Who Will Steal the Show in Every NBA All-Star Weekend Event?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2018

Who Will Steal the Show in Every NBA All-Star Weekend Event?

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    Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    The best viewing suggestion for All-Star Weekend is probably "just turn your brain off and enjoy."

    If you're an obsessive NBA fan who spends the regular season calculating box plus-minus, marveling at Brad Stevens' after-timeout plays and tabulating the Milwaukee Bucks' defensive efficiency when bringing the big man in the pick-and-roll up to the level of the screen, you'll be glad to know you can relax for a few days.

    Still, if you'd like some direction on which players to keep an eye on in each event, we're here for you. And if you'd like a heads-up on whom to ignore, we've got that, too.

    We've picked one player in each event whose skills and demeanor make him a favorite to steal the show. To balance it out, we've also selected the guy least likely to perform memorably.

    Finally, as you can tell from the official titles of all these events, the sponsors are the real winners.

    Your 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend MVP: #brands.

NBA All-Star Celebrity Game Presented by Ruffles

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Show-Stealer: Brandon Armstrong

    The Celebrity Game is all about volume.

    Kevin Hart is a legend in this event, a four-time MVP, because in his many years of participation he never once stopped yelling. All the while, he kept the cameras on him by doing things like undressing after an ejection in 2012. Behavior like that ensured that, in terms of minutes on screen (because that's a type of volume, too), he dominated his competitors.

    Hart just got what this game was about. He understood the spirit.

    He won't be there this year, though, so the pick is Armstrong. He won MVP in 2017, and as a self-made YouTube star, he's well-versed in making people pay attention to him. He'll do some cool impressions, probably cycle through a few players' jerseys and keep viewers interested. I'm hoping to see him zing Paul Pierce with some arthritic old-man moves.

    Hart won the award four times in a row, so there's a precedent for repeat winners. That also favors Armstrong. As does the fact he doesn't have to adhere to the rules of basketball.

    Finally, you can't ignore this bit of history: None of the Celebrity Game's previous 14 MVPs are former NBA players. That eliminates Tracy McGrady, Pierce and Nate Robinson and anyone else you'd consider choosing based on actual basketball skill.


    No Chance: Drew Scott

    Everyone knows the Property Brothers are powerless apart, and Jonathan Scott isn't playing this year.

    Besides, Drew is the one who supposedly does all the behind-the-scenes real estate transactions in their house-flipping endeavors, while Jonathan gets his hands dirty with the renovations. Even accounting for diminished strength when separated, you'd take Jonathan if you only got one brother. At least he does something.

    In addition, the Scotts have played in these things before, and they always try way too hard. That's not how you succeed in this event.

Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars

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    Show-Stealer: Jamal Murray

    First of all, did you know Mountain Dew is cutting letters out of its name haphazardly? When did this happen?It's Mtn Dew now because when you're doing the Dew, there's no time for vowels, bro.

    Anyway, Murray is the easy choice here. He won MVP last year, scoring 36 points and hitting nine threes, which proves he understands the intricacies and unique demands of this particular competition. Which is to say: He gets out there and starts chucking.

    It's admittedly tempting to take Joel Embiid. He's such a showman, and it's not too hard to imagine him shooting a dozen threes and logging a quintuple-double. But the smart move is to go with the guy who'll have the ball in his hands (Murray) and not the one who'll need it passed to him (Embiid, or any non-point guard for that matter).

    Plus, Murray is keen on embarrassing defenders. That's the right mindset.

    Donovan Mitchell and Dennis Smith Jr. are liable to do lots of sweet dunks. Don't rule them out as contenders.


    No Chance: Three-way tie between Dillon Brooks, Frank Ntilikina and Taurean Prince

    Brooks and Ntilikina are rookie contributors whose games depend on defense and don't dazzle. Prince is a developing three-and-D wing who generally needs shots created for him. Role-players are useful, but not here.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Show-Stealer: Lauri Markkanen 

    Kristaps Porzingis won this thing last year, and Karl-Anthony Towns took it in 2016. There's now a precedent for big men shining in an event that used to be reserved for backcourt players.

    Despite playing in a major market, Markkanen feels like one of the league's better-kept secrets. Even if he doesn't win this event, the mere notoriety of competing could make him its breakout star. He'll have to advance a round or two to really shine, but if he can do that, unfamiliar observers will get a sense of what Bulls fans have been watching all year.

    This guy is good.

    Nobody has reached 100 made threes faster than Chicago's 7'0" rookie, and Markkanen isn't just a standstill flinger out there. He moves deftly off the ball to get open, can attack with one or two dribbles to set up his pull-up and can take it all the way to the rack. In fact, one of the best parts of the Finnisher's game is his desire to yam on rim-defenders' heads.

    Passing might be tricky (Markkanen is basically a one-to-one assist-to-turnover guy at this stage of his career), but the rookie is speedy end to end, and he can shoot. I like his odds.


