#NBA2016: All-Star Weekend Predictions

It will be a special occasion this coming February weekend. No, I am not talking about Valentine's Day on Sunday. I'm talking about lots of basketball love in the cold, Canadian city of Toronto (BTW, I am a proud Filipino-Canadian!).

The 2016 NBA All-Star weekend extravaganza is here and hoopnuts around the globe are surely excited for this gigantic event. If I was a betting man (Oops, I actually was a LONG time ago), I would evaluate each player in all of the contests so that I can decide (or guess) which player has the best chance of winning.  

Now, it's time to break down the participants and predict the winners for each event.

The future looks bright for the T'wolves
(Image from: nba.com)

Rising Stars Challenge 
U.S. Team
Player | Team | Pos. 
Jordan Clarkson | Lakers | G 
Rodney Hood | Jazz | G 
Zach LaVine | Timberwolves | G 
* Devin Booker | Suns | G 
Jahlil Okafor | 76ers | C 
Jabari Parker | Bucks | F 
Elfrid Payton | Magic | G 
D'Angelo Russell | Lakers | G 
Marcus Smart | Celtics | G 
Karl-Anthony Towns | Timberwolves | C 
* replaces Nerlens Noel (injured)

World Team
Player | Team | Pos. 
Bojan Bogdanovic | Nets | G/F 
Clint Capela | Rockets | F/C 
Mario Hezonja | Magic | G/F 
Nikola Jokic | Nuggets | C 
* Trey Lyles | Jazz | F 
Emmanuel Mudiay | Nuggets | G 
Raul Neto | Jazz | G 
Kristaps Porzingis | Knicks | F/C 
Dwight Powell | Mavericks | F/C 
Andrew Wiggins | Timberwolves | G/F 
* replaces Nikola Mirotic (injured)

The Rising Stars Challenge is a glorified pick-up game that uses ZERO defense. However, if you love unimpeded dunks and limitless alley-oops with no defenders around, then this game is for you. Aside from that, young players like Porzingis, Towns, Clarkson and Wiggins can definitely bring some excitement and highlights. The star of the night should be Canadian Andrew Wiggins and I hope he tries to go for the MVP. 

Prediction: World Team 
MVP: Andrew Wiggins

Steph Curry won this event last year
(Image from: nba.com)

Three-Point Shootout Participants
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets
4. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
5. Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
6. JJ Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
7. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
8. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

This contest will have the defending champion (Curry) trying to win back-to-back shooting crowns. Curry has to be the favorite in this event. He leads the NBA in three-pointers made plus he is somewhat familiar with the rims of Air Canada Centre. He used to shoot-around in this building when his father, Dell Curry, played for the Raptors. The safe (and prudent) choice is Steph Curry, however, a couple of guys could possibly steal the title away from him. One of them is his backcourt mate, Klay Thompson, who is 2nd to Curry in threes made. Can you guess who is 3rd on the list? It's "the Beard", James Harden. Between Klay and Harden, the former has a better chance of usurping Curry because Klay is a better shooter (42% compared to 36%) and he is more of a set or spot-up shooter. On the other hand, Harden thrives more off the dribble jumpers. Now, the hometown favorite will be Kyle Lowry and he can make some noise (5th in threes made, 39%). Still, most people consider Lowry more of a rhythm shooter or a streaky one. If he starts missing shots, Lowry loses confidence quick and won't trust his jumpers. One more bonafide shooter in this group is JJ Redick. The former Duke Blue Devil can make threes in his sleep (7th in threes made). The dark horse is Khris Middleton (20th in threes made, 41%). He is not a household name but he can probably hold his own against the more popular players. Rounding up this lot is a former Raptor, Chris Bosh. CB1 is an improved three-point shooter and he has surpassed his career-high in threes made with still roughly a third of the season left. I'm not sure why Bosh joined the contest because he is not a volume three-point shooter. He would have a very difficult time winning this event. Lastly, rookie Devin Booker will try his luck in this event. Sure, he can make some threes but I doubt that Booker can realistically challenge the proven shooters and scorers in the NBA. 

