Looking outside of the cultural impact, prestige and pageantry of it all, the NBA All-Star Game is ultimately just a really cool exhibition contest. Nothing’s on the line except for personal pride.
This isn’t the case for the NBA Development League All-Star Game.
Playing in front of a relatively sparse crowd on Saturday afternoon, there was a lot more at stake inside Ricoh Coliseum than the game’s humble trimmings would suggest.
The D-League All-Star Game was a legitimately meaningful event for those involved because there were more than a few were pro NBA scouts in the crowd.
All 24 men that took the floor on Saturday all have their eyes towards the NBA proper, and an exhibition like this was just another way to show some of the many NBA personnel in Toronto for the weekend they deserve a shot at the bigs.
"There's always people watching, especially when you're trying to get to that next level," Raptors 905 guard Scott Suggs said after the D-League All-Star Game practice on Friday. "This is just another opportunity to show that even though you're an all-star you're capable of playing the right way and playing at the next level."
Suggs’ Eastern Conference all-stars ended up beating the West on 128-124 on Saturday afternoon. He finished the contest with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting.
Westchester Knicks guard Jimmer Fredette was named the game’s MVP and led all scorers with 35 points in the win, including 17 at the half, when the East was leading 64-56.
Fredette’s Westchester teammate Jordan Bachynski finished with 10 points and seven rebounds and also had the distinction of being the only Canadian in the contest, hailing from Calgary, Alta.
Suggs’ 905 all-star teammate Ronald Roberts Jr. acknowledged that Saturday’s game probably had a little more going on for it than a normal all-star game, but he trusts scouts are more concerned with the body of work he’s put in with the 905, than just one exhibition.
"I don't think a lot of scouts are focusing on the all-star game," Roberts said Friday. "They've seen us play over 30 games already so they know how we play. We already did the Showcase. I'm not saying there's no scouts looking, but I just think this is more fun than anything."
With that said, it isn’t like Roberts wasn’t going out there to try not to impress either.
"Since this is a fun weekend and everybody's trying to enjoy it, hopefully I can use that to my advantage and just try to play harder than everybody else," Roberts said. "I'm going to try to treat it like a regular-season game."
On Saturday, that effort was good for three points, four rebounds and a jammed finger that he was seen icing during the game and said was “very minor” for Roberts who, according to the official D-League website, is one of the top potential call-up candidates currently playing in the D-League.
Despite the numbers put up from Suggs and Roberts each in Saturday’s game, what pro scouts are looking for will go beyond the box score, Eastern Conference coach Dan Craig, believes.
"Their energy, their effort, the way they play the game," Craig said on Friday. "It's not necessarily how many points they score. It might be rebounds, it could be playmaking ability or it could be defence. Those are the things I think people will be interested to see from these players.
"They know statistically what they can do through half of a season, they know they've been all-stars, just the little things. I think that's what coaches will be interested and management will be interested in seeing."
A more difficult task to accomplish in an all-star game setting, but a point well taken given the fact these are players who will likely be signed to 10-day deals and brought in to fit a specific role should an NBA team decide to take a flyer on one of them.
Looking at the overall lasting legacy of the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto, the D-League All-Star Game will just be a blip on the radar in the greater scheme of things. But this game matters to Suggs, Roberts and the rest who participated in it because this might be there’s a chance it could help them fulfill the NBA dream they all keep chasing.
The event is perceived as small and meaningless, that couldn’t be any further from the truth, no matter how unglamorous it might all seem.
While the other all-star games are clearly bigger deals, there is no all-star contest with more at stake than the lil’ ol’ D-League one.