Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
It’s been one of those weeks. Sometimes, I know exactly what I want to write about in the Friday Five. Other times, Friday rolls around and I’m scrambling for a topic as the deadline approaches. I mentioned my writer’s block to Arcane, and he suggested that I talk about what I’m looking forward to at the 2015 All-Star Weekend in New York. With the announcement of the All-Star starters and reserves, and the various All-Star Saturday Night participants, it does seem like a good time to talk about just that.
Truth be told, I am definitely looking forward to the 2015 All-Star Weekend. Some years are better than others, but I generally always enjoy the NBA’s midseason classic. I have a feeling that this could be one of the better All-Star Weekends, and not just because we’ve managed to avoid sleeves on the All-Star jerseys. Without any further ado, here are five reasons why I’m looking forward to All-Star Weekend 2015.
1. The Traditional Dunk Contest Format Is Back
Seriously, I can’t even begin to describe how happy I was to read that the dunk contest is returning to a more traditional format. The East vs. West concept was intriguing, but I don’t think it works for the Saturday Night events, and felt that it made last year’s dunk contest in particular very forgettable. I know it’s just an exhibition, and there are more important matters in the league, but I’ve always enjoyed the dunk contest and it was disappointing to see it be so lacklustre.
Fortunately, there’ll be no contrived formula this year. We’re back to what makes sense: four contestants, two rounds, a couple of dunks per player per round. That’s the way it should be. While I’m sure that some fans would prefer to have more participants, I don’t think having a smaller field is necessarily a bad thing. In the early days of the dunk contest, a field of eight dunkers was overkill, and led to some fairly mundane attempts. The real show began after the true contenders, the premiere showmen, had advanced to the second round. Even a field of six usually meant a couple of competitors who didn’t add a whole lot to the contest.
Best of all? No fan voting. Look, I know that the All-Star Weekend is a show for the fans, and I’ve actually defended fan voting for the All-Star starters in the past. However, the way fan voting was used in the dunk contest was just plain illogical, opening before the final round had even commenced. Why use fan voting in one round, and judges in the other? This year, we’re back to the judges making the call in both rounds, as they should. It remains to be seen what this year’s field of Victor Oladipo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zach LaVine, and Mason Plumlee can do, but the return to the traditional format should go a long way in making the contest enjoyable.
2. So Many Sharpshooters in the Three-Point Shootout
Even with the dunk contest returning to its roots, there’s still the question of whether the participants have got the right stuff to put on a show. As much as I love it, that’s the problem with the dunk contest: its quality varies from year to year, as it relies on the competitors’ creativity and ability to actually pull off what they envision. The three-point shootout on the other hand is more consistent, because it’s far more straightforward. A lot of fans do find it more exciting, probably because there’s a more definite measure of success. You either make enough shots to win, or you don’t.
While the dunk contest is still my favourite All-Star Saturday Night event, I’m a big fan of the shootout, too. Every year, I hope to see some long-standing records broken, and this year, we might just see it happen. The 2015 edition of the shootout boasts a very strong field, which includes Kyle Korver, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, J.J. Redick, and Wesley Matthews. Korver is shooting a blistering 53% from downtown so far this season, and everyone else is similarly knocking down shot after shot from beyond the arc. We might even see the same records broken a couple of times!
Of course, that’s setting the bar pretty high, and we’ve seen some rather unexpected results in years gone by. Needless to say, everyone in the contest can shoot from long range – that’s why they’ve been invited to compete, after all – but the favourite isn’t necessarily a safe bet. For example, the player leading the league in three-point percentage sometimes turns in one of the weakest performances of the contest; Steve Smith in 2002 comes to mind. Having said all that, with such a strong field of three-point marksmen, we could be in for a quite a show.
3. USA vs. The World Could Be Fun
In our discussion in Episode #107 of the NLSC Podcast, I mentioned that I wasn’t a huge fan of the new USA vs. The World format they’ve adopted for the Rising Stars Challenge. In my view, even the Rookies vs. Sophomores concept had somewhat run its course. It made sense in 2000, when the previous season’s lockout cancelled the 1999 All-Star Weekend, meaning the Class of 1998 missed out on their opportunity to put out a show. Still, as a means of providing a showcase for the league’s up and coming players, the concept worked.
