After weeks of buildup and All-Star-snub talk, the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend is finally upon us. With six total events lined up for the fans through Sunday, there are numerous subplots and possibilities we simply can’t wait to see.
How will Portland Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard fare in the five events he’s set to compete in?
NBA All-Star weekend serves as a much-deserved rest for most, but Lillard will be putting in work Friday through Sunday.
The weekend will be over before you know it, so make sure to savor each event before players return to the grind of regular-season play.
Stephen (left) and Dell Curry
The Shooting Stars competition at NBA All-Star weekend never generates as much buzz as the Slam Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shootout or the actual All-Star Game.
With that said, this year's competition includes two father-son tandems by way of Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry and his father Dell Curry, as well as New York Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. with his dad, Tim Hardaway.
Dell Curry played 16 professional seasons—primarily for the Charlotte Hornets. He's a career 40.2 percent shooter from long range, so I guess it's no surprise that shooting is in Steph's genes.
Tim Hardaway, meanwhile, is a five-time All-Star who played 13 NBA seasons and spent most of his time as a member of the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors. He was named to the All-NBA First Team in 1997.
This shooting exhibition often comes down to which team of three can cash in the half-court shot quickest after making buckets from the other designated spots on the floor. Much of that is luck-based, but we'll see if Team Durant (Kevin Durant, Karl Malone and Skylar Diggins) or Team Bosh (Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash) can spoil the event for the father-son duos.
Both Currys and Hardaways are lights-out shooters, so their respective teams should be considered the favorites going in. Although "favorites" is a loose term, because the Shooting Stars competition has a degree of luck involved.
Anthony Davis (left) and Damian Lillard (middle)
The NBA Rising Stars Challenge usually featured a team of rookies getting dominated by a squad of more experienced sophomores.
Last year's challenge, however, featured Team Shaq vs. Team Chuck as NBA legends Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley picked their respective squads.
This year's matchup will pit Team Webber against Team Hill as the two Turner Sports analysts (Chris Webber and Grant Hill) drafted their respective squads.
The key takeaway for this one is Webber's No. 1 overall choice (Anthony Davis) leading his team against Hill's No. 1 pick (Damian Lillard). The two NBA sophomores were seen as the favorites for last season's Rookie of the Year race, but injuries held AD back as Lillard waltzed to the award with relative ease.
Now these two youngsters will go head-to-head as the best player of their respective Rising Stars roster. The supporting cast may ultimately decide who wins the game, but watching two of the league's best young players is worth the price of admission.
Milwaukee Bucks rookie forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will headline the NBA Skills Challenge beside last year's champion, Damian Lillard, as well as other hopefuls like Phoenix Suns point guard Goran Dragic and Utah Jazz rookie floor general Trey Burke.
Whether or not those quirky attributes will favor him in the Skills Challenge remains to be seen.
Antetokounmpo has experienced some bright moments during his rookie campaign, but he's shooting just 42.7 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from three-point range at the All-Star break. His player efficiency rating of 10.63 is well below the league average of 15.
Personally, I'm excited to see whether or not Milwaukee's lone All-Star-weekend representative can thread the needle with a bounce pass during the Skills Challenge. I'm expecting to see him get it in no less than four attempts, but I'd be happy to see him prove me wrong.
The NBA's Three-Point Shootout has remained relatively constant dating back to the 1985-86 season when Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird won his first of three straight.
In 2014, however, there will be an added wrinkle. According to Brett Pollakoff of ProBasketballTalk, citing an official release: "New to this year’s contest, each player will also be able to switch one of the five shooting locations to a full rack of five 'money balls,' each of which will be worth two points."
The money balls used to be placed at the latter end of each individual rack. This year, contestants have the option to place all five of them on a full rack at any location provided.
Logistically speaking, this rule change should lend itself to higher scores than we've seen in years past. Stephen Curry, for instance, is shooting 44 percent this season on three-point attempts from the top of the key, according to NBA.com/Stats. It may be fruitful for him to place the money balls in that spot as a result.
I'm not a huge fan of the rule change—as the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"—but players will still have the added pressure of making those two-point shots regardless of where they are on the three-point arc.
Marco Belinelli (right)
Kyrie Irving (last year's champion), Kevin Love (the 2012 champion) and Stephen Curry (just a lights-out shooter) have to be considered the favorites for the 2014 Three-Point Shootout.
With that said, could a dark-horse candidate catch fire and bury the other contestants with a dominant shooting display?
San Antonio Spurs veteran Marco Belinelli, for example, entered the All-Star break shooting a scorching-hot 44.8 percent from downtown. That mark ranks him fifth in the league and more than one percentage point higher than any other contestant.
Washington Wizards sharpshooting sophomore Bradley Beal is draining 43 percent of his attempts this season and coming off three games in which he drained 13 of 22 treys (59.1 percent).
Orlando Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo, meanwhile, might be the most consistent shooter of all. He hasn't shot below 37 percent from long distance in any month during 2013-14's first half.
Curry, Irving and Love are the big-name choices, but don't count out any of the lesser-known guys.
Is there a shooter in the NBA today with a sweeter stroke than Stephen Curry?
