NBA Skills Competition Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 2/12/2010
The best part of the NBA All-Star Weekend comes not on Sunday with the game, but on Saturday with the skills competition. On that day the Slam Dunk Contest is the marquee event, but the three point shootout and the point guard skills contest are often more interesting, and the team shooting challenge can have its moments as well. Here's a betting preview of the Saturday events other than the Slam Dunk Contest:
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Three Point Shootout
Daequan Cook of the Miami Heat is the defending champion, and he returns to defend his crown this year. Winning in consecutive years is far from unprecedented. Six players have previously done it - Larry Bird, Craig Hodges, Mark Price, Jeff Hornacek, Peja Stojakovic, and Jason Kapono. He'll have to work hard to defend, though, as his shooting percentage has fallen hard this year in limited playing time. Cook is at 3/1 this year, but he's not the favorite. That honor falls to a rookie, and by far the most public choice in the field - Golden State's Stephen Curry at 19/10. Curry is ninth in the league in field goal percentage. The most interesting entrant in the field in terms of an oddity is Channing Frye of the Suns - the first center to compete in the contest since Sam Perkins in 1999. Frye sits right behind Curry in 10th in the league, so he sure doesn't shoot from outside like a typical center. He's not getting a lot of respect from the oddsmakers, though - he's the 6/1 longshot. Rounding out the field are Chauncey Billups at 7/2, Danilo Gallinari at 15/4, and Paul Pierce at 4/1.
Curry is tempting in that group because of what we know he can do, but I have a hard time trusting a rookie as a pretty solid favorite. The best value in my eyes is Paul Pierce. He's got the best shooting percentage of anyone in the field, he's a championship MVP so we know he can handle pressure, and he's such a veteran of the all-star experience after being named to the team eight times that nothing is going to bother him.
This test for point guards will see one wily veteran face off against three young bucks. Derrick Rose, if he is healthy enough to compete after injuring his hip this week, will be back to defend the title he was the surprising winner of as a rookie last year. He's the co-second choice at 5/2. Also at 5/2 is Utah's Deron Williams, the winner of the Challenge two years ago. The third and final youngster is flashy rookie Brandon Jennings of Milwaukee. It's not surprising that he's the longest shot on the board, but the fact that he's only 11/4 is an indication of the impact his performance has had on the minds of bettors. Those three will more than have their hands full with Steve Nash, the 19/10 favorite. Nash won the contest in 2005, and even if he's lost a step is still smart enough and experienced enough to overcome age with experience.
If health wasn't an issue then I'd be with Rose for sure, but he's not sure to be at his best, so I'll pass. Nash is the king, but Williams has the best time ever in the contest, and his price is slightly better, so I'll give the nod to him.
Shooting Stars Competition
This is the contest that pairs an NBA player with a WNBA player from the same city (or state in this case) and a legend who used to star in the city. The host Texas team is favored at 2/1 and features Dirk Nowitzki, Becky Hammon of San Antonio, and former Rocket Kenny Smith. Atlanta is the second choice at 5/2 featuring Joe Johnson, Angel McCoughtry, and Steve Smith. The longest shot, at 3/1, is L.A. with Pau Gasol, Marie Ferdinand-Harris, and Brent Barry. My heart and my money will be with Sacramento, also at 5/2. They feature the flashy Tyreke Evans, Nicole Powell, and the best player that Michigan has ever produced - Chris Webber. Never doubt a Michigan man.
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This is only the second time that this event has existed, and the first that it has been a part of all-star Saturday. Kevin Durant is back to defend last year's title, and not surprisingly he's a 10/11 favorite. Rajon Rondo is second at 7/4, followed by Omri Casspi, the rookie from Sacramento, at 5/2. I hate any price below even money, but it's hard not to pick Durant here. Come to think of it, it's hard to imagine a field of any kind for this contest in which Durant wouldn't be favored.