I’m still a bit sceptical, but having had a little time to reflect on the idea, I’ve somewhat warmed to it. Putting the NBA on TNT personalities in charge of selecting teams has led to some unbalanced squads the past few years, so I don’t mind that the NBA has chosen to move away from that concept. Since a variety of formats have already been done – mixed teams of rookies, East vs. West, Rookies vs. Sophomores, mixed teams of rookies and sophomores – it’s actually not a terrible idea to try something new, in the interest of keeping the event fresh and interesting.
Even if the concept proves to be a poor fit for the Rising Stars Challenge, it’s a good place to try it out. I wouldn’t like to see the All-Star Game become USA vs. The World instead of East vs. West, but as Arcane brought up on the Podcast, it could become its own event, either at the All-Star Weekend or perhaps during the offseason. As it stands, I’ll approach the event with an open mind, and hope that the young guns can put on a show, in what will hopefully be a reasonably competitive game.
4. Three Chicago Bulls & An Aussie Are Participating
Watching the Bulls has been a little easier this season. They’ve struggled a bit recently, and are coming off a bad loss to a Kobe-less Los Angeles Lakers, but on the whole, they’re not doing too badly. While Derrick Rose has been up and down, showing flashes of his old brilliance but also playing inefficiently at times, it’s been great to see the emergence of Jimmy Butler as a star player. Indeed, he’ll make his All-Star debut as a reserve this year, and I believe it’s well-earned.
Pau Gasol meanwhile was voted in by the fans, marking his fifth All-Star selection and the first as a starter. Gasol has turned out to be an excellent signing by the Bulls, and at age 34, is actually having one of the best seasons of his career. I’m not expecting Gasol or Butler to play a whole lot of minutes or contend for MVP honours, but it’ll be nice to see two Bulls out there in the big game.
Nikola Mirotic, who has also had his moments for the Bulls this year, will be taking part in the Rising Stars Challenge. He’ll be joined on the World roster by Dante Exum of the Utah Jazz, who will also be representing Australia in the event. Granted, it’s not quite the same as Luc Longley starting at centre on those three Bulls championships from 1996 to 1998, and it was pretty cool to see Andrew Bogut get picked first overall in 2005 (An Aussie and an Andrew going first overall? Loved it.), but it’s great to see another Australian player making it in the NBA. He’s not exactly tearing up the league right now, but hopefully, he has a bright future ahead of him.
5. It’s the All-Star Weekend
I know, I know. What a trite and corny cop-out for a fifth reason, right? So be it, I really enjoy the All-Star Weekend. I’m not about to suggest that it gets better every year, topping what we saw the previous season, because some years are definitely better than others. However, there’s usually at least a couple of impressive and creative slams in the dunk contest, a few noteworthy moments in the All-Star Game itself…just something that makes the Weekend worth watching.
It seems a vocal contingent of fans are a bit jaded when it comes to the All-Star Weekend, and I do understand why. In the long run, it has little to no significance to the way the NBA season plays out. Questionable selections make fans doubt the legitimacy of the All-Star Game as an honour or indication of success, and some people don’t like the way that the dunk contest glamorises flair over basketball fundamentals. The All-Star Games aren’t always as competitive throughout as they used to be, and the Rising Star Challenge has seldom been taken very seriously. If nothing else, it seems some fans just don’t feel the same excitement they once did.
I believe the Weekend still does have prestige though, and I enjoy the sense of tradition. I like seeing a game where some of the best players in the league are all taking part. I like the spectacle of the All-Star Saturday Night events, the displays of showmanship and skill. I’m not suggesting that 2015 will be end up being the best All-Star Weekend we’ve ever seen, but there are some very talented players participating, and at least one very welcome format change. At the very least, I’m expecting that it will produce a few moments that are definitely worth talking about.
That’s all for this week. Are you looking forward to this year’s All-Star Weekend? If so, what are you looking forward to the most? Any predictions? Sound off in the comments below, and feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.