    No Chance: Andre Drummond

    You've got to make a wing three to win this thing, which kills Drummond's chances. He's 3-of-11 on "non-heave" treys in his career—which is actually better than you'd expect. But up against a field composed entirely of established long-range shooters, he's at a severe disadvantage. Embiid may be in trouble here as well; he's under 30 percent from deep in 2017-18.

    One positive: Drummond's development into an offensive initiator at the elbows this season suggests he won't have a hard time with the passing-accuracy component.

JBL Three-Point Contest

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Show-Stealer: Klay Thompson

    I hate to go with the boring pick, but Thompson is a proven winner in this event (2016), shares the record for points in a round and is the league's preeminent catch-and-fire weapon.

    If you trim the data to include players who average at least one made catch-and-shoot three per game, there are five guys with higher accuracy rates than Thompson: Buddy Hield, Kevin Durant, George Hill, Jayson Tatum and Reggie Bullock.

    None of them are in the three-point contest this year, and more importantly, none come close to Thompson's volume. He's hitting an NBA-best 2.8 catch-and-shoot threes per game, and none of the five aforementioned gunners can touch him there. Nobody can. Among marksmen hitting at least two catch-and-shoot treys per game, Thompson is the most accurate.

    Not to be forgotten, he's also the least likely shooter to feel pressure. The guy looks half asleep in the fourth quarter of Finals games.

    It should be noted: This is an awesome field.

    Paul George is right behind Thompson in standstill accuracy; Eric Gordon is broke right now but won last year; and Wayne Ellington, who only shoots at a dead sprint with a hand in his face, might never miss when he realizes the only thing guarding him is a ball rack.

    Still, I like Thompson to get hot for more than one 25-point round, perhaps even threatening to break his own record of 27.


    No Chance: N/A

    All of these guys are flamethrowers, and all have an easy enough release to survive multiple rounds. Normally, you'd find the guy with lots of elevation on his jumper and rule him out.

Verizon Slam Dunk

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Show-Stealer: Donovan Mitchell

    My whole heart wants to go with Dennis Smith, Jr., but it just feels like fate has other plans.

    This is the season of Donovan Mitchell.

    Smith is elasticity personified, capable of bouncing off the floor with virtually no runway. It's like he's magnetically repelled by hardwood. But Mitchell has perhaps the single-best dunk resume so far this season, and there's a versatility to his aerial artwork that profiles nicely in a contest setting.

    He can go up and get lobs off the bounce, finish with one or two hands and elevate from a long way out. He completes jams of all sorts with equal flair. Some guys just know how to execute that quick-trigger recoil move after the dunk is complete, as if the rim were scalding. He's one of them.

    Mitchell has taken the league by storm this season, and it feels like he's going to use this contest (and weekend) to announce his presence to the broader basketball-viewing public. All year, he's been the best show no one's seen. That's about to change.


    No Chance: Larry Nance Jr.

    Nance Jr.'s long odds tell you all you need to know about the strength of the field. He's a ferocious in-game dunker and the only participant with a winning pedigree. His dad was the victor in 1984, the first year the contest was held at All-Star Weekend. Expect Nance Jr. to break one of these out for old time's sake.

    Alas, the plight of the tall contest dunker is familiar and fraught with disappointment. The last five winners were guards or wings, and only five bigs—Blake Griffin, Jeremy Evans, Josh Smith, Nance Sr. and Dwight Howard—have ever finished first.

    It's science: Tall men dunking looks less cool than slightly less tall men dunking.

67th NBA All-Star Game

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    Show-Stealer: Giannis Antetokounmpo

    He had the most memorable highlight of last year's game, rising like some kind of winged monstrosity over and above the head of Stephen Curry (the reigning MVP at the time) and flushing a brutal two-handed putback...so yeah, Antetokounmpo seems like a safe choice.

    As he proved in 2017, you don't have to win MVP to steal the show.

    Anthony Davis earned the trophy last year, but chances are you remember Antetokounmpo's dunk more clearly.

    All-Star Game success depends on a player's capacity for awe-inducing physical feats (check) and desire to dominate peers (check), but it especially helps if there's some mean-spiritedness in his play—a need to capitalize on the casual format by going all out and, ideally, piling up numbers against opponents who might not be giving full effort.

    Russell Westbrook is always a candidate to dominate an All-Star Game because he possesses this trait in spades.

    Consider this a bet that Antetokounmpo has got it, too. 


    No Chance: Draymond Green

    Sorry, we won't be watching highlights of intelligent help-the-helper rotations or textbook boxouts a decade from now. Green is one of the best "do the little things" stars in the league's history, but that stuff's only good for winning championships. Nobody cares about it here.


    Stats courtesy of Basketball ReferenceCleaning the Glass or NBA.com unless otherwise specified.

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