Bleacher Report Staff's 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend Predictions
New Orleans has long been known for music, food and voodoo, to name but a few of its many signatures. Nowadays, NBA All-Star Weekend belongs on that list.
This February's festivities will mark the third time since 2008 that the league has brought its midseason showcase to the Big Easy.
The city's magical vibes may have their way with our expectations, if New Orleans' last All-Star occasion is any indication:
In 2014, the Skills Challenge (won by Damian Lillard and Trey Burke) and Celebrity Game (with Kevin Hart and Arne Duncan sharing MVP honors) both featured split victories. Marco Belinelli beat out Bradley Beal in the Three-Point Shootout. John Wall won the Slam Dunk Contest under a weird (and since-scrapped) slate of rules and Kyrie Irving—not LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh or Carmelo Anthony—emerged as the MVP in a victory for the East.
Had someone parlayed those outcomes at Harrah's, that person might've made enough to buy the casino.
This year's slate features plenty of its own favorites: from Aaron Gordon dunking, to Klay Thompson defending his sharpshooting crown, to a loaded Western Conference squad with Anthony Davis starting on his home floor. Here's what Bleacher Report's panel of NBA experts thinks will happen in the Crescent City this weekend.
D'Angelo Russell Edges Devin Booker for Rising Stars MVP Honors
Sunday’s All-Star Game is a fun showcase of the NBA’s top players, but Friday’s J.V. version is the one to watch. The league’s top first- and second-year prospects play together in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, giving a glimpse of how bright the league’s future is.
The game is played in a U.S.-versus-the-world format:Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis and Jamal Murray will shine for the international squad, but it will be the guards of the U.S. Team that get the win.
Despite what will be a big night from Karl-Anthony Towns, the MVP chase will be between Devin Booker and D’Angelo Russell. Both are having frustrating years on teams near the bottom of the standings.
Look for Russell, playing free and loose, to come away with the award.
Kevin Hart Won't Go Unnoticed
I love the Celebrity Game because it both reminds us that the actual All-Stars are unbelievable at basketball and that it’s all a kid's game at the end of the day.
I think Michael Smith’s squad ends up taking home the trophy. The combination of Candace Parker and Baron Davis as the team's pros—with Romeo Miller as a sleeper MVP candidate—seals the victory. I'm also looking forward to Brandon Armstrong (hopefully?) impersonating every All-Star on the court, and White Chocolate dishing dimes to Win Butler and Nick Cannon on Jemele Hill's team.
That said, I wouldn't rule out Kevin Hart somehow making his way onto the court before the night is over.
Dude's had his hands all over this event seemingly every year. And if he made an entrance from the roof with a cape in the middle of the third quarter, it would be the least surprising development of the night.
Win Butler Speaks His Mind (again)
If you think we're getting through this All-Star Weekend without some sort of political statement, then you probably also think Danny Ainge is going to be trading some of his draft picks before the deadline.
The more interesting question is: Who's going to be the one to drop the "T" word on the air, sending social media into a histrionic fit of self-immolation never seen before?
It probably won't be John Legend, even if his wife, Chrissy Teigen, is famously outspoken on Twitter. That guy seems like the sort of person who offers up a sheepish grin and sips his drink any time his spouse says something provocative in public.
It won't be DJ Khaled, who's performing during All-Star Saturday Night. I think one of his major keys is not losing sponsorship deals by being controversial.
I think we all know who it's going to be if we simply think back to last year's All-Star Weekend up in Canada. Yup. It's gonna be Arcade Fire lead singer Win Butler—a favorite to win the Celebrity Game MVP for the second year in a row, despite "retiring" from the game last year.
Will he be Michael Jordan in the second threepeat or Michael Jordan on the Wizards? That remains to be seen, but it's even money that he'll say something to piss people off.
This year’s Basketball Hall of Fame class cannot match the star power shared among last fall's inductions of Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal. But there is still some intrigue among this year’s candidates—chiefly whether or not Tracy McGrady produced a career worthy of enshrinement at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
McGrady was left speechless, literally, when he found out he had been nominated. And McGrady’s candidacy offers something of a litmus test for basketball fans: He was a spectacular scorer and singular talent for years, but he never experienced playoff success. (No, his run on the end of the bench with the Spurs at the tail end of his career does not count.)
He always left his coaches and fans yearning for just a bit more effort, and injuries cut short his prime.
But his career should be worthy of not only an induction, but an entrance in his first year of eligibility. He was a pioneer in opening the door for other teenagers to join the NBA out of high school, paced the NBA in scoring twice and was named to an All-NBA team seven times.
