NBA All-Star Weekend 2016: What to Watch for in Toronto
Somehow, we already find ourselves at the unofficial midway point of the 2015-16 NBA regular season as All-Star Weekend is set to take place Friday through Sunday.
While All-Star Weekend isn't usually the place to find the most competitive games, it does feature some unique opportunities to watch the league's best compete side-by-side for one game.
Whether it be East vs. West, USA vs. World or any other combination of talent, All-Star Weekend always showcases top-tier players looking to make a name for themselves on a national stage.
Toronto will be the first non-U.S. city to host the event, so it will be interesting to monitor how Canada embraces the national spotlight this weekend.
Plenty of interesting factors will come into play this weekend, whether it be a veteran's last ride, or a young player ready to put on a show.
The opportunities are endless and should make for an exciting couple of days in Toronto.
Let's take a look at some storylines we can monitor at this year's All-Star festivities.
Best 3-Point Contest Ever?
The three-point contest typically takes a backseat to other festivities such as the Slam Dunk Contest or the All-Star Game itself, but this year it could be the main attraction.
Not only does this year's contest feature the dominant Golden State Warriors duo of Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, but also one of the best statistical three-point shooters to this point in the year, Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick.
Curry is looking to become the first player to win the competition two years in a row since Jason Kapono accomplished the feat in 2007-2008.
Houston Rockets star James Harden will return for his second three-point shootout appearance despite shooting just 36 percent from deep this season.
Four newcomers are also joining this year's competition, as Milwaukee's Khris Middleton, Toronto's Kyle Lowry, Miami's Chris Bosh and Phoenix's Devin Booker will all show off their shooting abilities Saturday night.
This combination of veterans and young guns should produce dominant shooting and some exciting competition.
Zach LaVine Looks to Defend His Dunk Title
Last season, Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine forced the basketball community to take notice while putting on one of the most incredible displays of dunking ability in All-Star Weekend history.
LaVine returns in 2016 to defend his title against the likes of Denver's Will Barton, Orlando's Aaron Gordon and Detroit's Andre Drummond.
If the second-year guard out of UCLA is able to win for the second consecutive year, he would be the first repeat Slam Dunk Contest champion since Nate Robinson in 2009-2010.
While Drummond is the only actual All-Star of the group, all four contestants are well-known for their vertical prowess.
It remains unclear what each participant has in store for the weekend, but we can expect plenty of fireworks when these four take the court.
Again, these names might not draw the most initial interest, but these guys are all capable of putting on an exciting show.
Big Men in the Skills Competition?
We've always known the one thing missing from All-Star Weekend's skills competition was the big guys.
However, there is no need to worry anymore!
Four "bigs" are expected to join this year's event, Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State's Draymond Green, New Orleans' Anthony Davis and Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns.
While all four are acknowledged as incredible physical specimens, their passing and dribbling abilities are not regarded as their primary strengths.
The four guards in the competition are Houston's Patrick Beverley, Portland's C.J. McCollum, Boston's Isaiah Thomas and the Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Clarkson.
Guards will obviously be looked at as the favorites coming into the competition, but it will be interesting to monitor how these frontcourt players handle their lesser abilities on the national stage.
Beverley won the competition a year ago as a substitute, proving that any contestant can surprise the world and emerge victorious.
While it doesn't have the same action of the dunk contest or glamour of the three-point contest, the skills competition will have more intrigue than ever with the addition of some of the big boys.
A "Serious" Celebrity All-Star Game
The Celebrity All-Star Game typically doesn't come down to the wire—or feature the best display of fundamentally sound basketball—but 2016 could be different.
Why is that? Because musical artist Drake and comedian Kevin Hart will be coaching the Canadian and USA teams, respectively.
Team Canada will also feature future NBA Hall of Famer Steve Nash and Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista as assistant coaches, so you know there will be an emphasis on precision passing and bat flips.
Well, maybe not the latter, but who knows what Bautista will have up his sleeve?
Television and movie stars make up a large portion of both rosters, but with former NBA players such as Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups and WNBA stars Tammy Sutton-Brown and Elena Delle Donne mixed in, we can be guaranteed that at least a few participants will have an idea of what they're doing..
