If you are reading this article hoping that I am going to give you sage advice on whether to pick Team Shaq or Team Chuck in the NBA’s All-Star Weekend Rising Stars game on Friday in Houston (i.e. formerly Rookies-Sophomores game but now a mix of each on both teams), well, move on. Oddsmakers seem to think Team Shaq has the edge as it is a 6.5-point favorite, so there’s that. And Portland’s Damian Lillard, the likely Rookie of the Year in the NBA, is the 6/1 MVP favorite on Bovada, followed by Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving at 9/2 (take Irving, who is a flat-out stud).
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I also don’t have any insight into which celebrity scores first in Friday night’s All-Star Celebrity Classic. Usain Bolt is the 4/1 favorite to do so. I have not a clue whether the “Fastest Man on Earth” can play ball. Soccer, yes. But basketball? If Bolt can dribble (basketball version), good luck catching him. I must be out of the pop culture loop because I don’t even know who half the celebrities in the game are.
I’m also going to pass on choosing a winner of the Shooting Stars competition. That consists of four three-person teams of one current NBA star, a WNBA player and former NBA player. The +200 co-favorites to win are Team Harden (James Harden, Tina Thompson and Sam Cassell) and Team Westbrook (Russell Westbrook, Maya Moore and Robert Horry).
I do have a minor opinion on the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. That is an obstacle course that requires a chest pass and a bounce pass through a target, a shot from the top of the key and an outlet pass before finishing with a dunk or layup. This is all about speed, so you won’t be seeing Kendrick Perkins in this one. It’s all fast point guards, including defending champion Tony Parker (7/2). If the winner of this were from fan voting, then I’d love the Rockets’ Jeremy Lin (4/1). But it’s not, so Philly’s Jrue Holiday is the 3/1 favorite followed by Parker and Lillard. Go with Parker. He’s as fast as anyone and knows the competition.
OK, now to the “real” fake skills competitions: Saturday’s Dunk and Three-Point Contests. Both are a bit different this year. There are three players from both the Eastern and Western Conferences. The player on each side with the highest point total (as voted by judges in the Dunk Contest) will advance to an East vs. West championship round. For the Dunk Contest, fans decide the winner by text messaging, Twitter, etc.
The days of the stars competing in the Dunk Contest appear 100 percent over. At least we had the likes of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin in recent years, but this will be the second straight season it’s made up essentially of little-known bench players from NBA teams. Can you tell me right now who won this a year ago? ...
That would be Utah’s Jeremy Evans. The 2010 second-round pick out of Western Kentucky almost never plays for the Jazz, averaging 5.4 minutes per game and totaling seven minutes in the past five. He won last year after dunking two balls while jumping over a teammate and then a Karl Malone/mailman skit while jamming over unfunny comedian Kevin Hart. Yippee. Evans was only in the field because the Knicks’ Iman Shumpert had to pull out with an injury. Evans is an 8/1 long shot along with Denver’s Kenneth Faried this year – Faried is the only starter among the six competitors, although the Clippers’ Eric Bledsoe (5/1) would start for most teams.
I have to go with the 5/4 favorite, the Knicks’ James White. I read a few background stories on the journeyman, and he’s known around the league as “Flight” because he’s such a prolific dunker. White is 30 years old and has bounced around the NBA a bit as well as Europe and the D-League, where he won a 2009 Dunk Contest. He has the best “story” of the group, plus the backing of all those Knicks fans should he make into the championship round.
The Three-Point Contest is a bit easier to handicap because you can look up a guy’s three-point percentage, etc. The Warriors’ Stephen Curry – arguably the biggest All-Star Game snub – and the Knicks’ Steve Novak are 5/2 co-favorites. They are tied for second in the NBA in three-point percentage at .447. Curry is third in attempts. The NBA leader in hosting it up from long range is the Hornets’ Ryan Anderson (4/1) with 396. He came up short in last year’s competition, won by Kevin Love. I do like Curry to win because he’s such a pure shooter, the best athlete of the group (easily the best player) and maybe a bit PO’d he wasn’t chosen for the West team.
Finally, for All-Star Game MVP honors, the two favorites are no surprise: the Thunder’s Kevin Durant (11/2) and Heat’s LeBron James (6/1). Durant is the reigning MVP while James has won it twice. For what it’s worth, the East is coached by Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, so he will probably let LeBron play as much or as little as he chooses. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich is the West coach.
I believe the West is the better team overall, especially with the East losing Rajon Rondo, starting ancient Kevin Garnett and with an injured Carmelo Anthony perhaps sitting out. Thus, you have to pick a guy from the West. I always tend to lean toward a star player from the city in which the ASG is played, and that’s the case with Houston’s James Harden. He should play plenty and will be jazzed up in his first All-Star Game. He’s great value at 9/1.
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