The NBA Celebrity All-Star Game may be an exhibition as part of the action-packed weekend in New Orleans, but there are several legitimate basketball players participating in the game that should have standout performances.
Retired NBA player Jalen Rose and Grantland founder Bill Simmons are squaring off as coaches in this matchup. That should heighten the interest around the game given their unique relationship and chemistry as ESPN analysts and frequent media collaborators.
Rose and Simmons have assembled some impressive squads filled with players who have college and professional experience, but Team Rose should have the upper hand in the end in terms of pure talent. Then again, just about anything can happen in this contest. Kevin Hart has been named MVP in each of the past two years despite limited basketball skills.
Let's take a look at the trio of celebrity stars that will showcase their true athletic prowess and perform best in this Friday's showdown.
Arne Duncan, Team Rose (East)
Yes, the U.S. Secretary of Education can ball it up a little bit. The former Harvard forward played extremely well last year in this contest with 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
An argument could have been made well that Duncan deserved the MVP, but he was gracious in yielding to Hart's award.
"I just want to win, just want to win," said Duncan after the 2013 game, per NBA.com's recap of the action. "I can't win a popularity contest."
He was also proud of maintaining an undefeated record when the 58-38 victory was sealed:
Maybe the 49-year-old Duncan can win the popularity contest time around. He shares a last name with a certain San Antonio Spur nicknamed "The Big Fundamental" in Tim Duncan, which is rather appropriate considering Arne Duncan displays a sound all-around game ideal to shine in this rather haphazard affair.
It only makes sense that Duncan would be a part of President Obama's administration given the Head of State's love of basketball. Expect the 49-year-old Duncan to represent the nation's capital well in New Orleans with another fine outing.
Elena Delle Donne, Team Simmons (West)
Rose called her the women's version of Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird—Simmons' known favorite player—and Rose even said that Delle Donne would win the game's MVP award.
That didn't seem to matter, because Rose traded Delle Donne to Team Simmons for another bright WNBA star in the Tulsa Shock's Skylar Diggins. The Shock drafted Diggins No. 3 overall in the 2013 draft, while Delle Donne was selected second and won Rookie of the Year honors.
But really, check out what the 6'5" Delle Donne can do off the dribble in this highlight compilation:
Delle Donne was thrilled with the move, expressing excitement about the prospect of teaming up with Hart and ESPN personality Mike Golic in the celebrity game:
Considering she sank three-pointers at a 43.8 percent clip this past season, it stands to reason that Delle Donne will have plenty of open looks from downtown in this one. That should lead to a high point total—unless her implied desire to distribute the ball to Hart wins out.
There should be a healthy rivalry of sorts going on between Diggins and Delle Donne, with each vying to steal the show in a game mostly littered with men. They just might do it, too, but Delle Donne's superior height and shooting ability will make her game more compelling to watch and should translate to better numbers, too.
Bruce Bowen, Team Rose (East)
Never afraid to chat with an opponent, never wary of antics designed to get under a rival's skin and never shy of knocking down a big corner three-pointer, Bowen was a fixture for the Spurs franchise in his stellar NBA career.
Now retired and aged 42, there is still a bit of tenacity lurking in there somewhere for the relentless competitor, who was renowned most for his defense.
While this game's spirit is all in good fun, it wouldn't be surprising to see Bowen go after the competition a little bit and force Team Simmons opponents to dribble around him if they indeed want to score. That might be a bit of a buzz kill, but it should also provide an interesting and humorous dynamic to the game.
Bowen hit his fair share of clutch shots during his San Antonio heyday when he was a part of three championship-winning teams. It's safe to presume he'll be able to excel offensively, even though it's not his area of expertise, in the lax atmosphere often associated with this annual affair.
If Hart has any designs of running the show and snagging another MVP accolade, a defender of Bowen's caliber is just the type to stymie that bid. With a supporting cast featuring Duncan and Nick Cannon, the odds are even more in Bowen's favor to thrive.