The rosters are set. Tickets are booked. Controversies are brewing. Weird substitutions are happening. And we’re just talking about the three-point contest!
All-Star Saturday is back, baby! The skills competition is pure silliness (I love it), the three-point contest has been the marquee event for years, and the dunk contest is only one viral moment away from returning to glory. Let’s break down what you need to know.
Team Antetokounmpos: Alex, Thanasis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo
Team Jazz: Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler, Collin Sexton
Team Rooks: Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey, Jabari Smith Jr.
Last year followed a similar format (the Antetokounmpos participated then, too!), and the host city, Cleveland, won the event.
The Antetokounmpos are hampered by only having one real NBA player on their team. As skilled as Giannis is, there’s a lot of shooting in the skills competition, which doesn’t play to his strengths.
The Rooks are a sneaky-interesting play here… but they’ve all struggled to hit from deep this season, too. They should do well on the passing and team relay events, however.
Team Jazz is the wildcard. Walker Kessler is a defensive-minded big man in an offensive-oriented event… but something tells me that Kessler, Clarkson, and Sexton are going to put forth a bit more effort than their peers. Buoyed by the raucous Salt Lake City faithful, look for Team Jazz to pull through.
Buddy Hield — 42.6% from deep (9.0 3PA / gm)
Kevin Huerter — 39.2% (6.8 3PA)
Lauri Markkanen — 41.2% (7.4 3PA)
Tyrese Haliburton — 39.9% (7.2 3PA)
Julius Randle — 33.8% (8.0 3PA)
Damian Lillard — 37.2% (11.2 3PA)
Tyler Herro — 36.9% (8.1 3PA)
Jayson Tatum — 35.7% (9.3 3PA)
People underestimate how different a shooting contest is from in-game shooting. Bending over to pick up the ball throws some players off their rhythm, and the short clock hassles players with a slow release. On the other hand, the extra-deep balls (formerly Mountain Dew balls, but there is a new sponsor now) give an advantage to players used to shooting from 35 feet, like Damian Lillard. So on-court production doesn’t always match three-point shootout success.
Julius Randle is a late replacement for the Blazers’ Anfernee Simons, depriving us of a chance to see Simons go head-to-head with his teammate Lillard. So why was Randle, shooting a below-average percentage from deep, the replacement? Nobody knows! He’s in the All-Star game, so perhaps he was the only player the NBA could find at the last minute. Regardless, I expect a strong showing from Julius, just to spit in the face of oddsmakers everywhere. But I can’t pick him to win.
The betting frontrunner is Buddy Hield, for good reason. He’s one of the best shooters in NBA history and won this contest in 2020. His quick release and ability to fire from any angle give him a natural advantage in this contest…but picking the favorite is boring, so I’m not going to do that.
Huerter could not miss to begin the season, but he’s cooled off a little of late, shooting just 34% from three in the calendar year 2023. He’s out.
Haliburton will be excited to participate, but I struggle to imagine his funky form translating to success in a time-pressured event like this one. Nope.
A seasoned vet, Lillard should be a strong contestant. He’s played before, although not since 2019, so he should know what to expect. In addition, he’s got the deepest range of anyone in the field, which could help with the bonus shot. But he hasn’t performed exceptionally well in his previous two stints, and it’s easy to imagine him losing some motivation with his teammate a late scratch from the event.
Jayson Tatum is a solid three-point shooter, but that’s not his specialty. He’s now the third-favorite to win the event, however, due to the insane number of Celtics fans betting on Tatum. Unfortunately, this does not reflect how likely he is to win.
Lauri Markkanen is an underrated contender. He’s been lights out all year, he’s playing in front of his adoring hometown fans, and Karl-Anthony Towns proved just last year that big men can win this thing. I think he’ll be a finalist, but I worry about his pace being a bit too slow.
One of the least-accurate marksmen in the field? Perhaps, but Tyler Herro overflows with confidence, and the Heat have a long history of three-point champions (tied with the Celtics for most in NBA history). Herro seems like a guy who thinks winning the three-point contest is making a statement, and he’ll be laser-focused. He’s my pick.
Kenyon Martin, Jr.
Trey Murphy III
There’s no way around it: the news that Shaedon Sharpe has pulled out is devastating. Already one of the greatest in-game dunkers I’ve ever seen, the rookie’s exit put a damper on public enthusiasm for this year’s event.
But we actually have a pretty loaded class! Expectations are low for the dunk contest, and there’s no question there’s a lack of star power. But that doesn’t mean the dunks will be bad; far from it! These guys don’t have to worry about reputation and can go all out.
I was rooting for Trey Murphy III to be the rare dual dunk and three-point contestant (his nickname is literally Trey!), but alas. Regardless, Murphy possesses an uncanny ability to fly without much load-up. One second, he’s standing completely upright, and the next, his shoes are next to your head. His insane length makes windmills and tomahawks look even more impressive.
This isn’t his most impressive dunk, but it showcases his flexibility and reach: he reaches behind his head to throw it down.
Murphy is probably a better in-game dunker than showman, but I’m hoping he has some surprises in store.
Jericho Sims is a bouncy big man from New York with even longer arms than Murphy. An awe-inspiring 64% of his shots are slams; that’s first in the league. Of course, it’s always tough to judge rim-running centers on their creativity because they rarely have the in-game opportunity to take more than one dribble, so Sims is a bit of a wildcard.
But there have been rumors that Sims is the most athletic player in the NBA since he entered the league last year; grainy practice footage of him putting his chin on the rim lends some credence to that belief.
Sims is the kind of guy who makes you reconsider your relationship with gravity. Here, he freezes at the peak of his jump for ages, waiting for the ball to reach him, before thunderously throwing it down:
KJ Martin, the son of former dunking legend Kenyon Martin, has some absolute world-class bangers. How about a nearly free-throw-line in-game dunk?
Or a southpaw slam on top of All-Star Domantas Sabonis’ head from the dotted circle?
Those are just from the last six weeks! And that’s what he’s doing when the world’s most giant humans are trying to stop him. Imagine what he can do with a clear runway.
I’ve been calling for Martin to be in the dunk contest since last year, and I’m excited to see what he’s got in store.
If we’ve learned anything from dunk contests in the past, though, it’s that jumping high doesn’t matter nearly as much as the effort and prep a player puts into it. And for that reason, I’m picking Mac McClung.
McClung had a cup of coffee with the Lakers last year, and the last shot of the entire Laker season put the league on notice that he’d be a future contestant in this event:
But that was spur-of-the-moment stuff. If he hits this in the dunk contest, just call it. Run off the court, And-1 style:
I’m not even sure what to call that. A no-look double-clutch Scorpion?
Consider McClung, who just signed a two-way deal with the 76ers, a shoo-in to win the event. Lock it in; I’m never wrong.
The days of stars doing the dunk contest may be long gone, but that may be to the benefit of the dunks themselves. We have a talented quartet of high-flyers ready to make waves this year, and I’m expecting a sneaky-great dunk contest.
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