celebrity All Star Game to the Rising Stars Challenge to the actual All Star Game itself, maybe the most impressive will be the NBA single-handedly ruining Valentine's Day for couples across the country. While boyfriends everywhere will be googling "fancy restaurant with TV" for Sunday evening, everyone can is free to watch All Star Saturday with a guilt-free conscious. This week Caden and I pick our winners for each of the All Star Saturday events, and I pitch to him my fix on how to make All Star Saturday awesome.
Participants: Patrick Beverley, DeMarcus Cousins, Draymond Green, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, C.J. McCollum, Jordan Clarkson, Isaiah Thomas
Larson: I'm thankful that the NBA is at least trying to make easily the most boring event of All Star weekend a little bit fun by having big men participate this year. Watching Boogie and Draymond compete with the smalls will probably be fun and draw my interest for at least the first round, in an event it seems like the only the players involved care about. Personally I think that the winner is going to be Isaiah Thomas, based purely on his speed. That dude is almost Ish Smith fast with the ball in his hand, as well as having overall skill, and I think that will make the difference in the long dash for the final layup.
Caden: Most boring?!? How dare you. I legitimately enjoy watching players combine multiple skills in a dunk competition. The dunk contest is the worst. The only issue I personally have with this event is watching player half-ass through cones. But the addition of bigs is nice, at least for this year. Cousins, Davis, Green, and Towns more than likely won't want to be embarrassed, so the fans should be rewarded with more effort from this group.
Speaking of this group, who do you envision performing the best? I'd imagine the popular pick is Green, because of his greater passing ability to the others and his alpha-dog nature. However, there's something inside me saying Towns. His smooth nature translates well when the biggest issues for the bigger guys will be control.
Larson: I would want Boogie to win if a big man wins. Hell, if he wins they should just allow him to enter the 3 point competition and the dunk contest just to see him do whatever he wants.
Caden: The guards participating in this event are second-tier stars so the possibility of them exerting more determination than past first-tier stars is higher. These guys will want to build their brand, and nobody has more brand to build than C.J.McCollum -- my pick. The Lehigh graduate and Duke-killer shoots a cleaner jump shot than Thomas, and I'd wager he's just as fast as your guy.
Slam Dunk Contest
Participants: Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon, Will Barton, Andre Drummond
Larson: Is the slam dunk contest dead? Every year we hear about how the dunk contest is back leading up to the All Star weekend, but then it usually disappoints largely because the NBA still hasn't figured out a good format for the competition. While watching defending champ Zach LaVine throw it down is always pretty, I can just YouTube his Seattle ProAm highlight reel and save myself an hour and a half.
Caden: Yes, it is dead. It has actually been dead for a few years, but nobody read the DNR sheet. The players aren't to blame, and neither is the league. There is just only so many dunks athletes can physically do. Dunkers can't spin or contort their bodies in new ways. The dunk contest has been maxed out. We are all just watching it struggle as it dies.
How many players must've said not to participating in the dunk contest before Adam Silver called Andre Drummond? He's a power dunker, not a high-flyer. He's like Dwyane WAde. They both dunk – a lot and well – but sometimes you worry the ball isn't above the rim. Drummond's top-10 dunk list isn't inspiring for a victory, but I do have a dunk that could warrant a Drummond win, if utilized at the right time.
Drummond retains one major advantage over the other contestants – power. Combining that advantage with the NBA Cares program, Drummond should pile on as many kids as he can on his wide, hairy shoulders and legs, and dunk with them hanging on. The product wouldn't feel any different for Drummond as he is accustomed to people hanging over him in the paint. The sight of kids will touch the hearts of millions and the sheer power will woo others who hate kids as everybody unanimously screams "50!"
Larson: What if Drummond just started dunking the kids on his shoulders instead of basketballs? That might be a little more exciting to watch. Despite that magnificent dunk, I'm going to pick Aaron Gordon to win. Partially because I think it's hard to repeat as a dunk champ, and partly because he kinda looks like Blake Griffin, paired with his same freakish athleticism.
Caden: My bet is LaVine will win again. He cares enough to waste nights thinking of dunks.
3 Point Shootout
Participants: Steph Curry, J.J. Redick, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Khris Middleton, Kyle Lowry, Chris Bosh, Devin Booker
Larson: This should be the main event of All Star Saturday. The league has moved into a new era of with more effort being put on pace and space, with the best and most electrifying player being a point guard. One change I would like to see made to the 3 point competition is to just get rid of the ball racks in general. Make it catch and shoot, to mimic game type scenarios, with a teammate feeding you from inside the lane. I want to see dudes raining buckets, and I always feel like the racks are so abnormal to what a shooter is used to that it stunts their true shooting potential.
