2017 All-Star Skills Challenge: Guards, Bigs And Everything In Between?
Think of the 2017 All-Star Game on Sunday night (in India on Monday morning) as the greatest aloo chaat of basketball talent you’ve ever had, a mixture of everything fantastic about the game in one mouth-watering combination. The game puts together the best scorers, rebounders, defenders, passers, shooters, dunkers, shot-blockers and more all in the same contest, providing the viewers with every different ingredient that goes into making a perfect dish.
All-Star Saturday night (Sunday morning IST) then, if we extend the metaphor, is the individual breakdown of all of those wonderful skill-sets in the chaat. It’s a chance to individually appreciate the aloo, the dahi vada, the chholley, and the spices – or in basketball terms, the shooters, dunkers, passers, and dribblers.
WATCH: Karl-Anthony Towns Wins 2016 Taco Bell Skills Challenge
While the Slam Dunk Event and Three-Point Contest have a longer history, the relative newcomer in Saturday events’ line-up has been the Skills Challenge. In the past, this was the opportunity for the NBA’s best point guards to show their ability to showcase a combination of skills to dribble, pass, and shoot. But last year, the NBA tried a new formula: with the league’s bigs becoming more refined and well-rounded players, the NBA pitted talented young centers and forwards in the Challenge, too. What first seemed to be an oddity, turned out to work with surprising success. Minnesota’s rookie big man Karl-Anthony Towns defeated Celtics guard Isiah Thomas to win the Challenge last year, the first time that Goliath defeating David was ever considered an ‘upset’.
The NBA has once again decided to mix up the event with big and small men this year. Although Towns won’t be defending this title, a host of talented bigs will again look to make things interesting this year: Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) and Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets). Trying to bring the title back for the guards will be Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz), Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), John Wall (Washington Wizards), and last year’s finalist Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics).
This is a varied list, of players of many different styles, but all expected to excel in the same skills. The myriad ‘challenges’ will test the players’ ability in a dribbling obstacle course, passing, lay-up, and a three-point shot, all while keeping up a quick dribble and trying to win a race against their opponents.
Among the bigs, Davis and Cousins are veterans of this challenge from last year, and both big men have shown their evolutionary skill-set of being able to handle, shoot, and run like a guard. This year, two exciting young international players will join the fray. Denver’s rising star Nikola Jokic has been on a tear recently, and his all-round excellence has earned him a spot after an injury to Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Knicks’ Porzingis is one of the few players in the league, who racks up blocks as easily as he puts in threes, and will be a natural fit for the ‘big’ team.
Watch for Thomas, who has been one of the best guards in the NBA this season, to be on a redemption mission this year. But his road won’t be easy. Among the smalls, he’ll have to go through one of the NBA’s best passers and quickest players with the basketball John Wall, one of the finest young shooters in the game Devin Booker, and versatile swingman Hayward from the Jazz.
Eventually, it is speed that counts most in this event, and I believe that the two fastest players in each division – Wall and Porzingis – will be the last men standing. From there on, I’m predicting that the superior three-point shooting ability of the “Unicorn” Porzingis will give the Goliaths another upset victory!
You can follow the writer KARAN MADHOK on Twitter @Hoopistani.
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