Next weekend, the NBA will descend upon Houston for its annual All-Star Game. While the starters and reserves for Sunday's main event were set over the past two weeks, the NBA had yet to announce the participants for the many events of the party that is All-Star Saturday Night. On Thursday, they did just that.
Our Dan Devine has already discussed the six players who will contest the Sprite Slam Dunk, Saturday's biggest attraction. But the night features three more events: the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and the Sears Shooting Stars showcase. Each event will get a twist this year as the NBA divides All-Star Weekend contestants by conference, with Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade serving as captains, in a fight to see who can win the most money for their charities. Instead of the top two overall competitors making it to the final round, the top scorer in each conference will advance.
The Three-Point Contest is typically All-Star Saturday's second-most anticipated event, and this year's field is quite impressive. The East squad consists of Indiana Pacers All-Star forward Paul George (shooting 38.7 percent from deep this season), Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (42.9 percent), and New York Knicks sharpshooter Steve Novak (third in the NBA at 44.4 percent). The West team boasts Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (second in the NBA at 44.9 percent), New Orleans Hornets forward Ryan Anderson (39.7 percent), and San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner (42.1 percent). This list does not include Kyle Korver, the current league-leader in three-point percentage at 46.4 percent.
After the jump, check out the rosters for the Skills Challenge and Shooting Stars, along with thoughts on the Saturday night lineups.
This year's Skills Challenge field is a little less star-studded than in previous seasons, perhaps because the NBA wants to promote some up-and-coming players instead of focusing on more popular stars who will be visible throughout All-Star Weekend. Nevertheless, the field features some interesting players. The East group includes Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Jrue Holiday, Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (a Most Improved Player candidate), and Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight (whose presence is frankly inexplicable). The West team is more exciting with San Antonio Spurs All-Star point guard Tony Parker, Portland Trail Blazers point guard and Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard, and Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin, who can expect to have some job at All-Star Weekend for the rest of his NBA career.
Shooting Stars is always the least anticipated event on Saturday night, and this year's structure is even more confusing than usual. Instead of opting for city-based teams, as has typically been the case, the NBA has decided to create the three-person team of NBA player, NBA legend, and WNBA player seemingly at random.
Each conference will have two teams. The East's "Team Lopez" features Brooklyn Nets All-Star Brook Lopez, the diminutive Muggsy Bogues, and Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings. "Team Bosh" boasts Miami Heat All-Star Chris Bosh, Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, and Swin Cash of the Chicago Sky. The West counters with "Team Harden," which features Houston Rockets All-Star James Harden, Washington Wizards assistant coach and former NBA vet Sam Cassell, and all-time WNBA leading scorer Tina Thompson of the Seattle Storm.
The conference battle will change All-Star Saturday a bit, but at this point we've seen each of these events enough times to know what they offer. If you like three-pointers, you'll like the Three-Point Contest; if you like obstacle courses, you'll like the Skills Challenge; if you like whatever the Shooting Stars is, you'll like the Shooting Stars. Outside of a fan's own rooting interests, the players involved are only going to change one's enjoyment of these three competitions so much.
Nevertheless, it's an honor for any player to have a part in All-Star Weekend, and the NBA's selection shows that the league values their participation. It might not be incredibly exciting to see a player dribble around cones and pass a ball through a tire, but simply being picked to do is an accomplishment.