Plus, every Hall of Famer needs a defining moment, and who can forget McGrady’s 13 points in 33 seconds to down the Spurs?
Let the man in.
Trade Rumor Everyone Will Be Talking About
These days, Carmelo Anthony is less an NBA superstar than a Bizarro King Midas; everything he touches turns to...well, I'll let you guess which emoji works best.
His New York Knicks, at 23-34, have gone that way. So has his relationship with Knicks president Phil Jackson, who seems hell-bent on offloading Melo ASAP. Even Anthony's All-Star selection, in place of the injured Kevin Love, has caused a stink—though, as USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt explained, he was next in line from the coaches' votes.
Either way, Anthony figured to be the talk of the town in New Orleans, where NBA executives and agents will mingle ahead of the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
That doesn't mean he'll be wearing a different jersey in a different city by the time the break is over. The Los Angeles Clippers haven't found any spare picks between Doc Rivers' couch cushions. Nor do the Boston Celtics seem inclined to part with anyone, after reportedly turning down a deal for Serge Ibaka that would've cost Terry Rozier in return.
Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers will take another look at LeBron James' Banana Boat buddy now that Kevin Love could be out until April after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Maybe another team will emerge as a potential landing spot for Anthony.
Or maybe he'll use his no-trade clause to turn down any deal the Zen Master cooks up.
Whatever the outcome, expect every possibility to be broached at some point in the Crescent City this weekend.
Effort = Triumph in Skills Competition
Relying on the "who wants it more?" trope is almost never a good habit—cue Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban—but it actually does apply to the Skills Challenge. The players who win are generally those who care and don't just go through the motions while navigating the course.
Joel Embiid, who never seems to do anything halfway, would've been the pick if his knee hadn't knocked him out of the running. And Nikola Jokic, his replacement from the Denver Nuggets, isn't quick enough with the ball in his hands.
After Karl-Anthony Towns became the first non-guard to take home the prize in 2016, this coveted trophy will be transferred back to someone with smaller stature. In fact, it's the player with the league's tiniest frame who will reign supreme.
This is a season in which Isaiah Thomas possesses unending motivation, and that should carry over to this latest national stage. He has to prove he can dominate more than the fourth quarter, and he'll do so while also redeeming himself for his loss to Towns in last year's final round.
Klay Thompson out to Defeat...Himself
This is a unique event because it is not all about a close finish to make it worthwhile.
If the guys all shoot decently and competitively, yet fail to give us a breathless feeling from twine being tickled like crazy, we will not be OK with it.
"I can shoot better than that!” will be the refrain in front of every TV.
So with that understanding, it’s far more important that someone shoot great than it be a great contest. Fortunately, we have Klay Thompson, who is flat-out superior to the field (and all those dudes in front of the TV).
Thompson’s goal won’t just be to win; it’ll be to eclipse the awesome 27 out of 34 points he put up last year and Stephen Curry put up the year before that.
Aaron Gordon out for Revenge
There are those who believe Aaron Gordon was robbed of last year's title. So with 2016 winner Zach LaVine out with a torn ACL, it has to be Gordon, right?
Not so fast.
While it's hard to picture DeAndre Jordan—bigs just don't have the same visual impact—or Glenn Robinson III getting out of the first round, much less being crowned, the Suns' Derrick Jones, Jr. is as close to a replica of LaVine as you're going to find.
Explosiveness? Check. Aerial ballhandling? Check. Seemingly effortless ability to stay aloft for however long he needs? Check.
I'm picking Gordon because he's sure to have the sympathy vote, he's had a year to think about what should've-could've been and he's likely added to his repertoire.
But don't be surprised if Jones Jr. gives us a battle for the ages a second year in a row.
Golden State Warriors' Big 4...ASSEMBLE
I'm certain that Steve Kerr, as the head coach of the Western Conference, is relishing the opportunity to get his own four guys out on the floor on the same time. I think he'll do it early—maybe even with the first set of substitutions—just to get this little novelty act out of the way.
The big question, of course, is who will be the fifth man? (More on that later.)
But here's how they'll finish: Durant (who averages 25.6 points over his seven All-Star Games) should be the high scorer among the foursome—say, 28 points. Stephen Curry, thanks to some long bombs, will finish with 22 points, Klay Thompson around 19 (with no rebounds or assists), and Draymond Green a more pedestrian eight points, six boards and no techs.
No one will top 25 minutes and—most importantly for Kerr—all four will walk out of Smoothie King Center no worse for the wear.
