Biggest Winners and Losers from 2022 NBA All-Star Weekend

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2022

Biggest Winners and Losers from 2022 NBA All-Star Weekend

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    Jeff Haynes/Getty Images

    For decades, the NBA's All-Star Weekend has given us plenty of highs.

    From Larry Bird lighting up the three-point contest in his warm-ups to Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine seemingly resurrecting the dunk contest, the good memories aren't hard to recall.

    This year, Stephen Curry gave us another unforgettable moment when he hit 16 threes in the All-Star Game.

    But the weekend has had its fair share of duds too.

    Six years removed from LaVine and AG, the dunk contest is starting to feel tapped out again. The skills challenge seems to need almost constant reinvention.

    Each will make this year's list of winners and losers, but they're not alone. Some individual players are on deck too.

Winner: Creativity

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    The league didn't just change the rules for the Rising Stars Challenge and the Skills Challenge. They obliterated them, moved them around, threw some out, brought in some more and assembled something totally new.

    In both cases, it worked (for the most part).

    Breaking the Rising Stars game into a mini-bracket with four teams and target scores made the endeavor far more dramatic.

    The opening moments of the first game to 50 felt as casual as last year's contest, but the closer teams got to that mark, the more the defense kicked in. Once that tone was set, it stayed in place for the rest of the tournament.

    You can certainly imagine situations where a target score wouldn't work. A blowout, for example, but those exist in timed games too. Each contest in the Rising Stars Challenge was close. And whether the score is tight or not, every game with a target score ends with a game-winner.

    Based on how well this has worked since the league introduced it to the All-Star Game, one has to wonder how or when it might be implemented outside All-Star Weekend.

    Adding the Elam Ending to regular-season games feels like too drastic a move. But if Adam Silver gets the midseason tournament he's after, why not try it there? Maybe test it out in the play-in tournament.

    The change has helped the All-Star Game (and now the Rising Stars Challenge). Eliminating late-game fouling contests at other points on the NBA calendar could be worthwhile.

    As for the skills challenge, organizing competitors into teams and breaking up the contest into different components helped. Strategy came into play, more skills were on display and Evan Mobley got to end the event with a half-court shot.

Loser: Scottie Barnes and the Clutch Challenge

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    The All-Star Weekend is just for fun. It provides various ways to showcase the league's talent in settings that are dramatically different than the regular season. Declaring anyone a "loser," especially a rookie, feels harsh. But come on, Scottie Barnes.

    Missing a shot from the middle of the paint four straight times in the new Clutch Challenge seems impossible for an NBA player. And Barnes is 6'9". I mean, after the second or third miss, why didn't he just dunk it from that spot (or at least go for a finger roll)?

    Barnes found a little redemption Saturday when he threw down a 360 in the skills challenge, but it feels like his struggles Friday will be the more memorable moment.

    And maybe the moment didn't need to happen at all. The league's effort to honor some of the great shots of the game's past was admirable, but it came off as little more than filler. Or, given Barnes' bricks, comedic relief.

    The new Rising Stars format was great. An unrelated event packed between the second and third games may need to be cut before 2023.

Winner: Evan Mobley

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    Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley is well on his way to winning 2021-22 Rookie of the Year. There wasn't anything he could've done (or not done) this weekend to change that, but the skill he displayed on both Friday and Saturday was a nice introduction to some fans who may not be tuned in to the Cavs.

    In the Rising Stars Challenge, Mobley tied with Cade Cunningham for a game-high 13 points in Team (Rick) Barry's 50-48 win over Team (Gary) Payton. He added another five, including a three-pointer, in the championship win over Team Isiah (Thomas).

    Then, in Saturday's Skills Challenge, Mobley lit up the nets in the shooting portion of the contest, held his own as a passer and ball-handler and ended the whole thing with a swish from half court.

    If casual fans weren't aware of how skilled Mobley was before, they should be now. Cleveland is on the rise, and Mobley is one of the biggest (literally and otherwise) reasons.

Loser: The Dunk Contest

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    Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine's epic duel in 2016 is starting to feel like it happened a lifetime ago. For every classic dunk contest, a handful of others generate little to no excitement.

    With apologies to 2022 winner Obi Toppin, who deserves credit for pulling off some truly original dunks, this year's contest was one in the handful.

    The prolonged, often unsuccessful rounds from Jalen Green, Cole Anthony and Juan Toscano-Anderson sucked the life out of the building, robbing Toppin's dunks of the reactions they deserved.

    Years from now, this dunk contest will largely be lost to history, as so many others are.

    Fixing this event is tough. Established stars have little incentive to lend their names to it. And after decades of dunk contests at all levels of basketball, it doesn't feel like there are a ton of individual dunks left to do.

    But this contest has been on the ropes before, and every time it seems like it's about to go down, it comes out with haymakers like the ones thrown by LaVine and Gordon in 2016.

    The next guys to bring it back may be developing right now.

Winner: The All-Star Game

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Recent innovations applied to the All-Star Game have been an undeniable, smashing success.

    Yes, plenty of stretches still exist where everyone seems to be jogging and joking around, but putting money for charities on the line for every quarter ratchets up the intensity at the end of each frame.

    Employing the Elam Ending with a relatively low target score of 24 (in honor of Kobe Bryant) makes the entire fourth quarter feel like a pickup game between 10 of the best basketball players in the world.

    As Dwyane Wade and Reggie Miller opined on this year's broadcast, it was like watching offseason runs at UCLA live. And it worked.

    As both teams close in on that target score, the tension is palpable.

    This year, to have LeBron James end the game with a fadeaway over a double-team in Cleveland was poetic.

    Stephen Curry stole most of the show (more on that later), but the hometown hero drilled the game-winner.

Winner: Stephen Curry

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    In Sunday's main event, Stephen Curry scored 50 points and hit 16 threes. Sixteen. And, as TNT's Ernie Johnson said postgame, he made it look "Stephortless."

    On multiple attempts, he pulled his trademark "turn around before it drops in" move. And he wasn't embarrassed on any of them. On one make from the corner, he played to the crowd and asked if it went in. Of course, Curry knew the answer, as he always does, but the showmanship took this performance to another level.

    The previous record for threes in an All-Star game was nine. He almost doubled it. The record for points in an All-Star Game is 52. He threatened it.

    By the time the game was over, the MVP trophy for Curry was inevitable. There aren't many things he hasn't accomplished in his career, but that was one. Not long into the third quarter, we knew that box would be checked too.

Winner: Cleveland

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    It's always a win to host the All-Star Game, but the city of Cleveland, Ohio, stacked them up throughout the weekend.

    The most important pieces of the Cavaliers' young core (Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen) won the Skills Challenge. Twenty-five years after hosting the 50th-anniversary celebration, Cleveland got another wave of nostalgia for the 75th. Stephen Curry, born in Akron, dropped 50 in a show-stopping performance Sunday. And LeBron James, the greatest player in Cavaliers history, ended the weekend with a game-winner.

    Heck, even Nick Elam, the inventor of the Elam Ending employed in both the Rising Stars Challenge and the All-Star Game, was once a school principal in Ohio.

    Mega-market cities often get the lion's share of the sports world's attention, but Ohio, and specifically Cleveland, was one of this weekend's biggest winners.


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