Now that each conference’s All Star rosters have been rounded out, all die hard fans are waiting for the announcement of who will be participating in All Star Saturday Night’s skills competitions. Since I for one am filled with anticipation, I decided to come up with a list of players that I think will compete in each event.
Ricky Rubio – Although Ricky Rubio is just recently getting back to form, you can’t deny his incredible ball skills and ability to set his teammates up. Rubio’s superior passing skills will allow him to breeze through the stations that involve either the chest or bounce pass. He may struggle a little bit with the set shot but I wouldn’t expect him to miss every shot attempt. Also, if Rubio does participate in this contest, it will be interesting to see how quickly he can get through the dribble portion. The sharp turns and change of direction could be an interesting test of that rebuilt knee of his. Even if he does struggle with the dribble and shooting stations, anticipate him to make up for it by firing in each of his pass attempts on the first or second try.
Jrue Holiday – Holiday is an up and coming star in this league and even if Kyrie Irving gets the nod over him at the starting point guard position, he should be allowed to show off his improved skill set in this competition. Despite the fact that he may not be the fastest point guard in the league, Holiday has the handle to get through the dribble course quite easily. Now I’m not saying that Jrue is slow but there are other potential candidates that will put you in the dust if you aren’t careful. The 76ers floor general will knock down his set shot with ease and will, for the most part, connect with his passes on the first or second try. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if he needed an extra attempt or two. Because of his vast overall improvement, Holiday deserves to be apart of the competition.
Ty Lawson – Remember those guys I mentioned that could blow by you in a blink of an eye? Well, yeah that’s Ty Lawson. Lawson has incredible end to end speed that rivals the likes of Derrick Rose and John Wall. He will have no problem pushing the tempo through the dribble course and getting to the basket quickly for his round finishing layup. If you had asked me earlier this year, I would’ve said that he would struggle with the jumper but anybody that has been following the Nuggets knows that he’s getting his confidence back game after game. Look for a guy like Lawson to use his speed and shot to his advantage because he may need a little extra time on those passes.
Kyrie Irving – This is sort of a pipe dream pick because I doubt that two of the point guards that actually made the All Star team would participate in a Saturday night event as well. Throw the doubt out the window though because as fans, we’re allowed to dream. Irving will have virtually no problem with the jump shot and his speed and handles will get him through the course in no time. You might argue he would have trouble with the passes but that’s far from the truth. Just because Irving isn’t averaging mind boggling assist totals doesn’t mean he isn’t a great passer and play maker. Given the team he plays for there aren’t many options for him to pass to. Look for Irving to fly through the dribble slalom and knock down his jumper on the first try. He may miss a pass or two but I wouldn’t count on it too much.
Winner: Kyrie Irving
Klay Thompson – I think it’s fair to say that Klay Thompson is one of the most improved players of the 2012-13 season. After a relatively quiet rookie season, Thompson splashed onto the scene and became a go to three point shooter. According to NBA.com, Thompson is shooting 39% from downtown, converting on 128 of his 327 attempts. He ranks 34th in the league in 3 point percentage. In my opinion, his ranking doesn’t do him just because he is the kind of player that can get hot and go on streaks that are very exciting to watch.
Stephen Curry – Thompson’s teammate, Steph Curry, is a guy that can absolutely shoot the lights out. According to NBA.com, Curry is 2nd in the league in 3 point percentage. Through 43 games, Curry is shooting at a 46% clip from beyond the arc. The most impressive aspect of his 3 point shooting is that he is making 3.2 per game. Curry seems like a good fit for this contest because he can drain the long ball and doesn’t over use his legs while shooting it. As a result, Steph might not get as tired as his competition while he goes through the five racks of balls.
Kyle Korver – Korver is currently leading the league in 3 point percentage, coming in at an other worldly 47%, according to NBA.com. I’ve witnessed how dangerous he can be when he gets on a roll. I watched my Celtics take on the Hawks on January 25th and Kyle torched the C’s for 27 points, 24 of them coming on 3 pointers. Despite shooting the 3 ball the most efficiently I’m not sure how he would make out in a contest like this. He is more of a catch and shoot guy and he elevates a decent amount with each attempt. His shooting form could ultimately tire him out.