The Unthinkable Happens
But let's go with our hearts...
With 2:31 remaining in the third quarter and his team leading by 29 points, West head coach Steve Kerr inserts Russell Westbrook into the lineup, pairing him with Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
A nervous tittering makes its way through the crowd in New Orleans, as half the observers hope for offensive fireworks and the other half pine for a UFC-weigh-in staredown at center court between the two former teammates, now sworn enemies mostly because Westbrook has decided that's how it's going to be.
Russ finds Durant on a transition lob in the West's first post-substitution offensive play. After Durant crams down the perfect setup, everyone—players, coaches, fans, concessions workers—stop and digest what's just happened. The tension between KD and Russ evaporates, and they dap one another up as silence blankets the Smoothie King Center.
"We're not so different, you and I," Durant and Westbrook say to one another simultaneously.
Strangers in the crowd, moved by the scene, embrace. Flower petals fall from the rafters and the rest of the game is cancelled—all participants and spectators having lost the will to engage in competitive endeavors.
Everyone in the world will remember where they were for the Great Beef-Squashing of 2017.
Anthony Davis Will Enjoy the Home Cooking
- Davis will set a career-high for All-Star minutes played.
- He'll set that career high without getting hurt.
- He will throw down more alley-oops than anyone else.
- He'll drain at least two three-pointers.
- He won't finish All-Star weekend as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
One Anthony Davis-related All-Star prediction isn't enough, so here's a five-part, New Orleans-flavored prophecy for your enjoyment:
Though this is Davis' fifth All-Star nod, he has only made two appearances (due to injuries), through which he's never logged more than 16 minutes. It's a safe bet he cracks the 18- or 20-minute plateau as the star from the host city and team.
And we're not going to predict he'll get hurt in the process, because that would be stupid and mean and, admittedly, all too real.
Alley-oop business is more complicated to project, because you can never be too sure about who makes the most above-the-rim plays in this "No Defense Allowed" affair. But Davis should get more spin than fellow rim-rocker DeAndre Jordan; and neither Marc Gasol nor DeMarcus Cousins is known for finishing lobs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James might be his biggest threats, but both prefer to set up said jams.
Davis has yet to make or attempt a three-ball in an All-Star tilt, but that's 100 percent, without question, going to change. The late-February exhibition has turned into a protracted dunk-meets-three-point contest, and The Brow has owned his semi-regular three-bie license for almost two seasons.
Uncle Drew and The King take over NOLA
With some stiff competition from the Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan—as well as any combination of the Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green—it's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving that will be the All-Star Game's highest scoring teammates.
This is James' 13th appearance and Irving's fourth already at age 24. The pair has combined for three MVP awards (James in 2006 and '08, Irving in '14) and are both starting for the Eastern Conference squad.
James' 291 points are the most in All-Star Game history, while he also ranks first in made three-pointers (28) and third in average scoring (24.3). Irving is averaging 19.0 points (16th all-time) and 7.7 assists (tied for 5th with Jason Kidd) though his first three games.
A "Freaky" MVP Performance
It’s been a freaky season (KD to the Warriors! Russ averaging a triple-double! New York banning Knicks legends!), so the biggest honor of All-Star weekend might as well go to the league's greatest (Greek) Freak.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA's brightest new must-see attraction—a soaring, scoring, playmaking gazelle who can skip from midcourt to the lane in two steps and dunk from the free-throw line. This is his breakout season and his All-Star debut.
He’ll be eager to put on a show.
And it’s the showmen who generally win this award.
Figure, too, that some of the East vets (LeBron, Carmelo) will prefer to take it easy. And the West is so cluttered with flashy scorers (KD, Russ, Beard, Steph) that it might be tough for one to stand out.
The West won the last two All-Star contests, so I’d say the East is due.
Carmelo Anthony (finally) Fires Back
Carmelo Anthony finally fires back at Phil.
Think of if like a verbal version of the rope-a-dope. For months, Carmelo's been taking body blows without swinging back. What's he been waiting for? Well, probably nothing; he's likely taken the high road because he knows Phil is...well, let's just say Phil is Phil.
But also, maybe Carmelo has been biding his time for the right moment to strike back, and maybe that moment is All-Star Weekend, where there are even more cameras and more reporters and more shine. It'd be the perfect time to take a shot at his boss, and don't underestimate the Knicks' ability to turn everything they touch (such as All Star Weekend) into a circus.
So either Melo fires back, or Oakley and Dolan engage in some sort of WWE-like Royal Rumble.
This is the Knicks, after all. Something ridiculous has to happen.