When the NBA left the Shooting Stars competition out of this year’s All-Star Saturday Night lineup, it left in its wake a sizeable void in the hearts of fans and players alike.
(Ok, maybe not. Nobody liked the Shooting Stars, in which teams of three— a current NBA and WNBA player, and a retired star—shoot uncontested jumpers from various spots on the floor and then, eventually, heave up some halfcourt shots. On Sportsnet’s Free Association podcast Robert Horry said he’d repressed the memory of ever competing in it.)
So, what now? In All-Star Tweakin’ we try to find the next great Saturday night event to join the dunk contest and 3 point shootout (yes, skills competition, you were left out for a reason.)
But this past weekend a new format breathed some life into the NHL’s annual exhibition, one that would be a perfect fit for the NBA: a 3 on 3 tournament.
3 on 3 is a tried and true staple in basketball—hell it might be the most-played setup save for 1 on 1 (more on that later this week…)—and was nearly included in the 2016 Rio Olympics. So who would win if the NBA held its own three on three tournament?
The set-up is simple: Teams are made up by division and compete in a bracket-style elimination tourney. The NHL chose their rosters from an existing list of all-stars, but because Damian Lillard was left off the NBA’s team this year, the Northwest division only has two players (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook). So we’ll just start from scratch and make every player available.
Atlantic: Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks)
Sub:Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
The division’s best floor general and a half-court nightmare (Lowry), its best pure scorer (Melo), and the tournament’s biggest wild card (Porzingis aka PorzinGod aka 3-6 Latvia aka Zinger aka Just Kris). Thomas in his natural role as a gunner off the bench.
Central: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Sub: Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls)
Seriously? This team is terrifying. LeBron plays point forward and, when Butler replaces Drummond, guards the opposing bigs.
Southeast: John Wall (Washington Wizards), Paul Milsap (Atlanta Hawks), Chris Bosh (Miami Heat)
Sub: Dwyane Wade (Heat)
Not the flashiest team, Wall aside, Bosh’s ability to stretch the floor helps create an open lane to the hoop for his point guard. Wade, a tough choice over Kemba Walker, comes off the bench instead of Milsap because he and Wall both need the ball.
Northwest: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Sub: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Wow. What would it take for the Thunder to make a run at Towns on the trade market? What’s that Westbrook and Durant? Alright, never mind then. Anyways, this team would be the most fun to watch in all of basketball, end of story. Towns’ size and versatility makes him the ultimate utility weapon alongside the two OKC stars, and with those two operating Gobert is free to just play brick wall in front of the net all game. (Does goaltending count in this tournament? Who knows, it’s all made up).
Pacific: Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Draymond Green (Warriors)
Sub: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings)
Probably the toughest roster to piece together. Curry, Green, and Boogie would be an absolute menace, as would Curry, Cousins, and Chris Paul. But the Golden State Warriors power trio gets bonus points for existing chemistry.
Southwest: James Harden (Houston Rockets), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans)
Sub: LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
Harden’s game was tailor made for this format; his ball-dominance and magnetic effect on defenders leaves Leonard and Davis open to wreak havoc while, like Towns, Aldridge’s ability to pass out of the post becomes more valuable in 3 on 3.
[Note: because they house the top teams in their conference, Golden State and Cleveland, the Central and Pacific divisions are granted a first round bye. Hey, I didn’t make the rules. Wait, yes I did.]
Atlantic vs. Southeast.
Winner: Atlantic. A vintage Carmelo Anthony offensive performance, as neither Milsap, Bosh, Wade, or a combination of the three can slow down the former scoring champ.
Northwest vs. Southwest
Winner: Northwest: Harden’s matador defense on Westbrook leaves Durant open all day as the Southwest scramble to try to slow Westbrook, fail.
Atlantic vs. Central
Winner: Central. Have you seen the names on that team? The best defensive team in the tournament and physically unstoppable on the other end of the floor.
Northwest vs. Pacific
Winner: Northwest. Is this an upset? I don’t know. With Westbrook/Durant, the Northwest are the only team that can match a hot shooting night from the Splash Brothers. And that’s exactly what happens as neither Thompson or Green can cool Durant from beyond the arc.
Final: Northwest vs. Central
Winner: Northwest. Westbrook is the difference maker as the Northwest, the sentimental favourites heading into the Finals, takes home the crown. Sadly, it’s probably the closest the Thunder duo will ever come to winning a championship as teammates.
Man, did that beat the hell out of the Shooting Stars.