Despite an overall disappointing All-Star Weekend, there were still a couple interesting story lines between the handful of events. Every year it seems as though some relatively unknown player forces himself onto the main stage and forces NBA fans to take notice of him or a borderline All-Star proves that the selection was the right one. This year we had both of those scenarios occur, along with a few others.
#7 – The Slam Dunk Contest – DOWN
Whoever is responsible for this year’s new format should be ashamed of themselves. Whose bright idea was it to create a format where each player only had one real dunk? Whose bright idea was it to pit three of the top four dunkers on the same team just for the sake of a conference-versus-conference battle? Whose idea was it to let Nick Cannon host something?! Paul George said that he only returned to the dunk contest this year to bring back some star power to the event, but I’m sure after this embarrassingly brief contest this year, he regrets that decision mightily. Let’s hope that next year they don’t have a “whoever dunks the ball first wins the contest” format.
#6 – Marco Belinelli – UP
While it looked like the Three-Point Contest was destined to be a dud just like the rest of Saturday night’s events, a shootout came out of nowhere with Belinelli reigning victorious over Bradley Beal when it was all said and done. While it is tough to get too excited for winning a contest where all the big names struggled and Joe Johnson couldn’t even open his eyes as he moseyed around the racks, Belinelli showed a national audience something that Spurs fans everywhere know this year—he can shoot. Belinelli, who is shooting a career-high 45% from deep this year, was unfazed by the handful of airballs he throw up and set himself up to make a return to the even next year to protect his title.
#5 – Wiz Backcourt – UP
Wizards guard John Wall put up a solid, but forgettable 12 points in fifteen minutes, and he also “won” the “Dunk Contest” with a solid but un-historic slam. Bradley Beal finished second in the Three-Point Contest, showing his sweet stroke (seriously, for people like myself who don’t get to watch many Wizards games, why did nobody tell me Beal’s shot was so beautiful?) the night after going 4/8 from deep in the Rising Stars Challenge. To call the weekend a blowout success would be excessive, but this could be a huge step for the tandem. Going into the season’s second half, their 25-27 Wizards currently sit in sixth place in the East, perched on a balance beam. Third place Toronto is only three games ahead, but ninth place Detroit stand just three games behind. Losers of four out of five coming into the break, the Wiz could start a late-season push using their ASW momentum and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Even if that doesn’t happen, Wiz fans can at least look forward to a team that makes headlines for the right reasons.
#4 – James Harden – DOWN
Replacing the hobbled Kobe Bryant, James Harden got his first All-Star start after being named a reserve last year in Houston. With Foot Locker ads playing on repeat, and his flashy gold outfit on Saturday night, it was impossible to miss Harden this weekend….except on Sunday. With 8 points and zero impact in 23 minutes, Harden never seemed to engage himself, as his -16 plus/minus ratio demonstrates. Take it with a grain of salt of course, since this was a meaningless exhibition, but it just seemed to mean more to just about everyone else on the court, including the very peers he is chasing for superstardom.
#3 – Andre Drummond – UP
One of the most slept on players in the NBA finally found a way into headlines thanks to a dropped MVP trophy, although judging by the way he grabbed offensive rebounds all night on his way to the award in the Rising Stars game, it is a surprise that he didn’t scoop up the trophy right away. Drummond remains underrated, despite the fact that he is averaging an impressive 13 points and 13 rebounds per game (including 16.2 and 15.6 in 9 February games). While the Rising Stars MVP doesn’t mean much, it at least got Drummond on TV and into the eyes of fans who may not hear much about him as the Detroit Pistons continue to struggle. Drummond, who is only 20, is slowly turning into one of the best centers in the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the All-Star Game he finds himself scooping up rebounds in next year.
#2 – Blake Griffin – UP
I honestly think Blake Griffin’s stock took a jump way before he suited up on Sunday night. Thanks to the confusing changes to the dunk contest, fans were denied a memorable experience from what is supposed to be the weekend’s crown jewel. Reminiscing on Sprite Slam Dunks in recent memory, one has to remember Griffin soaring over the Kia Optima. That show stopping sunroof alleyoop was the last contest dunk that brought an entire arena to its feet – it was the ultimate prop slam. Don’t forget, he brought out Baron Davis, a car, and a choir. This year, we got Shaq mumbling nonsense an ill-fated attempt to “upload data” from Harrison Barnes. Griffin throwing it down repeatedly on Sunday night was the real dunk performance of the weekend. Oh, and 19/23 for 38 wasn’t too bad either.
#1 – Kyrie Irving – UP
In my opinion, Kyrie Irving came into the weekend with the most to lose. Despite a recent winning streak his 20-33 Cavs are heading the wrong direction, his numbers have slipped from last season, and many have begun to question his leadership. His flashes of brilliance have been equalized by too-curious-to-be-false tales of black eyes and bottle service. You could tell Irving wanted to make a splash this weekend, and he did just that. Individually he took control in the second half, finishing the All-Star Game with team-high 31 points on 14/17 shooting to go along with 14 assists. His stellar performance earned him the game’s MVP award – another patch for next year’s warm-up jacket. With all the storylines this All-Star Weekend, the man on the Cocoa Pebbles box got the last laugh. (http://fandbnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/64790-Cocoa-Pebbles-Kyrie-original.jpg)
Surprisingly Neutral- Damian Lillard
Lillard, one of the most electrifying young talents in the league came into All-Star Weekend with nothing to lose. He was featured prominently in the program, participating in all-three nights. I would definitely consider Lillard as the player with the most to gain this weekend, but despite his perfect attendance award, his other showings fell flat. Lillard logged a game high 30(!) minutes in the Rising Stars Challenge, shooting 6/14 for 13 points the night before participating in all three Saturday events. After defending his skills challenge crown by a slim 0.1 second margin, Lillard was a non-factor in the Three-Point Contest and was buried by the new dunk format. His All-Star Game debut was limited to 9 minutes, but hey, maybe he was tired. All-in-all, it was probably a great experience for him, but just seemed like he was spinning his wheels to no avail. It takes a lot of heart to compete across the board, but he didn’t make the indelible mark we all expected.
Curious stat of the weekend:
Between the Shooting Stars Challenge, and the All-Star Game, Chris Bosh went 3/11 on regular three pointers and 2/2 on halfcourt shots.