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With full All-Star rosters revealed and the Dunk Contest field confirmed, NBA All-Star Weekend is starting to take shape. We’re still two weeks away, with the trade deadline to get through, but I tapped in two of the best basketball minds from FanSided’s NBA network to help answer three questions about what’s coming for the NBA’s mid-season hootenanny.
1. The actual NBA Slam Dunk Contest participants have been named — Jalen Green, Obi Toppin, Cole Anthony and Juan Toscano-Anderson. Assuming you could coax anyone you want into the contest, who would be your perfect four-man field to replace that menagerie of ‘meh’? Defend your choices with brevity and bravery.
Josh Paredes, Air Alamo: Right away, the first name that pops out to me in the interest of fairness is Aaron Gordon. I could argue he should have two NBA Slam Dunk Contest trophies to his name but at the very least, he should have won in 2020 when Dwyane Wade was inexplicably put on the judging panel with a Miami Heat player participating. But he’s since said he’s done with the contest and I can’t blame him. Beyond that, Ja Morant would provide a lot of entertainment value to go along with his incredible athleticism. It’s always fun to see smaller guys throwing it down. Anthony Edwards also has some crazy bounce and even more entertainment value off the court. As the Spurs’ representative here, I gotta throw in Lonnie Walker as a dark horse candidate as well. He can jump out of the gym and would surprise a lot of people.
Dalton Sell, Behind The Buck Pass: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Ja Morant, Miles Bridges, Anthony Edwards. As a Bucks fan, I am quite biased with my pick of Thanasis due to my ties to the Bucks, but for those who have watched him, they know he has some bounce. His playing time is scarce, but whenever he is fortunate enough to hit the hardwood, he is good for a highlight reel dunk every few games. Including Morant needs little to no explanation as he is one of the best in-game dunkers in the association right now, and it would be thrilling to see what he could have up his sleeve in the dunk contest. The same goes for Bridges, who is featured nightly on the highlight posts by ESPN, House of Highlights, and more due to his high-flying dunks. And who could forget about Edwards? The sophomore guard has already racked up his share of posters throughout his first two seasons, and fans everywhere were disappointed when he turned down the dunk contest invitation. I would be pulling for Thanasis here, but he would undoubtedly be facing some stiff competition.
Ian Levy, The Step Back: As a general rule, I find dunk contests a lot less compelling than in-game dunks. I much prefer the power and physicality of dunking over or through defenders to acrobatics in the open space a dunk contest allows. That being said, there are only a handful of players who could realistically blend those aesthetics — power, grace and complexity. Give me Morant, Bridges, Edwards and Gary Payton II.
2. Build the best 7-man rotation you can from players who didn’t make the actual All-Star teams. Bonus points for a squad that could feasibly challenge the actual squads in the defense-less chaos of a real All-Star game.
Josh Paredes, Air Alamo: Of course, I have to start with Dejounte Murray, the biggest snub left off of the All-Star teams. I can’t think of many guys who’ve averaged a line like 19, 9, and 8.5 and not been selected. Let’s put Anthony Edwards at the other guard position. As controversial as he is off the court, you can’t deny Kyrie Irving’s talent on it, so he needs to be there also. When fully healthy (which sadly is almost never), Anthony Davis is a no-brainer as one of my bigs. To round out the roster, I’ll take Jaylen Brown, LaMelo Ball, and Domantas Sabonis.
Dalton Sell, Behind The Buck Pass: My seven picks for the All-Stars would be a starting five of LaMelo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Jaylen Brown, Pascal Siakam, and Jarrett Allen, with Dejounte Murray, and Domantas Sabonis coming off the bench. While the All-Star Game tends to have no defense, I feel like this group could ramp up the intensity with some strong play on that side of the ball. That is not to say that this group is not capable of making an impact offensively, as the Ball to Allen lobs, Brown highlight dunks, and strong guard play from Holiday and Murray would have this group clicking.
Ian Levy, The Step Back: I’m looking for a squad that could be competitive but mostly I’m looking for a squad that’s going to be non-stop dunks, breathtaking ball-handling and creative passes. Give me. Ball, Edwards, Bridges, Josh Giddey and Bam Adebayo in the starting lineup. Gary Payton II and Mitchell Robinson are coming off the bench to catch lobs.
3. Tell us your favorite NBA All-Star Weekend memory ever, and you can’t use Vince Carter’s 2001 Dunk Contest extravaganza.
Josh Paredes, Air Alamo: Oh boy, there are so many but it’s hard to beat Michael Jordan’s send-off in 2003. From Vince Carter giving up his starting spot to Kobe Bryant’s competitiveness not allowing MJ to have a poetic game-winning jumper, everything about that All-Star Game was special. Plus, for my Spurs fans, Tim Duncan’s three-point play in the final minute of regulation is what ended up setting the stage for what would end up turning into a double-overtime thriller.
Dalton Sell, Behind The Buck Pass: My favorite All-Star moment came just last season when Giannis Antetokounmpo took home his first All-Star Game MVP. After years of falling short in the big game, the Greek Freak finally propelled his team to a win with an incredible 35 point effort on a flawless 16-for-16 shooting. Seeing the pure joy on his face as he dunked the ball and knocked down several triples was what the All-Star Game is all about, and I will always cherish that moment seeing him hold the MVP trophy high.
Ian Levy, The Step Back: Tracy McGrady’s backboard alley-oop to himself in the 2002 All-Star Game. This was kind of a signature move of McGrady’s — he appears three separate times in this list of the 10 best self-alley-oops of all-time — but this was by far the most impressive. Usually, this move starts around the free-throw line but here, it’s clear McGrady is planning it as soon as he crosses halfcourt and he throws the lob from just a step inside the 3-point line. He then weaves through four separate defenders who are all frozen, ground-bound, wondering what the heck is happening. The TV broadcast cut immediately from McGrady’s dunk to Kobe Bryant on the bench, in disbelief at what he just saw.
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