B/R Staff Predictions for 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend
NBA All-Star Weekend tips off Friday in Chicago with the celebrity game and Rising Stars Challenge, and our team of experts has you covered with predictions for all the events at the United Center.
Prognosticators Andy Bailey, Zach Buckley, Jonathan Wasserman, Grant Hughes, Greg Swartz, Dan Favale and Will Gottlieb share their All-Star Weekend thoughts below to hold you over until Team LeBron takes on Team Giannis on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
Who Will Win the Skills Challenge?
You would think the Skills Challenge lends itself to speedy guards who can dribble, pass and shoot. But the last three winners have actually been spread among multiple positions.
Boston Celtics wing Jayson Tatum won in 2019. Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie took home the honor the year before that. And then-New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis was victorious in 2017.
This competition may really be about pace. As the tortoise would say: "Slow and steady wins the race."
No one in this field embodies "plays at his own pace" quite like Milwaukee Bucks wing Khris Middleton. He's my pick to win thanks to the fundamentals he's shown throughout his career, but especially this season.
His long strides and steady handle should help him on the cone drill. His career-high 22.0 assist percentage suggests he should be able to hit the passing targets. And he should thrive on the three-pointer to end the round. Among players taking at least five pull-up jumpers per game, Middleton's 56.7 effective field-goal percentage on such shots ranks first leaguewide.
Who Will Steal the Spotlight During Friday’s Celebrity Game?
The spotlight won't be easily stolen at this year's All-Star Celebrity Game. The mic'd-up moments from head coach Stephen A. Smith could steal the show if he's granted as much airtime as ESPN figures to send his way.
No disrespect to Windy City native Michael Wilbon, but his voice likely won't carry as far as Smith's will.
On the court, the action will be (as always) unpredictable. Former NBA greats and Knuckleheads podcast hosts Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles can ball, though Richardson's three-point stroke has probably aged better than Miles' athleticism. WNBA stars Chelsea Gray and A'ja Wilson are legitimate hoopers, too, but judging by the list of former MVP winners, it'll take more than a few hoops highlights to be the talk of NBA (Celebrity) Twitter.
Recent MVP winners Famous Los and Quavo could always repeat their former dominance. Chicago natives Common and Chance the Rapper will surely work the Windy City into a frenzy, too.
But our crystal ball sees the spotlight shining brightest on comedians Lil Rel Howery and Hannibal Buress, both of whom also hail from Chicago. They may not (OK, will not) supply the most impressive stat lines, but an expertly timed one-liner here and there could be all that's needed to win over the social media crowd.
Which Rising Star Will Shine Brightest?
The Rising Stars Challenge's top prospect, Zion Williamson, figures to also emerge as its MVP. His explosive leaping and high energy were built for this fast-paced exhibition. He'll hunt for dunks, and with his teammates presumably understanding the game's purpose and the fans' desires, they'll want to keep feeding Williamson to enhance the show.
The crowd should be locked in and screaming for Williamson during layup lines the way it used to in high school. He'll be motivated to deliver. Unless Williamson starts attempting jumpers, he's the best bet to match David Lee's 14-of-14 performance from 2007.
The 2019 No. 1 overall pick also seems likely to enter the All-Star break averaging over 20 points per game after Tuesday's 31-point outburst against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Who Will Win the Dunk Contest?
The use of mascots, props and subtle self-elevating push-off moves makes it harder than ever to forecast the Slam Dunk Contest winner. You can't just pick the best in-game dunker and trust him to carry that skill into an event that rewards showmanship as much as hang time.
Dwight Howard last participated in the dunk contest 11 years ago, and the 34-year-old is the 2020 field's oldest entrant. Even if he understands the value of a good gimmick, age and height tend to be detriments in a contest that rewards players for creating the illusion of flight. Howard's ups aren't what they used to be, either. Pat Connaughton could surprise, but his in-game dunk reel is underwhelming compared to Aaron Gordon's and Derrick Jones Jr.'s.
Gordon finished as the runner-up against Zach LaVine in the unforgettable 2016 dunk contest. However, close observers will agree Gordon has lost some bounce since then, and he might have a hard time meeting the expectations he set four years ago.
That leaves Jones, who finished second to Glenn Robinson III in 2017, despite earning a perfect score of 50 on one of his two final-round dunks. Jones is a head-at-the-rim leaper, and his vertical jump somehow seems higher now than it did three seasons ago. He's also a lefty, which means he's right-brained, which means he's naturally creative. He'll come up with something we've never seen before.
Paired with the most hops in the contest, that should earn him a win.
Who Will Win the 3-Point Contest?
The 2020 version of the NBA's Three-Point Contest is loaded, with Joe Harris trying to protect his title from a field of Damian Lillard, Trae Young, Buddy Hield, Zach LaVine, Davis Bertans, Devonte' Graham and Duncan Robinson.
All eight are shooting at least 37 percent on six or more three-point attempts per game. Harris is the only member of the group to have won the Three-Point Contest before, though.
Picking a winner this year is difficult. Harris has proven himself, but he's taking (6.0) and making (2.4) the fewest amount of threes out of anyone in the field. LaVine has home-court advantage with the game in Chicago, but Robinson has the highest three-point percentage (43.7).
However, no player has been as hot lately as Lillard. Heading into Tuesday's action, the Portland Trail Blazers star had shot 51.5 percent from three over his past 10 games while averaging 41.5 points, 9.4 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
No moment is too big for Lillard, and his recent explosion should carry over into a Three-Point Contest victory Saturday night.
What Will Be the Reception to New All-Star Format?
Let's roll through a brief recap of the new All-Star-Game format: The score resets at the end of the first and second quarters, so the first three frames are basically their own separate contests. In the fourth, each team starts with its combined score from those first three quarters. Twenty-four points will then get added to the leading squad's total, and whichever side reaches that score first will emerge victorious.
Theoretically, setting a target score in the fourth quarter should ascribe more meaning to the game. Winning individual quarters—and money for charity—is great and all, but the total still matters. For example, Team Giannis could win the first and third quarters and still trail by eight points entering the fourth, in which case they'd need to put up 32 more points to win.
Making up any sort of gap figures to be tough. Twenty-four points is nothing in the All-Star Game. We may end up with a five-minute fourth quarter. It behooves both teams to try from the jump so they don't fall behind by an unmanageable deficit.
This presumes that the players care about winning at all. It's unclear whether they do. Team LeBron probably isn't going to lose sleep if it enters the fourth down by 12 and loses the game 90 seconds later.
But if there was ever a year this format could incite change, it's this one. The NBA chose the 24-point tack-on to honor Kobe Bryant. And as Matt Barnes told ESPN's Zach Lowe on The Lowe Post podcast, this is the same Kobe who once played "as hard as he f--king could" in a friendly pickup game...over the offseason...at a basketball camp...for kids.
Whether this new format will impart material change over the long haul is worth debating. This year shouldn't be an issue. At least some players will feel an obligation to exert more effort in honor of Kobe.
All-Star Sunday Night
Team LeBron has won both All-Star Games in the two years since the reorganization to captains-based contest. That likely won't change in 2020..
Giannis Antetokounmpo had a disappointing performance in the All-Star draft, which means his team's talent isn't on the same level as James'. Team LeBron has more shooting, scoring and won't sacrifice too much in the way of defense—for All-Star Game standards, of course.
The game will end up being close, however, because Team Giannis is full of workhorses. Defenders such as Giannis, Joel Embiid, Rudy Gobert, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler should make life difficult, but they ultimately won't be able to keep pace with Team LeBron on offense.
The new scoring format should help improve the quality of competition in the first three quarters, so expect a lower-scoring game than in years past. Team LeBron will win 167-159.
James will dominate the ball, racking up points and assists, and have a hefty bump as the captain on the winning team. He will take home his fourth All-Star Game MVP, tying Bob Pettit and Kobe Bryant for the record for the most in league history.