If you're going to argue for his teammate Klay Thompson, know that Curry has been better from three-point land (41.5 versus 41.0 percent) and the field overall (46.3 percent versus 43.2 percent). That's in spite of the fact that Curry is the guy who's also looking to set up teammates for scores while pouring in 24.6 points per game by himself.
After posting 17 points during last year's Three-Point Shootout—the second-lowest score, which was tied with former New York Knicks sharpshooter Steve Novak—Curry said, per CSN's Nate Stuhlbarg, "The second rack killed me."
He went 0-of-5 on the second rack, which may very well have been the first time Curry has missed five straight open threes in his entire life. "I was (disappointed) at first, I mean, you want to win. It's a competition and you want to have a good showing. But 17 was a good number for me. Can't be mad at that."
The Golden State Warriors floor general will aim to avenge last year's respectable outing.
Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said via Twitter in January that Curry is the "best shooter to ever play."
That's certainly a debatable point, but the NBA community may see him add to his resume by becoming 2014's Three-Point Shootout champion.
From left: Jeremy Evans, Nick Cannon and Terrence Ross
From what I've been able to gather through Bleacher Report comments, many fans aren't pleased with the new Slam Dunk Contest format.
For those of you who haven't read the changes yet, the new format will include a "freestyle" and "battle" section. As CBS Sports' Royce Young writes:
The East is competing against the West, but within that the "freestyle" round includes 90 seconds for each conference's three dunkers to do as many dunks as they want/can. Which obviously opens the door to teamwork among the teams, and a bunch of creativity.
Next, the "battle" round, which is essentially a dunk-off between individual players from the East and West. So basically if (Terrence) Ross is taking on (Damian) Lillard, the two each perform a dunk, the judges vote and the loser is eliminated. The first team to win three "battles" wins the dunk contest.
Of course there will be an individual dunker recognized though, and that's where the fans come in. Through texting, Twitter, NBA.com and wherever else online, fans will vote for the MVP dunker, who will be crowned "Dunker of the Night."
Considering that the Dunk Contest is meant to pit the best individual dunkers against one another, it's understandable that fans will be upset about the Western Conference versus Eastern Conference aspect.
With that said, the contest has gotten a bit stale in recent years. I don't think anyone has fond memories of Chris "Birdman" Andersen throwing lob after lob after lob to himself, boring spectators into a coma-like stupor.
There's a chance that the "freestyle" round will free up more room for creativity, as Young writes, so we'll just have to wait and see whether this experimental change will work or not.
Personally, I just wish big-name superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant would compete for the dunk title like Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan did in the past. But LBJ insists he's "never been a dunk-contest guy."
Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross won the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie by showing off tremendous feats of athleticism, but will he be able to repeat against a field that includes John Wall and Paul George?
Wall showed off his dunking prowess in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge by making a behind-the-back dunk look completely effortless.
George of the Indiana Pacers, meanwhile, threw down a 360-degree windmill slam during an in-game breakaway against the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this season.
That doesn't even account for dark-horse candidates Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes and Ben McLemore.
Ross will have his hands full in this year's competition, and because he already displayed his best dunks a year ago, he's at a disadvantage by having to up his previous performance.
Any one of these guys could take home the dunking crown—especially with the confusing new format.
If Ross fails to repeat, though, Raptors fans can take solace in the fact that DeMar DeRozan will appear in the All-Star Game and their team is 28-24 overall entering the break.
Portland Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard will be competing in the Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout, Slam Dunk Contest and All-Star Game.
He'll make history by becoming the first player to ever compete in that many events, but why couldn't he call up an NBA legend and a WNBA player to get a Shooting Stars team put together?
All kidding aside, Lillard's face will be everywhere during All-Star weekend. He's the reigning Skills Challenge champion and has a very good chance at winning the Three-Point Shootout if his dominant in-game sharpshooting carries over to the set-shot setting. However, Lillard may need to fade to his right with a defender in his face every time if he hopes to win.
I'm curious to see how Lillard performs in the Dunk Contest. He has a nice collection of in-game dunks, but he certainly doesn't have the eye-popping vertical leap of guys like Terrence Ross and former Slam Dunk contestant Gerald Green.
The odds of Rip City's star earning a clean sweep are admittedly slim, but wouldn't it be amazing if he pulled it off?
David Stern (front left) and Chris Paul (front right)
The NBA's Western Conference has put the Eastern Conference to shame in 2013-14, as even the ninth-placed Memphis Grizzlies would hold the No. 3 seed in the East behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat.
The All-Star Game will feature the best talent from both conferences, and the East will have the best player in the world in LeBron James, but the West has won the last three meetings dating back to 2011.
Will that narrative change in 2014?
Ultimately, I say no.
The Western Conference sports a plethora of tremendous guards: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden, Tony Parker and the ever-present Damian Lillard. It also features a collection of frontcourt stars: Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki and Anthony Davis.
That depth from top to bottom should be enough to lead the Western Conference to a fourth straight win.
Regardless of the outcome, the 2014 NBA All-Star weekend appears to be a fun one. Let's get this thing started already, shall we?