For anyone looking for a lighthearted game with some of their favorite television or movie personalities, the Celebrity All-Star Game is for you.
However, if you're a fan of the fundamentals and exciting ball movement, you probably don't want to tune in to this battle between Drake's club and Kevin Hart's squad.
The Future of the NBA on Full Display
Arguably the most exciting part of All-Star Weekend is the Rising Stars Challenge, which features some of the best young talent in the world.
Team USA is led by the invigorating duo of Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns and Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, the top two picks in the 2015 NBA draft.
While the United States has more recognizable names than the competition, their international opponents are not to be taken lightly.
Team World features some of the most exciting international talent, including Latvian rookie Kristaps Porzingis and Canada's own Andrew Wiggins.
Anyone searching for a look into what the future of NBA basketball holds should tune into the Rising Stars game to watch the league's best young talent.
We've all seen the video from last year's Rising Stars game of Cleveland's Kyrie Irving toying with then-Pistons guard Brandon Knight, making him look silly on multiple occasions before eventually bringing his defender to the floor.
If you haven't seen it, here is my gift to you.
These moves aren't limited to just one All-Star Game, as the talent in 2016 features some of the quickest and most dynamic basketball players on the planet.
Of course, nobody wants to be part of a viral video or made into a meme, but when going up against premiere talent, it's almost inevitable.
Now, we can't predict which players will look silly while trying to play defense, but it's safe to assume we'll see some of this year's best moves on Sunday.
Once that insanely quick spin move or explosive dunk does happen, you can bet the Internet will be ready to make it go viral.
Kobe's Last All-Star Game
One last ride. One final rodeo. Kobe Bryant's last All-Star Game.
After one of the most storied careers of all time, Kobe's 18th appearance in the showcase will be his last one.
With four All-Star Game MVPs to his credit already, it would be fitting to see one of the game's greatest talents go out on top.
That's asking a lot, especially considering Bryant has the worst field-goal percentage in the league this season among qualified players, but he's been known to save his best performances for the biggest spotlights.
No matter what happens Sunday, Bryant will always be remembered as a basketball legend, one who always put on a show during All-Star Weekend during his prime.
Whether he scores 30 points or five points, it will be fun to watch Kobe take the court with the elite collection of talent one more time in his career.
Kawhi Is Finally an All-Star
San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard has to be one of the most underappreciated players in the NBA.
For a guy who won an NBA Finals MVP award just two seasons ago, it might be hard to believe he's still flying under the radar.
However, Leonard remains one of the most soft-spoken players in the league despite the immense talent he possesses.
Known as a dominant defender, he will be asked to slow down a powerful group of Eastern Conference superstars, and Leonard could potentially be one of the few players who actually focuses on defense in the All-Star Game.
He's no slouch on offense, either, as the former San Diego State Aztec is averaging 20.2 points per game this season.
Who knows what Leonard will be asked to do Sunday, but there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that he'll be up to the task.
Dunk Contest Props?
We once again return to the Slam Dunk Contest looking for excitement from All-Star Weekend.
Props are often the easiest way to spice up any dunk, but players seem to have forgotten that approach in recent years.
Sure, these dunkers are talented enough to come up with a few clever moves, but we live in an age of trying to one-up the competition.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin dunking over a car remains one of the most iconic images in dunk contest history, while fans rarely remember the dunks without a major prop.
Who knows what each of this year's four competitors have in mind, but hopefully they get creative and find a way to incorporate a prop of some sort while coming up with a legendary dunk.
Big Announcement from Adam Silver?
In more serious news, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will give his annual All-Star address on Saturday night.
One of the most important topics to be discussed are his feelings on the "Hack-a-Someone" strategy that has plagued the NBA in recent years.
The entertainment value of NBA games goes down significantly whenever this strategy is implemented, turning the game into a free-throw contests between players who are horrible at making them.
If any future changes are to be made to this strategy, or at the very least discussed, expect it to happen here on Saturday night.