I've written about All-Star Weekend three straight weeks, so there's no reason to break the streak now. The NBA released the participant lists for all of the Saturday night events and the teams have been chosen for the Rising Stars Challenge. There's plenty to discuss so let's dive into it.
All of the events have new rules as the NBA has decided to make every competition a team event. I understand the NBA's desire to mix things up and try to inspire more interest in the All-Star evens, but I'm not completely sure I like this. These All-Star events are designed to showcase the best of the best, and teams introduce more variables that make it more difficult to isolate the top performers. I guess we'll have to see how it turns out and whether the NBA decides to stick with it going forward.
I'm starting with the Skills challenge because it's the only one that includes a Sun. After appearing on numerous snubs list, including my own, Goran Dragic finally got some of the recognition he deserves and was invited to compete in the Skills Challenge.
Here are the teams:
I really think Dragic and Jackson have an excellent shot to win this. In fact, I'd put them as the favorite. This competition is all about speed and precision, and the Dragic and Jackson duo has those qualities in droves. Both of the point guards excel at getting to the basket, which requires speed, athleticism and excellent ball-handling.
The Lillard-Burke duo could give them some tough competition, though. Lillard is going to be competing in every event at All-Star weekend, and he's going to try to win as many as he can.
Antetokounmpo (no, I did not copy/paste that) is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA, and basketball Twitter loves him. I do think it's pretty cool that they got him involved. However, I'm not so sure this pair has the precision ball-handling and passing needed to win this event. Just like the big event on Sunday, DeMar DeRozan was given the nod over his more deserving teammate Kyle Lowry.
The Carter-Williams and Oladipo team is all kinds of intriguing. Both guys have all the athleticism you could ask for in addition to possessing long strides. It wouldn't surprise me at all if these guys won it, but I wouldn't put any money on them.
My Pick: Dragic and Jackson
This year, Grant Hill and Chris Webber picked the teams for the Rising Stars Challenge featuring the best of the last two draft classes. Webber was given the first pick, and shocked the world by picking hometown big man Anthony Davis. It's good to see Chris didn't have any trouble making decisions with limited time on the clock; then again, I'm not sure timeouts were allowed (not that that stopped him before).
Here are the teams:
Oddly enough, with the way the teams turned out, this is pretty close to the Rookie-Sophomore game that this event used to be. Webber only has two sophomores on his team, Inspector Gadget Davis and Sullinger, while Hill only has two rookies, the Greek Freak Antetokounmpo and the Macedonian Monster Pero Antic.
Davis is the best player in this game, so that's one point to Webber. Carter Williams is made for this kind of event as well, so that's another point. I'm predicting a starting five of Carter-Williams, Oladipo, Hardaway Jr., Sullinger and Davis.
Lillard should be fun in this event as well, and Andre Drummond could very well dominate this event. Projected starting five: Lillard, Beal, GIANNIS, Jones, Drummond.
Man, MCW-Oladipo-Unibrow vs. Lillard-Beal-Drummond should be tons of fun. Honestly, I'd be just fine with a 3-on-3 game between those two trios while the other guys sit and watch.
My Pick: Team Webber
Kyle Korver, who's streak with a made 3-pointer is sitting at 116 games and who is right at the top of the charts in terms of percentage, turned down an offer to compete in order to spend the weekend with his family. That's a shame for me, because I obviously wanted him to compete and would have picked him to win it without a second thought.
Here are the guys who are participating:
Five of the participants are shooting 40 percent or better, which means three of them are not. Kyrie Irving gets an automatic invite as the reigning champ despite the fact that he has struggled this season. I'm not quite sure why Kevin Love was invited, and I'm pretty sure Joe Johnson made it simply to troll us all.
Obviously I'm biased, but I really thought Channing Frye deserved an invite. He's on of 11 guys shooting over 40 percent on more than five attempts per game (Curry and Lillard are also on that list). Combine the percentage and volume with Frye making a triumphant return from heart disease and the Suns having a winning season, Frye seemed like an easy choice to me.
Curry was in the competition last year yet didn't do all that well. But he's still Steph Curry.
