NBA All-Star Weekend kicks off Friday, with a number of events to tune into and things to check out including the annual celebrity game, the Rising Stars Game, the All-Star Saturday Night and the big game itself on Sunday.
That’s a fair amount to take in — and isn’t even including any of the other events such as the all-star practice and media day.
In general, there’s a lot going on during All-Star weekend. So to help with that, here are five things you need to know heading into the NBA’s mid-season festival.
A new All-Star Game format
Before anything else, check out the new rules and format for this year’s All-Star Game:
If you understood all of that at first glance, congratulations! You’re part of a seemingly select group of codebreakers who can decipher the crazy overcomplication of what should be a simple exhibition game.
For the rest of us, however, here’s the easiest way to describe the new All-Star Game format:
• Every quarter can be treated like its own individual game, with each team competing to win money for charity.
• The first three quarters of the game will see the score of the contest always reset back to 0-0 with teams playing the standard 12 minutes each quarter.
• The fourth quarter will act differently than the first three. At the start of the final period of the game, the game clock will be turned off and a final target score will be set. The game will end when whatever team hits that target score first.
• The target score will be determined by taking whatever team was leading by cumulative score through the first three quarters and then adding 24 points, in honour of the late Kobe Bryant.
• Here’s an example of how the fourth quarter might work Sunday: Team Giannis could be leading Team LeBron by a score of 100-90 in cumulative totals over the first three quarters of the game. This would set the final target score at 124, meaning all Team Giannis would need to just score 24 more points to win the game, but Team LeBron would have to score 34 points before Team Giannis scores 24 to win it.
• The best way to think of the fourth quarter is to know what the target score is and then understand it’s just a race to see what team can get there first, understanding that one team will likely have a head start over the other to reach the target final score.
Here’s hoping you got all that. And even if you didn’t, just know that regardless of how it’s all dressed up, this will still be an All-Star Game with plenty of fancy handles, dunks and limited defence being played.
And while this new format will certainly add a new wrinkle to the festivities, the planned tributes to Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven others who lost their lives in that helicopter crash on Jan. 26, will surely be the real highlight of the event.
Raptors well represented in Chicago
In case you hadn’t heard, the 40-15 Toronto Raptors will be pretty well represented at the All-Star Game Sunday.
Pascal Siakam was named a starter for the game in his first-ever All-Star selection, Kyle Lowry got his sixth straight All-Star nod as a reserve and head coach Nick Nurse got the honour of manning the sidelines with his coaching staff.
Additionally, in a stroke of conspiracy-theory-affirming luck, all of the Raptors at the All-Star Game will be there with Giannis Antetokounmpo — as the captain of Team Giannis, he selected both Siakam and Lowry in the All-Star draft, and Nurse will be coaching Team Giannis.
Here’s a look a quick look at who else is playing with Siakam and Lowry on Team Giannis, as well as Team LeBron’s roster:
The big game itself isn’t the only place where you can catch the Raptors during All-Star Weekend, though. Siakam will also participate in the Skills Challenge event on Saturday.
Record number of Canadians in Rising Stars Game
Let’s get one thing out of the way quickly in regards to the Rising Stars — the Raptors probably should’ve had representation in this game with Terence Davis, but it didn’t happen.
It sucks, but it’s the reality of the situation, so let’s move on now and try to talk about something a little more positive, like the fact there are a record four Canadians who will be participating in the Rising Stars Game.
As tweet above indicates, they are Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans, R.J. Barrett from the New York Knicks, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
What’s really cool about this, is that three of the four players – Alexander-Walker, Barrett and Clarke – are all rookies, something that really puts into perspective the bright future of Canadian basketball.
Plus, even if the Canadian angle isn’t enough to hook you, there’s solace knowing that we’ll be in for a ton of highlights in Friday’s rookie-sophomore event because No. 1 and 2 overall picks from last year’s draft, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, will be in attendance to put on a show.
Who is going to win the dunk contest?
Those two dunks above are absolutely awesome, right? Williamson and Morant have to also be participating in the dunk contest, too, right?
Actually, no, they aren’t. And honestly, that’s a big bummer.
Instead, we have a couple of newcomers to the contest in Pat Connaughton of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat’s Derrick Jones Jr., as well as veterans Aaron Gordon from the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers centre Dwight Howard.
Yes, it’s incredibly weird that 12 years after “Superman” took flight in New Orleans, Howard decided he wanted to give the contest one more try at 34 years of age.
Howard and Gordon, who is participating in his third drunk contest and was part of the memorable one in 2016 in Toronto, are the most recognizable names, but the guy we think is going to take it home is Jones.
A great story as an undrafted guy in 2016, Jones is a guy many people have likely never heard of before, unless they’ve been playing close attention to the Heat. After Saturday, though, he’ll be a name that’s hard to forget.
What about the rest of the Saturday Night events?
Lastly, here’s a quick rundown of who’s participating in the other two Saturday night events, with a quick-pick winner:
You’re already aware of Siakam participating in the event, and here are the other seven:
Of this grouping, we’re going patriotic here and picking Gilgeous-Alexander to emerge victorious because, if for nothing else, he’s the best passer among the participants and, traditionally, the passing aspect of the event has been the trickiest and has seen some of the most time loss.
Included in the eight-man field is last year’s champion, Joe Harris. Here’s a look at the field:
The three-point contest has the potential to be really wacky this year because of the inclusion of two new zones, located six feet behind the three-point line between the wing and top-of-the-key racks, with one green ball that will be worth three points.
Here’s a quick diagram of what the setup will look like:
Image courtesy: NBA
Other than the new three-point balls, things remain the same as the past with the “money ball” worth two points at each conventional rack, plus a specific all-money ball rack that can be placed wherever a player may choose.
Given the new format of this three-point ball from way, way outside included in the contest, we’re gonna go with the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young to win this. In college he was known as “Steph Curry 2.0” because of his handle, passing ability and unlimited-looking range. That’s all translated to the NBA, in particular the range aspect, something that with Damian Lillard no longer participating in the contest, gives Young a leg up over the competition in.