NBA All-Star weekend is here, and excitement is in the air. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard will be partaking in the main event on Sunday evening, as well as the Three-Point Contest for the third time in his career.
Each event is booked with top talent around the league. All three days of festivities will be sure to bring some added entertainment to an already intriguing 2022-23 NBA season made interesting by the recent trade deadline and bumper-to-bumper positioning in the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Here are predictions for every event going down this All-Star weekend:
NBA Rising Stars Game
Rosters for all four competing teams can be viewed here.
Team Pau on paper look like the guys that will take the cake. They have two of the top three scoring rookies in the entire league and are stacked with playmakers. Their Achilles heel is interior defense, which may get exposed, especially when teams tighten up down the stretch.
Team Joakim has unbelievable all-around players, but outside of Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder), no real go-to scorer. Team Jason, comprised of G-League talent have explosive talent. It almost feels like Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite), will use this opportunity to show the world that he belongs in the same breath as Victor Wembanyama as the 2023 NBA draft looms.
Regardless, due to team Pau’s raw talent, they will see Team Deron in the winner-take-all game. Team Deron appears to be the most balanced. They have the best player in the entire tournament — Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic) — two incredible young centers in Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets) and Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz) that offer playmaking and interior defense respectively, two-way play and spot-up shooting in Trey Murphy III, and speed demons Jalen Green (Houston Rockets) and Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets).
Team Deron narrowly gets the victory over Team Pau as their length puts the clamps on on the defensive end late, and Wagner takes home the MVP.
NBA Skills Challenge
The Antetokounmpo brothers — Giannis (Milwaukee Bucks), Thanasis (Bucks) and Alex (Wisconsin Herd) will face team Utah Jazz, consisting of Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton, and a rookie team of Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic), Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons) and Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets).
The Antetokounmpo brothers will bring infectious energy, but they are not known for their shooting, especially in the case of Giannis and Thanasis. They also struggled early with their rotations in the passing portion of the challenge in last year’s event.
On one hand, envisioning 7-foot Walker Kessler navigating through the dribbling course may not seem enticing, yet the Cleveland Cavaliers team of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen did beat out two competing teams of forwards and guards in 2022, so anything can happen.
In the end, the rookies will earn their stripes and down both team Antetokounmpo and team Jazz. All three rookies can shoot, handle the ball and pass. Motor may be an issue as Smith Jr. in particular plays the game somewhat adagio from time to time, but in a not-too-serious skills challenge, it most likely won’t be an issue. It’ll be all hugs and smiles after the final half court shot gets drained.
NBA Three-Point Contest
The three-point contest has taken over the dunk contest as the main event attraction of All-Star Saturday night, save the brief interjection of the Aaron Gordon-Zach Lavine and Gordon-Derrick Jones Jr. epics.
In the field are Damian Lillard (Blazers), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Kevin Huerter (Sacramento Kings), Tyler Herro (Miami Heat), Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers), Buddy Hield (Pacers), Julius Randle (New York Knicks) and Lauri Markannen (Utah Jazz).
All eight shooters are lethal. Though, three names stand out above the pack — Lillard, Hield and Huerter.
Hield won the contest in 2020, so history favors the Bahamian. Huerter is a lethal deadeye when spotting up, which will play to his advantage. In the end, Lillard will come away with the crown, from an unbiased perspective of course. This will be Lillard’s third appearance in the contest, having previously participated in 2014 and 2019. Third time’s a charm.
NBA Dunk Contest
Kenyon Martin Jr. (Houston Rockets), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans), Jericho Sims (New York Knicks) and Mac McClung (Philadelphia 76ers) look to revive the dunk contest this year.
Murphy III is one of the best three-point shooters in the league, yet has been tagged for what some may deem the wrong contest. Nevertheless, Murphy III does get up and throw down highlight-worthy dunks on occasion. Dunk contests do not favor centers — unless you’re Dwight Howard — and there isn’t a robust enough highlight package on Sims to draw a victorious conclusion.
The final rounds will come down to Martin Jr. and McClung. Martin Jr. has taken off from everywhere in and around the painted area over the course of his three-year NBA career. He’s gifted NBA Top Shot collectors with brag-worthy NFT’s. Martin Jr. has the hops and the flare to put personality behind his thunderous slams.
McClung has been a moneymaker for Overtime and BallisLife in high school, and carried over his jaw-dropping dunks into the college scene at Georgetown and Texas Tech. He and Martin Jr. will duke it out, with Martin Jr. coming away with the narrow victory in what will shape up to be an entertaining dunk contest, but not likely to be immortalized in history.
NBA All-Star Game
This year, the All-Star teams will be drafted prior to tip-off, as opposed to years prior. The festivity will retain its most recent integrity — two captains selecting from the pool of Eastern and Western Conference starters and reserves. However, this time around, we have no foreknowledge to go on.
Nonetheless, Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James is undefeated since the inception of the new All-Star game format, and there is little reason to think that will change in 2023. Being the highest vote-getter, James will select first from a wealth of talent, and has never been shy in selecting the best possible player off the board first, regardless of how the media pits him against them.
Without Phoenix Suns superstar Kevin Durant and reigning All-Star game and NBA Finals MVP Stephen Curry, James may be inclined to select Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic first overall, before taking whichever center Milwaukee Bucks MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo forbears.
In the end, Team James will come away with the victory, adding to James fans’ premature speculation of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer’s prospects as a future NBA owner.
Candidates for MVP will likely be Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies), Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics), and your very own Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers). MVP usually goes to the player that scores the most and guns for a resume booster.
Morant has barked up the tree of every team in the West, and may take matters into his own hands, while Brown may lash out for not being named a starter by showing out above the rim and beyond the arc. Lillard is in the midst of a career season and his hot scoring hand mixed with veteran reputation may allow him to close the game, especially if he’s in his “Logo Lillard” bag. If any of these three are on the winning team, chances are good for them.
An honorable mention must go to Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers), whose nuclear 71-point performance earlier this season may carry over to Sunday night. Not to mention, he may want to give his former home crowd a spectacle to behold, and fingers to snap in regret of losing him to Cleveland.
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