My Pick: Stephen Curry
The NBA completely shook up the format for this year's dunk contest. Check out Conrad Kaczmarek's explanation of the new rules on SB Nation for more details. Like the other events it will be a team competition. Here are the dunkers:
This could be pretty interesting with the Freestyle round.
Paul George is the only one of these six who dunks on a regular basis, with 48 dunks so far on the season. He's thrown down some nice in-game dunks in transition. Ross is the defending champ, Wall and Lillard are little guys with big ups, and McLemore can certainly get up himself. Barnes, meh.
My Pick: East, Paul George
The final event is the team shooting competition, with each team including a current player, a legend and a WNBA player. The teams are:
It's interesting that they aren't limiting themselves to geographic ties to determine teams. It's also pretty cool that we are going to see a couple players compete alongside their dads.
This is a shooting competition, so...
M Pick: Curry-Curry-Hammon
There you go Bright Siders. Who else deserves to be competing during All-Star weekend? What event are you looking forward to the most? What are your picks?
A Cinderella season always has tell-tale signs of collapse. For the Phoenix Suns, collapse may come at the free throw line.
In those games, the opponents made 58 of 73 free throw attempts. That's nearly 30 free points a game (29 to be exact), by virtue of a 79% conversion rate.
Looking further into the stats, it's clear that the Suns are terrible all season long at free throw defense. To wit, the Suns are 26th in the league at free throw defense, allowing teams to make 77.1% of their freebies every single game (on average).
Folks, that's a death knell. If you're looking for a real good reason the Suns have lost 20 games this year, look no further than the charity stripe.
League average is 75% allowed on free throws. That the Suns are allowing greater than 77% (77.1) is a travesty.
Forget that 5-game winning streak against weak competition in the East (the Pacers notwithstanding). Now the Suns face a bevy of winning teams in the coming weeks.
Who knows how well they're going to shoot the freebies?
What I do know is that coach Hornacek has a real task on his hands in the coming weeks to try to figure out how to bring the Suns back to at least the middle of the pack on free throw defense.
Somehow, those guys are inducing freebie misses better than any other teams in the league.
If the Suns want to make the playoffs, they can start by emulating the Lakers and Kings.
Goran Dragic will be one of four guards in the Western Conference to participate in the Skills Challenge during this year's All-Star weekend.
The NBA just announced all the fields for its various All-Star weekend events, and Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic will represent the Suns in New Orleans...but not in the All-Star game (as of now).
Dragic will participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday, February 15th:
Check out the rest of the field in this year's Skills Challenge:
Here's some more info on this year's new format from a press release from the Suns:
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge is introducing a new format that features four teams of two players each competing in a two-round timed relay-style course consisting of dribbling, passing and shooting stations.
Dragic will team with Reggie Jackson of the Oklahoma City Thunder on one of the Western Conference's teams. Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz comprise the West's other team. The Eastern Conference will be represented by DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks on one team, and Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers and Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic on the other.
Perhaps this is some sort of consolation prize from the league. Or maybe it's a sign that the NBA is leaning towards making Dragic an All-Star by giving the last spot on the West team (thanks to Kobe Bryant's injury) to the Suns' leader. Dragic has proven to be deserving of the recognition, but the Western Conference All-Star team is simply stacked. Dragic is likely battling Anthony Davis for that final spot.
We'll see if Goran gets to participate in Sunday's festivities as well during All-Star weekend, but for now, it looks like he'll likely be attempting to fill the shoes of former Suns guard and two-time Skills Challenge winner Steve Nash.
Congrats Gogi! It's still the Year of the Dragon.
No other Suns player will be representing Phoenix during All-Star weekend. Gerald Green may have been in the dunk competition, but his lack of interest has been expressed since the beginning of the season. He also deserved some consideration for the Three-Point Shootout.
Alex Len might have made the Rising Stars game (especially given his weak rookie class) had he played more in the first half of the season. Miles Plumlee was snubbed from the same game, but perhaps deserved to make it over Toronto's Jonas Valanciunas. Speaking of whom, here's a clip of Charles Barkley attempting to pronounce his name just a little while ago on TNT's Inside the NBA: