2015 NBA All-Star Saturday preview: Will sharpshooters steal the show?
All-Star Saturday can be boiled down to simple math: 2+2. Two events that no one cares about, plus two events that are sure to generate buzz.
This year's festivities -- set for Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn -- will be televised on TNT with coverage beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Here's a "what you need to know" preview of the events.
Also known as the Chris Bosh Invitational, the Shooting Stars event features four teams comprised of one NBA player, one former NBA player and one WNBA player. The teams race to hit shots from four locations -- including halfcourt -- and the fastest team wins. Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash won in both 2013 and 2014. Team Bosh is scheduled to compete against Team Curry (Stephen Curry, Dell Curry and Sue Bird), Team Millsap (Paul Millsap, Scottie Pippen, and Elena Delle Donne) and Team Westbrook (Russell Westbrook, Anfernee Hardaway and Tamika Catchings).
Note that Millsap is a late fill-in for Anthony Davis, who is sitting out the All-Star Game with a shoulder injury and will be replaced by Dirk Nowitzki.
You need to work hard to get excited about this event. Can the Curry father/son duo win it all? Will Bosh finally three-peat? Will your uncle see Hardaway and shout, "Tyra Banks, Fool!" All that and more in the Shooting Stars.
The good news is that there's a new format this year: an eight-person bracket will feature head-to-head match-ups and three rounds of competition until a single champion is crowned. Each head-to-head match-up will unfold at the same time on different sides of the court, which should ramp up the drama just a touch. One other wrinkle: the standard obstacle course that involves dribbling, passing and agility stations now adds a three-pointer at the end of the event. For better or (more likely) worse, making or missing that one shot could easily determine the outcome of each matchup.
There have been a lot of "Best Three-Point Contest field ever!" claims floating around in recent weeks, but this is the rare instance when the hype is totally deserved and not merely a product of social media over-excitement and short memory spans. What sets this group apart? An unmatched combination of star power, depth, and proficiency.
The eight-man field is absolutely, positively loaded: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, Marco Belinelli, Wesley Matthews and J.J. Redick. If you're keeping score at home, that's five All-Stars (Curry, Thompson, Harden, Irving, Korver), three All-Star starters (Curry, Thompson, Harden), the league's top three-point shooter (Korver), the defending Three-Point Contest champion (Belinelli) and two more excellent long-range threats (Matthews and Redick). There isn't a weak link.
Cumulatively, entering Wednesday, those eight players were shooting a combined 42.5 percent on threes this season. Plus, they have already launched a whopping 2,444 threes this season -- a staggering total that surpasses the full-season cumulative totals for many of the previous fields.
The Three-Point Contest has run every year since 1985-86 with the sole exception of the 1998-99 lockout year. The chart below shows the cumulative, full-season three-point shooting numbers for the fields from each year during the contest's history.
So, if this year's group continued at its current rate through the rest of the season, it would finish with the third-best cumulative shooting percentage in contest history behind 2007-08 and 1995-96. However, both of those years carry big asterisks. In 2007-08, the field was awesome (Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Kapono, Richard Hamilton, Daniel Gibson) but it was only six players deep. In 1995-96, the eight-man field was deep and full of memorable names (Dennis Scott, Steve Kerr, Glen Rice, Cliff Robinson, Tim Legler, Dana Barros, George McCloud, Hubert Davis) but it lacked A-list star power and, more importantly, the group's shooting percentage was inflated because of the shorter three-point line.
To boil this down: the Three-Point Contest has never previously seen an eight-man field on pace to shoot as well from behind the longer three-point line as this group. That fact, plus the presence of five All-Stars, justifies all the hype this event has been receiving.
A quick reset on the format: the event runs two rounds and features five shooting locations around the arc. Four of the five racks include four normal balls (worth one point) and one money ball (worth two points). The fifth rack contains five money balls and can be placed at whichever location each shooter prefers. Players have one minute to amass as many points as possible. The first round's top three will advance to the final round.
Slam Dunk Contest
Many have claimed that the Three-Point Contest will steal the Dunk Contest's thunder this year... that seems unlikely.
Yes, the Three-Point Contest could easily wind up being the best event of Saturday night, but the Dunk Contest will always claim top billing because of the event's unpredictable intrigue. That old line about "We've seen every dunk before!" really applies to the Three-Point Contest. Spoiler alert: the Splash Brothers and Korver are going to make a ton of jumpshots and they're going to do it in repetitive, robotic fashion because of time constraints. What will happen during the Slam Dunk Contest? That's anybody's guess, and the event's magic lies in the fact that it could be amazing, cringe-worthy, or both.
Thankfully, the NBA scrapped all of the 2014 Dunk Contest's horrible gimmicks -- teams made up of players from the same conference, a "freestyle" group dunking opening round, and a confusing and unfulfilling "battle" round -- and got back to basics. Four dunkers get two dunks each in the opening round and the top two dunkers advance to the finals. There, the two finalists each get two more dunks to determine the champion. All dunks are graded on a scale of 6 to 10 by five judges, meaning each dunk can earn between 30 and 50 points.
This year's field includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee. This year's Dunk Contest judges are Julius Erving, Walt Frazier, Nate Archibald, Bernard King and Chris Mullin.
Without question, the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest field had bigger names (Paul George, John Wall and Damian Lillard) than this year's group, which will pin its hopes on its variety. This year's group ranges from 6-foot-4 (Oladipo) to 6-foot-10 (Plumlee), and it includes a traditional, graceful high-flyer (LaVine) and a "Who knows what to expect?" wild card (Antetokounmpo). The X-factor? The fact that the competition will take place on Valentine's Day, potentially opening the door for all sorts of holiday-themed props and gimmicks.
To help get the juices flowing before Saturday night's main event, check out the following dunk reels for each of the four contestants.
Regarded as the early favorite, the Timberwolves' rookie guard has built plenty of online buzz with his insane vertical leap, long leaping ability, and creativity in the air.
Orlando's second-year guard is known for his corkscrew 360 dunks. He boasts a nice combination of power, bounce and tight technique in the air.
Many were surprised by the inclusion of the Nets' center in this competition, but he's fared well in previous dunk contests and has athleticism to spare. One nice gimmick: a nifty three-ball dunk that isn't easily imitated.
Milwaukee's second-year, long-armed forward is the Vine king of the 2014-15 season. The question is whether his crazy Euro-stepping and forceful slamming on the fast break will translate to this format. Watch out for an old classic like the free-throw line dunk, as he easily has the wingspan and lift to make that happen, or even a Wilkins-esque power windmill.