O.J. Mayo – If anyone (other than Curry and Korver) deserves to be in this contest, it’s O.J. Mayo. In his first year as a Dallas Maverick, Mayo burst onto the scene with remarkable 3 point shooting accuracy. I was happy to see him get a chance to show the league what he can do after a few frustrating years in Memphis. What I’ve learned so far from his short tenure with the Mavs, the man can flat out shoot. According to NBA.com, Mayo is tied with Kevin Durant for the 13th best 3 point percentage in the league. At around 42%, Mayo is making exactly two 3′s per game. If he gets a chance to participate, look for him to make some noise. I would take him as a sleeper pick.
Kevin Martin – So far it seems as though Kevin Martin is really enjoying his sixth man role with the Thunder. He doesn’t have to worry about setting up his inferior teammates like he had to do in both Sacramento and Houston. Instead, Martin just has to focus on getting open looks from distance and knocking them down with regularity. NBA.com has Martin ranked 6th in the NBA with a a percentage of 44%. Six of his fifteen points per game come off 3 pointers and despite his unorthodox release, Martin is a threat to get hot at any moment over the course of a game.
Steve Novak – Steve Novak was made for events like these. The Marquette alum doesn’t do much else but shoot the 3 but he’s extremely good at doing just that. Holding down the 4th spot for best 3 point percentage is Novak. He’s converting at a clip of 45% and six of his seven points per game come off of 3′s, according to NBA.com. Novak has little lift in his shot to go along with deadly accuracy. These two factors would play a huge role in his potential success in the NBA’s 3 point shootout.
Winner: Steve Novak
Jeremy Evans – Although Evans gets little to no playing time with the Utah Jazz, he did win the contest last year. By default I’m including him on this list because more often than not, the NBA invites back the previous year’s winner to defend their crown. I’ll admit Evans is a gifted athlete but to be completely honest, last year’s contest was insulting. I don’t think I’ve seen a worse contest since I’ve been watching them. I’ll give him his credit though and predict that he’ll return to the competition this year seeking back to back titles.
J.R. Smith – We’ve seen J.R. Smith on this stage before and he did pretty well, despite Josh Smith winning that contest. This year Smith has thrown down some pretty nasty dunks. The one that comes to mind is the alley-oop from Pablo Prigioni where Smith had to basically reach down to his feet to catch the ball and threw the it down behind his head on the reverse. Smith is insanely athletic and can really send it in with flash and power for a guy his size. Smith would be a nice sleeper pick were he to compete.
Harrison Barnes – I’m not sure if anybody is paying attention to the rookie out of North Carolina but they should be. He may not be putting up Stephen Curry like numbers for the Warriors but he sure knows how to send a spark through the stadium. If you haven’t seen his vicious slam over one of the strongest centers in the NBA, I suggest you go watch it. Poor Nikola Pekovic was completely defenseless when Barnes came thundering through the lane. The rookie almost used Pek as a platform to push himself higher into the air and slam it through with authority. This kid is athletic, he must be because he was heavily compared to Kobe Bryant. He might not ever be as good as Bryant but he can sure dunk like a young Bryant.
Jeff Green – A little bit of home cooking here as I am one of the biggest Celtics fans you would ever meet. That’s besides the point though because Green truly deserves to be in this contest. Not only has he been playing better basketball in wake of the Rondo and Sullinger injuries, but he has consistently been making posters left and right. Jeff has punished guys like Al Jefferson, Marcin Gortat, Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic for getting in his way. Green gives Celtics fans something to be excited about as he is the apparent heir to the small forward position when Paul Pierce calls it quits. The Georgetown product is a freak athlete and embarrasses opposing players regularly. A word of advice: If you see Green coming down the lane, get out of the way.
Winner: Jeff Green
Now that you know who I would like to see compete in these extremely entertaining events, I would like to know who you think will be there on February 16th. Leave a comment below telling me who you would choose and why.