The 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend is here! Fans from all over will be treated to three days of exciting events featuring the best basketball players on the planet.
New Arena senior basketball analysts Harris Ahmadzai, Jason Fray, Blake Hoffman, and Dylan Fraychineaud have offered their predictions for every competition this weekend.
Rising Stars MVP/Result
Harris Ahmadzai: Team World/Luka Doncic
The league switched the Rising Star format to the current World/USA iteration back in 2015, and it has been a welcomed change. Basketball as a sport is growing globally each year, and the talent pool of international players to choose from has never been better. The World squad has played with a chip on their shoulders over the past few years, taking it upon themselves to one-up their American-born peers. Feeling slighted he wasn’t selected to play in Sunday’s marquee matchup, Dončić goes off for a triple-double and a victory.
Jason Fray: Team USA/John Collins
Collins is a rising star in this league. The casual fan might not know who he is — which is why I think he’s going to make a statement in this contest (as well as in the Dunk Contest). When looking at the possible matchups in this game (an absurd notion for an exhibition match, I know), Team World doesn’t really have anyone who can guard him effectively. Ben Simmons is on the World team, though I can’t see him playing very much in this game considering he’s also suiting up in the All-Star Game two days later. Collins will feast on the block and in transition. In the process, he’ll introduce himself to the rest of the league.
Blake Hoffman: Team USA/Donovan Mitchell
Averaging 22.4 points per game this year, Donovan Mitchell had a worthy case to be selected as an All-Star in the talent-laden Western Conference. Instead, he’s left to compete in this game, where I think he will take it more seriously than most. Each of the last four players to claim MVP honors in the Rising Stars challenge has been a score-first guard (Bogdan Bogdanović, Jamal Murray, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins). I expect Mitchell to make it five straight with a 30-point game and a Team USA victory.
Dylan Fray: Team USA/Jayson Tatum
By all accounts, Tatum has had an underwhelming season thus far. Though his scoring, rebounding, and assists per game have increased, Tatum’s efficiency has dropped. I expect Tatum to come out with a lot of energy in the Rising Stars Game in an effort to reassert himself as one of the best young players in the game. Tatum will pace Team USA with 37 points and 8 assists.
Image Source: Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports
Harris Ahmadzai: Luka Doncic
The Skills Contest is a bit of a crapshoot. A cold-streak from the three-point line or at one of the passing stations could derail an otherwise impressive time. I favor the contestants who are used to working under pressure, and typically perform in crucial situations. Luka won’t be deterred by the bright lights, and will relish the chance to dominate the weekend with a Rising Stars MVP trophy and a Skills Challenge title.
Jason Fray: Trae Young
For all of Young’s warts as a player (slight frame, poor shot selection), he is a supremely skilled player. His vision as a passer is quite excellent, as is his ability to shoot the ball beyond the three-point line. In this specific competition, all of those traits come into play. Young’s slithery nature — coupled with above-average quickness — makes him a favorite to take home the trophy.
Blake Hoffman: Mike Conley
There’s no way any participant will take this event more seriously than Conley. Well-regarded as one of the greatest players to never be named an All-Star, Conley will want to come away from this weekend with a victory. The guards obviously have the speed advantage against the big guys, and Conley’s a better three-point shooter than the only guard who is faster than him (De’Aaron Fox). I’ll say Conley defeats Tatum in the final as the guards win for the second straight year.
Dylan Fray: De’Aaron Fox
I love the contestants in this year’s Skills Contest. From the group of forwards — Jokic, Kuzma, Tatum, Vucevic — I like Kuzma to emerge. Kuz seems to love the big stage and will want to further his relevance. I give Kuzma the slight edge due to his shooting prowess. When it comes to the guards — Conley, Doncic, Fox, Young — I’m rolling with Fox. His speed will be the ultimate difference. When it comes to the final, Fox will top Kuzma and finally give the Kings a victory over the Lakers.
Image Source: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports
Harris Ahmadzai: Damian Lillard
It comes as no surprise that Steph enters as the favorite. He’s the greatest shooter of all-time, has already won the contest once before, and is playing in his hometown. Even with Curry’s three-point resume, he hasn’t been immortal in previous contests. He’s gone 1-4 in competition, and has had some disappointing performances along the way. Dirk is the feel-good pick, but I worry he won’t be able to get 25 shots up in the minute time-limit. I like Lillard as a dark horse candidate. He’s one of the best players — and shooters – in the NBA, has competed in the contest before, and is being a bit overlooked in the 10-person field.
