2022 NBA All-Star Weekend Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2022

2022 NBA All-Star Weekend Predictions

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Cleveland rocks.

    Or it will this weekend, anyway, when the cream of the NBA crop descends upon Northeast Ohio for the latest installment of All-Star Weekend.

    Up-and-comers will be formally introduced to casual hoops fans. Three-bombs will burst like Fourth of July celebrations. Gravity-defying jams will be crushed one after the next. And all of those boxes will be checked before the actual All-Star Game tips Sunday night.

    It should be—scratch that, will be—a blast, but if you're as impatient as us, you're already itching for a sneak peek at the festivities. You're also in luck, since our purpose is breaking out our trusty crystal ball to form predictions for every major event. 

Ruffles All-Star Celebrity Game

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    If you're an '80s baby (raises hand) or born before that, the Celebrity Game typically requires keeping Google at the ready. I don't want to say I'm totally out of the pop-culture loop, but...um, you know what, it's fair to say that I am.

    If you came here for a breakdown of both rosters, you're in the wrong place. I could tell you all about the event's Hall of Fame coaches, Bill Walton and Dominique Wilkins, but get to the celebrities themselves, and I've almost got nothing.

    But I do know Quavo, both for his music and the fact that this is Celebrity Game appearance No. 5 for the Georgia native. He can hoop and put on a show while doing it, which are essentially items No. 1 and 2 on the MVP checklist.

    He has a Celebrity Game MVP on his resume already (2018, when he tallied 19 points and five rebounds). He has posted better numbers in subsequent events, too, so look for another statistical explosion Friday, yielding the latest addition to his trophy case.

Clorox Rising Stars

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    This familiar event got a face-lift this season. What used to be a one-game showcase is now a four-team, three-tilt tournament.

    Coaches Rick Barry, Gary Payton, Isiah Thomas and James Worthy already assembled their rosters of sophomores, rookies and a quartet of G League Ignite players for Friday's event. Those teams, highlighted by LaMelo Ball, Cade Cunningham, Anthony Edwards and Evan Mobley, will play a single-elimination tournament, as Games 1 and 2 will be played to 50 points and Game 3 will go to the first team to 25 points.

    So, which team gets the last laugh?

    Team Payton looks ferocious with the playmaking of Ball and Scottie Barnes, an explosive finisher in Jonathan Kuminga and the event's most intriguing player in Scoot Henderson, who ended his high school career early to get a head start as a pro and joined the G League Ignite as a 17-year-old.

    But they lost a scoring threat when Chris Duarte went down (toe) and defense when Davion Mitchell was lost (hand), and while Kuminga and Bones Hyland are capable replacements, they may not have the same juice as the initial selections.

    Team Isiah boasts the right amount of experience, athleticism, scoring, distributing and maybe even a pinch of defense to get this done. Six of the seven players are sophomores (including Edwards, Desmond Bane and Tyrese Haliburton, who can all fill it up) and the other is G Leaguer Jaden Hardy, whom B/R's Jonathan Wasserman sees as a lottery pick.

    Book a win for Team Isiah and MVP honors for Haliburton, who has a cinder block on his shoulder after being traded from the Sacramento Kings ahead of the trade deadline.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    The first event of All-Star Saturday night has its own new twist for 2022, as it's now a three-trio, four-round team competition.

    The three teams are: Antetokounmpos, featuring Giannis and his brothers Thanasis and Alex; Cavs, consisting of Mobley, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen; and Rooks, which has freshmen Cunningham, Barnes and Josh Giddey joining forces.

    This event often hinges on two things: the ability to throw on-target passes and the willingness to try hard. The latter has proved trickier than you might think. Some past participants have sometimes coasted through, but that shouldn't be an issue this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo's motor only has a top gear, the Cavs have their hometown fans behind them and the rookies are busy proving they belong.

    This should boil down to skills, then, and the first-timers have the right combination of them to pull this off. All three are plus-passers and smooth handlers, and while none qualifies as a net-shredder yet, they're all comfortable letting it fly from range.

    The Cavs would be my pick if the three teams played actual games against the others, but in this setting, the Rooks got it.

MTN DEW 3-Point Contest

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Plenty of things will drop your jaw this weekend, but for my money, this event is as good as it gets.

    The Association's increasing obsession with the long ball has perpetually raised the bar for what it means to be a great shooter. The skills displayed in this event are sharp enough to draw blood, and the arena gets absolutely rocking with the time ticking down and everyone knowing exactly how many makes a player needs to advance.

    This contest could be electric. Throw a dart at the eight participants—Desmond Bane, Luke Kennard, Zach LaVine, CJ McCollum, Patty Mills, Karl-Anthony Towns, Fred VanVleet, Trae Young—and you're going to hit a potential winner.

    After the initial round of sharpshooting, three snipers advance to the finals. Force me to assemble that trio, and I'd go with Bane, Young and VanVleet. It's hard to leave out Mills, but Bane's confidence and chip on his shoulder is hard to overlook. So is Young's deep shooting range—critical with the pair of three-point shots from the Dew Zone—and propensity to perform under the brightest lights.

    But VanVleet is the pick. Only Stephen Curry averages more than VanVleet's 4.0 triples per outing, and even Curry can't match VanVleet's 40.1 percent connection rate. VanVleet also boasts the best splash rate among volume catch-and-shoot launchers (47.4), the second-most makes from 25-plus feet (2.8 per game at a 38.6 percent clip) and more clutch threes than anyone (17 on 45.9 percent shooting).

AT&T Slam Dunk

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    So, remember how I just wrote that the Three-Point Contest is my favorite event of the weekend? Well, there's still a reason the league closes out All-Star Saturday with this one, since a great Dunk Contest is nothing short of an internet-breaking showstopper.

    This could be exactly that.

    Obi Toppin gets his Dunk Contest practice in during games. Juan Toscano-Anderson might have the dunk of the year. Cole Anthony brings the killer combination of turbo-charged athleticism and New York City swag. Jalen Green has turned the rebuilding Houston Rockets into can't-miss TV with his thunderous throwdowns.

    Trimming this field to two feels easier than it should. Toscano-Anderson seems like the classic in-game dunker who fares better in that setting. You never want to rule out someone who fought his way into an NBA career at age 26, but I'd be shocked if he makes the finals. Toppin is the other subtraction, which might surprise some, but this event has historically favored guards over bigs, and this one has a couple of bouncy backcourt players to knock out Toppin.

    Give me an Anthony vs. Green final, and frankly, we're all winners. Since you're here for an actual prediction, though, it has to be Green. His bounce is unrivaled among this quartet, and it sounds like his creativity could be too. This might be the kind of final that features multiple 50-point flushes, but Green will find a way to hoist the trophy.

NBA All-Star Game

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    Jim Poorten/Getty Images

    LeBron James has piloted Team LeBron to a perfect 4-0 record since the league let captains assemble the rosters, starting in 2018. Team Durant won't actually have Kevin Durant in the driver's seat, as he's still working his way back from a sprained MCL.

    Need I say more?

    Fine. Team LeBron has the league's best shooter (Curry), the reigning MVP (Nikola Jokic) and the reigning All-Star MVP (Giannis Antetokounmpo). It has players who can't turn off their competitive juices even in an exhibition setting (Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler). It has stat sheet over-stuffers (Luka Doncic and DeMar DeRozan), plus a couple of Cavs to get the home crowd going (Garland and Allen).

    Team Durant is stacked in its own way—duh, it's the All-Star Game—but it can't quite measure up on paper, perhaps because Durant himself is missing. Without him, this roster doesn't have enough walking cheat codes, even if Joel Embiid and Ja Morant do everything they can to make that statement sound silly.

    It's Team LeBron for me, and maybe by a comfortable margin.

    The biggest question should be who'll get the MVP, since there is no shortage of capable candidates, but how do you not go with the King being crowned? James is back in his home state, eager to enjoy the game after a frustration-filled first half for the Los Angeles Lakers and in position for another legacy lift, since a fourth All-Star Game MVP would match him with Kobe Bryant and Bob Pettit for the most all-time.

    When the weekend wraps, it shall be James celebrating a team victory and another historic individual achievement.

                  

    Statistics are accurate through Wednesday's games and courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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