The NBA All-Star break is here! We have officially reached the halfway point of the 2021-22 season, and it’s been one for the ages. From unexpected team success (Bulls, Cavaliers, Grizzlies) to impressive rookie performances (Mobley, Giddey, Barnes), this season has more than delivered. With an All-Star Weekend chock-full of marquee events, there’s something for every NBA fan to enjoy. In this article, I’ll be going over the biggest events this weekend and making my predictions for the winner of each. Let’s go!
Clorox Rising Stars
Winner: Team Isiah (Precious Achiuwa, Desmond Bane, Saddiq Bey, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Jaden Hardy, Isaiah Stewart)
This year’s Rising Stars event is a testament to how much young talent we have to look forward to in the NBA’s coming years. 28 players (12 rookies, 12 sophomores, four members of the G League Ignite) divided into four teams will compete in three games to determine who emerges victorious. I can envision certain players taking over for their teams—Cade Cunningham for Team Barry, LaMelo Ball for Team Payton, Tyrese Maxey for Team Worthy. But I’m betting on Team Isiah taking it home.
Led by Hall of Famer and Pistons legend Isiah Thomas, this team sports a balanced blend of grit in the paint and shooting beyond the arc. Achiuwa and Stewart are both undersized for big men, but they have a mean streak that lets them crash the boards with fury. They’re 19th and 26th in the league in total rebound percentage, respectively. Edwards has made a sizable offensive leap in his sophomore season, averaging 22.2 points per game. Bey and Bane can stroke it from deep, and Haliburton is a playmaking maestro who has recorded 30 assists in his last three games. Hardy will be the wild card, as he’s a talented scorer that has shown flashes with the Ignite but has been mostly inefficient. Overall, I think that Team Isiah’s steady attack should give them the best chances at winning it all.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
Winner: Team Rooks (Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Josh Giddey)
The Skills Challenge is another event that has been revamped for this season’s All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. Three trios will compete in multiple events to win Challenge Points; the team with the most Challenge Points in the end is the victor. Each round—shooting, passing, and a timed relay—highlights a unique skill that only a well-balanced team can conquer.
Barnes (20), Cunningham (20), and Giddey (19) are all unique players whose skillsets are more nuanced than most at their ages. Barnes is a jack-of-all-trades forward who can shoot from midrange, pass with ease, and lock up anyone he’s assigned to. Cunningham is an elite floor general who has a penchant for delivering in the clutch. And Giddey is a playmaker who does it all for the Thunder, leading the team in both rebounds (7.7) and assists (6.3) per game. All three rookies are so entertaining to watch in their own ways—Barnes is a charismatic glue guy, Cunningham is a silent assassin, and Giddey has on-court flair that few can match. I can’t wait to see how they work together in this year’s new Skills Challenge.
MTN DEW 3-Point Contest
Winner: Fred VanVleet
The 3-Point Contest is always so difficult to predict (except when the Splash Brothers are competing). All eight contestants are elite sharpshooters who can hit dozens of threes in a row in practice on the daily. But there has to be a winner, so I’m going with the first-time All-Star VanVleet.
VanVleet is hitting 40.1 percent of his threes on an absurd volume of 10.0 attempts per game. Among players with at least three 3-pointers made per game, VanVleet is the third-most efficient shooter in the league. He’s simply played lights-out for a Raptors team that overcame a slow start to cement themselves squarely into playoff contention, sitting at seventh in the East with a 31-25 record. VanVleet has an amazing story, going undrafted out of Wichita State in 2016 and grinding in the G League for stretches throughout his rookie season. Three years later, he won a championship in Toronto and became an offensive focal point following Kawhi Leonard’s departure. VanVleet isn’t done growing as a scorer in this league, and he’ll look to add another award to his trophy case on Saturday night.
AT&T Slam Dunk
Winner: Jalen Green
It’s been a rookie season full of growing pains for Green, selected second overall in 2021 and my personal preseason pick for Rookie of the Year. Among the 193 players with at least 40 games and 20 minutes per game, Green ranks 188th in effective field-goal percentage (45.5). In his defense, the Rockets are a miserable team who rank second-to-last in net rating and last in turnover percentage. They’re sloppy and have very little cohesion between their top guys who are all trying to develop their own games.
Enough of me sounding like a Debbie Downer. Green’s lack of team success has nothing to do with his otherworldly athleticism, which I’m predicting will earn him the Slam Dunk title. We don’t know his true vertical leap since he didn’t participate in the Draft Combine, but it has to be upwards of 40 inches. Green has the chance to become the third-youngest Slam Dunk champion in NBA history, behind Kobe Bryant and Zach LaVine. He’s electric and has the charisma to become one of the faces of the NBA. A Slam Dunk trophy can jumpstart him on that path to stardom.
Winner: Team LeBron (LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Jokic, Jarrett Allen, Jimmy Butler, Luka Doncic, Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Chris Paul, Fred VanVleet)
He’s done it again. James, jokingly known as “LeGM” for his influence on his team’s front office, has drafted an excellent team spearheaded by a starting lineup composed of MVP candidates. No disrespect to Team Durant, but rolling out Trae Young, Ja Morant, Andrew Wiggins, Jayson Tatum, and Joel Embiid should be no match against LeBron’s starters.
Beyond the starting five, Team LeBron’s reserves boast a lethal blend of scoring (Doncic, Garland, Mitchell, VanVleet) and defense (Allen, Doncic, Paul). From players in Year Three to Year 17, his squad is also well-balanced in terms of experience and athleticism. I can see DeRozan taking over in the clutch, Doncic going off for a 20-point quarter, or Paul dropping two dozen assists. There’s pure talent oozing out of Team LeBron, and they shouldn't have a problem handling Team Durant.