Jason Fray: Buddy Hield
Keeping in tune with his team’s hot start to the season, I see Hield winning the three-point contest. He faces a murderer’s row of opponents (Steph Curry, Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, Joe Harris) not to mention the sentimental favorites based on location (Seth Curry) and adoration (Dirk Nowitzki). Hield is shooting a ridiculous .449 from three this season. Perhaps the most important case to be made for Hield is the fact he basically shoots a set shot. His minimal yet effortless launching of the basketball will serve him well when speedily careening from rack to rack.
Blake Hoffman: Buddy Hield
It feels ridiculous to not pick Steph or Seth Curry with the event taking place in their hometown of Charlotte, but everything is set up for Buddy Hield to win. He has the effortless shooting stroke that so often translates to success in this event, and doesn’t have to deal with the pressure many of his competitors will be facing. The fans will be rooting for Kemba, Steph and Seth, and Devin Booker will feel some pressure as the defending champ. The result? Buddy defeats Steph Curry and Joe Harris in the championship round to take home the title.
Dylan Fray: Steph Curry
A) We are talking about Steph Cury
B) Steph is shooting nearly 45% from three this year
C) Klay isn’t in the contest
D) Steph isn’t losing in his hometown
Image Source: Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports
Slam Dunk Contest
Harris Ahmadzai: Miles Bridges
While there aren’t any superstars in this year’s field, I think there’s a chance we’ll see an exciting contest on Saturday. All four guys can jump out of the gym, and we’re due for something special after the past two lame-duck performances. Bridges will have the crowd on his side in Charlotte, propelling him to a victory in the finals over Hamidou Diallo.
Jason Fray: Hamidou Diallo
I have no feel for this contest whatsoever. We know Dennis Smith Jr. and Miles Bridges can both jump out of the gym. Big men normally don’t fare well in this sort of challenge (which would then in theory preclude John Collins from winning). Though Bridges and Smith Jr. have all the hype, I’m going with the unheralded rookie out of Kentucky. If anything, Diallo has no pressure on him — a fact which should allow him to ball out.
Blake Hoffman: Miles Bridges
Barring a last minute change where eligibility rules no longer apply and Zion Williamson is added to this contest, Miles Bridges is my pick. While all four guys obviously have ridiculous hops, the Charlotte Hornet has the perfect blend of size and ball skills. Add in the blatant hometown bias, and Bridges seems like a good bet to win this contest.
Dylan Fray: Dennis Smith Jr.
It is hard to go against Charlotte’s Miles Bridges, but for some reason I think he is going to flame out early in the contest. All four players are explosive athletes. However, as we’ve seen in the past, smaller players tend to have a more profound impact when they bring the power. Smith was robbed last year, and I fully expect him to claim the throne this weekend.
Image Source: Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports
All-Star Game MVP/Result
Harris Ahmadzai: Team Giannis/Joel Embiid
Giannis’ squad face an uphill battle taking on Klutch Spo…erm, I mean LeBron’s team. James’ ensemble of soon-to-be free agents boast more talent than Giannis’ team. However, Giannis’ strategy of hoarding first-time All-Stars and big men could prove to be a game changer. If anything, I believe Giannis’ team will try much harder. I like Embiid to have a big game against a small front line. It’s his second time around in the All-Star game, and he takes every matchup personally. If he can knock down a couple of threes, and finish everything near the rim, he’ll approach 40 points and secure an upset win for Team Greek Freak.
Jason Fray: Team Giannis/Paul George
PG13 is having an MVP-like season — and will continue to play excellently here in the All-Star Game. The environment is tailor-made for George to rack up both steals and assists. From there, he’ll have every opportunity to launch threes at will. George will play ‘heavy’ minutes, and thus will come away with the MVP Award for the first time in his career.
Blake Hoffman: Team Giannis/Stephen Curry
The two-time regular season MVP has never won an All-Star Game MVP, but I think that changes this year. Even though LeBron’s team certainly has the talent advantage, I like Team Giannis to spring the upset behind hustle and plenty of Curry three-pointers. Playing in front of family and friends, Curry knocks down 10 three-pointers, including the game winner, to become the first ever Golden State Warrior to win the award (two Philadelphia Warriors and one San Francisco Warrior captured the honor).
Dylan Fray: Team LeBron/Kevin Durant
LeBron’s squad is stacked. The only way they don’t win this game is if they put in minimal effort and Team Giannis takes it seriously. Durant hasn’t won an All-Star Game MVP since 2012 — 36 points — and hasn’t made a run at the award since 2014. I don’t think LeBron is going to play much, Harden will take 50 shots to score an unimpressive 40 points. Durant will hit a game-winner and finish the game with a cool 35/9/4.
Image Source: Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports