By Ashton Chugh and Sonny Sachdeva, February 2015 —
The 2014–15 NBA all-star weekend goes down on Feb. 13–15 in the world’s mecca of basketball, New York City.
Unlike the pro bowl in the NFL, and the goof off that is the NHL all-star weekend, the NBA all-star game has a legacy of being taken seriously by the players. Past stars have used the weekend as a platform to achieve household recognition, and everyone will be watching to see what happens in the city that never sleeps. We highlight what you need to know.
Rising Stars — USA vs. World (formerly rookies vs. sophomores)
Ashton Chugh: What has historically been a game dominated by the more experienced sophomore players has been changed to USA vs. the World. This year, the top rookie and sophomore players from the USA and the rest of the world will suit up for their respective teams.
The World team has a few up-and-coming players like Canada’s Andrew Wiggins and Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece, but the team’s talent is a far cry from that of the USA’s. America’s team features a guard-heavy lineup highlighted by Orlando’s Victor Oladipo and Philadelphia’s reigning rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams.
All-star games have traditionally been dominated by guard-play, and the league as a whole has followed this trend for some time. Guards are drafted to the NBA for their skill set and have more in-game options available to them than forwards and centres, who initially make the NBA for their size. Many of which are on the World roster, putting the World team at a disadvantage in this sort of skill competition.
America has faced stiff competition in international play in recent years, and no longer seems unbeatable. Pitting America’s best against the few prospects the World finally has to celebrate only serves to knock them down a peg and remind everyone that basketball is America’s game.
Either way, the new format should make for an interesting match. The added incentive of representing one’s country will make for a more competitive game, but don’t be surprised if it’s a total blowout by the USA.
Sonny Sachdeva: The NBA skills challenge tests eight participants on their passing, dribbling and shooting as they run a timed obstacle course.
A change in the format this year will add to the intrigue. Rather than taking the floor one at a time, two participants will run the course simultaneously. A new bracket system should also shake things up, as some strong players will have to overcome tough matchups to advance — such as Isaiah Thomas and John Wall.
While Wall may be the strongest overall competitor, I’m tabbing Kyle Lowry as the eventual winner.
The Raptors’ point guard has a favourable match up against Jimmy Butler and, after waiting nine seasons to be named an all-star, he will be the most motivated of the bunch.
AC: The three-point competition is the last all-star event reminiscent of its original form. That’s because it does not have to be altered in order to showcase the league’s best three-point shooters. Unlike the other events that emphasize athleticism, the ability to shoot the basketball has withstood the test of time.
There has been talk amongst the league that Stephen Curry, at the tender age of 26, is on pace to be the greatest three-point shooter of all time. He’s already the fastest player to make 1,000 three-pointers.
However, this will be Curry’s fourth time competing in the three-point competition. Larry Bird, considered to be the greatest shooter ever, won the competition his first time out while still wearing his warm-up gear. If Curry wants to go down in NBA history as the all-time best, he needs to win this competition, and each time he loses diminishes his legacy.
Curry’s biggest competition comes from the more burly Kyle Korver and Klay Thompson. Curry is best off the dribble when he has momentum to carry his shot forward. However, the three-point contest is a one minute, standstill, 25 offhand shootout. Strength and precision is required here.
The three-point competition features the most talent out of every event and is sure to be a barn burner.
SS: This year’s dunk competition will stray away from highlighting top-tier NBA talent in favour of showcasing some of the league’s brightest young stars.
Now featuring youthful dunkers all in their first or second season, they will use the all-star weekend to showcase their creativity and aerial abilities .
I see Giannis Antetokounmpo finishing on top in this one. The other three participants, Zach LaVine in particular, all pose a threat, but Antetokounmpo’s unmatched athleticism and considerable physical gifts (he clocks in at 6’11” with a 7’3” wingspan) should make for an impressive performance.
All-star game MVP
AC: Curry will be this year’s all-star game MVP. Minutes are at a premium in a game that features the NBA’s best. But Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, is coaching the West, so Curry will be favoured over the other players.
Curry is going to go off. He’s used to seeing multiple defenders when he keys up a three-point shot. However, because of the plethora of talent he’s surrounded by, other defenders won’t be able to focus on Curry, and he’ll burn them for it. If they do help, Curry will use his Steve-Nash-esque ball handling skills to hit an open teammate for the easy bucket, racking up a pile of assists in the process. Curry’s potential for a monster stat line will lead the West to a victory and he’ll be named MVP for it.
SS: While all eyes will be on Curry for the MVP honours, I see James Harden from the Houston Rockets coming out on top.
Despite the dominant season he’s put forth, Harden has yet to receive the respect he’s due as one of the league’s top talents.
After moving to the Houston Rockets from Oklahoma City two seasons ago, Harden has done more than simply escape the shadow of former teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s embraced the opportunity to play a lead role and has flourished into one of the sport’s premier players — evidenced by his league-leading 27.5 points-per-game and the fact that his club sits third overall in the Western conference.
There may be some bigger names and tough competition come Feb. 15 ,but the bright lights of the all-star game will provide Harden the perfect opportunity to raise his game and show his contemporaries that he’s the real deal.