Caden: Larson, that idea of catching and shooting is superb. That opens up a whole new possibility of fun too. Dads could pass the balls to their sons; teammates to teammates. Kevin Hart would find another way to weasel on the court. While we are improving the event, let's also remove the money ball. Why does it count as an extra point when it's the same shot as all of the rest? And why is there a whole rack of money balls now? It makes no sense. Seriously, get rid of the money ball. It's gimmicky.
Larson: I'm going to be a homer and pick Jonathan Clay Redick to win, with the caveat being that he keeps his toes off of the line. Redick is having the best shooting year ever in his career, and is dropping three point bombs at the highest rate of anyone this season. Sure Steph Curry will probably win as he is a robot from the future designed to shoot basketballs, but I won't be impressed with him unless he makes all 25 of his shots.
Caden: When I try to fortuitously predict the winner, my baseline criteria is "who will change their shot the least?" Redick jumps so much with his shot the fatigue will be a real issue; same thing for Bosh. Harden, Lowry, and Middleton aren't good enough shooters. That leaves three: Booker, Curry, and Thompson. My non-Curry answer is Booker. His shot is beautiful. Everything functions so well and I love his gamesmanship.
But this is Curry's to lose. I'll be shocked if it isn't him.
My Idea: 1-on-1 Tournament
Participants: All 24 All Stars must participate as a requirement of being an All Star
Larson: Alright, here's what I want to see, and would pay to see, on All Star Saturday. Get rid of the Skills Challenge like the NBA has already cut the WNBA/NBA/Retired players shooting challenge thing that Chris Bosh always won, and use those 2 hours to hold a 1-on-1 tournament.
The NBA makes this a requirement for every player selected as an All Star to participate. The players are seeded 1 to 24 by votes they received, making voting count for something else, and they play march madness style knockout. The game is first to 5, 1s and 2s, with an 8 second shot clock, winner's ball, and the higher seed starts with the ball.
This would easily be the most exciting thing the NBA could put on, as every fan wants to know who's the best individual player, or who would hypothetically beat who in a 1-on-1 game. Imagine Steph Curry vs. Anthony Davis, or Boogie vs. Chris Paul. Every big vs. little matchup would be crazy since neither can probably guard the other. I don't see how this wouldn't be the most exciting thing to happen during All Star Weekend.
Caden: A terrific idea but it will just never happen, but it should. This debate should become the center point of the upcoming CBA negotiations for Commissioner Silver. But if this did become real, I want to make one adjustment. In the advanced analytics era, if we made the tournament 1s and 2s, shots from behind the arc become 50% greater than others. In the NBA today, it's only worth 33% more, so now you're giving guards an even bigger advantage. The tourney should be 2s and 3s, say to 9?
Larson: Ι actually think that's a great idea. I was just going with old school, pickup rules so I didn't think of the analytical aspect of the game. You can also just admit to everyone that you're sucking up to your teacher Kirk Goldsberry by paraphrasing his Grantland article.
For everyone saying players wouldn't do this because it would hurt their reputations and brands, sure I get that. But can you also imagine how big of an opportunity this could be for a player's brand? How many shoes and jerseys could you sell if for the season you could proclaim yourself the best 1-on-1 player in the NBA? A lot I'm guessing.
Here's the hypothetical bracket for this season. Who you got as the winner?
Caden: Basketball is all about matchups, and the same holds true for this tournament. There's one player in the All Star game who can match up with everybody, and still outscore them from everywhere – Kevin Durant. He's quick enough to guard little guys and tall enough to deter big men. On offense he could post up smalls or shoot over them. He's too fast for big men to keep up with, and too good of a shooter for them to sag back on. He's the best player for this style of tournament.
Larson: I agree with all of that and also think Durant would win, beating LeBron in the finals. Durant is basically a 7-foot Steph Curry on offense and a better defender. But look at that bracket, there are some really fun matchups. Harden vs. Derozan, Lowry vs. Thomas, Chris Paul vs. LaMarcus, Klay vs. John Wall – and that's just the first round. We'd probably see Steph face Anthony Davis, Westbrook, and LeBron.
Caden: The dark horse contender is Kawhi Leonard. Hell he might be my favorite in every game because of his defense. Just watching people try and score on him would be entertaining. LeBron is going to dread playing him in the third round.
Larson: It looks like we would have a semifinal of Paul George vs. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry vs. LeBron James, unless Kobe Bryant makes a quick stop in Germany before the tournament. I think who starts with ball could really matter, as Steph may just not miss, but either way it would be entertaining as hell.