Anyway, having back-to-back champions is somewhat frequent so Curry repeating should not be difficult to achieve especially if you are the best shooter in the world. 
Prediction: Steph Curry

LaVine will try to dazzle us again this year
(Image from: nba.com)

Slam Dunk Contest Participants
1. Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
2. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
3. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
4. Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

The defending champion (LaVine) will be back this year and I am looking forward to seeing what he has prepared for us. In case you forgot what LaVine did last year, do yourself a favor and watch THIS. Now, can you honestly tell me that he won't repeat this year? His opponents will include Andre Drummond who knows how to throw down powerful dunks but his repertoire mostly covers follow-up jams or alley-oops. If the slam dunk contest allows others to challenge dunks, then Drummond would perform better when dunking over other people. Alas, that won't be part of the contest rules. Plus historically, centers have a tougher time winning this contest. The last and only center to win was Dwight Howard last 2008. Moving on, Aaron Gordon is a decent dunker but I haven't seen enough of him to say that he can beat LaVine in a dunk contest. Gordon definitely has the hops but does he have sufficient creativity to compete with LaVine? I'm not so sure about that. Next, Will Barton is a quick jumper and very agile on his feet. However, he is not a powerful dunker so his dunks may not elicit enough positive reaction from the crowd. I'm not convinced that Barton can excite a lot of people. 

Anyway, I am perplexed that Toronto has no contestant in this event. It is too bad that former winner, Terrence Ross (2013), or DeMar DeRozan, a former entrant, did not join again. AND the biggest disappointment: HOW COME ANDREW WIGGINS IS NOT PART OF THIS??? It would have been perfect if a Canadian was part of the slam dunk. Not just any Canadian, but the best active Canadian player. 

Prediction: Zach LaVine

Big Men are now part of the Skills Challenge
Skills Challenge Participants
1. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
3. Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
4. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
5. CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
6. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
7. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
8. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets 

The format for the Skills Challenge has constantly changed and this year will be different once more because now BIG men are part of the contest. Their inclusion should put more pizzazz in a competition that is typically lackluster. Patrick Beverley is back to defend his title and he can become a repeat winner because guards might still have the best chance to win a timed event due to their speed. Unless the format or scoring is modified, bigger players would have a more difficult time to win but having them around is still a great idea and I'm sure fans will be curious as to how the bigs will perform. I know that I'm looking forward to seeing Davis and Cousins dribble the ball and make plays. This is a tough field to predict a winner from. The advantage should belong to speedy players who can dribble, pass and shoot with regularity and ease. The best player that fits those descriptors is Isaiah Thomas.    

Prediction: Isaiah Thomas

A gift for Valentine's Day from the NBA
(Image from: nba.com)

65th All-Star Game: East vs West

East All-Stars
Carmelo Anthony, New York 
Paul George, Indiana 
LeBron James, Cleveland 
Kyle Lowry, Toronto 
Dwyane Wade, Miami

Jimmy Butler, Chicago (out-injured) 
John Wall, Washington 
Andre Drummond, Detroit 
Chris Bosh, Miami 
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto 
Paul Millsap, Atlanta 
Isaiah Thomas, Boston 
Pau Gasol, Chicago

Western Conference All-Stars
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers 
Stephen Curry, Golden State 
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City 
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio 
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

Draymond Green, Golden State 
Klay Thompson, Golden State 
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers 
James Harden, Houston 
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento 
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans

This will be Kobe Bryant's last ASG so expect him to shoot often and probably try to win the MVP. He last won the MVP on 2011. However, Kobe's recent injuries might prevent him from playing too many minutes and players on his team might supersede him (Curry, Westbrook, Durant, Harden, etc) with better statistics and more entertaining highlights. Of course, there is also the goal of winning the game first because the MVP is often chosen from the prevailing team. 

On paper, the  West has better players and they have a more complete team because their big men (Davis, Cousins, Aldridge) are more dominant and more explosive compared to the smaller Eastern team. The East will try to get payback for a disappointing loss last season so expect them to play more seriously from start to finish. 

So who will win? The West has won 4 of the last 5 All-Star games and they have last year's ASG MVP (Westbrook) and the regular season MVP (Curry). They also have two elite defenders on their team (Leonard and Green). Moreover, the West also has unstoppable scorers in Harden and Durant. However, I can see the East winning IF Kobe Bryant forces the issue by taking too many shots or if the other West players defer to him. Aside from that, the East might play Bosh, Wade and James along with Lowry and DeRozan. This unit will have 3 players from the Miami Heat (circa 2010-2014) and 2 from the hometown, Toronto Raptors. We know that small ball is the coolest thing in the NBA right now and this lineup might work wonders due to their familiarity with each other plus the home crowd cheering them on.   

Now, if the West decides to play the 3 guys from the Warriors and the 2 guys from San Antonio, then the West will win this game. Since Gregg Popovich will coach in this game, he might rest his guys from the Spurs. Thus, Westbrook and Durant will probably play more minutes. The West will have the advantage offensively over the East and that might be good enough for the win.   

I think the West will win because Kevin Durant is healthy and he wants to show people that he is truly back from his foot/leg injuries that slowed him down last season and early this season. 

Anyway, we are all hoping for an exciting and competitive game! 

Prediction: West All-Stars 
MVP: Kevin Durant

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