Catrell Simpson, Feb. 15, 2017

The NBA All-Star break is upon us once again. With the retirement of Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett and the injuries to Chris Paul and Kevin Love, this year’s All-Star game will be looking a little different. Even with the lack of these players, All-Star weekend is sure to entertain you.

Rising Stars Challenge:

In this year’s game, there will be a handful of future all stars. You could easily argue that some of these players deserved to be in this year’s All-Star game. Here are some of the players to watch from during the game.

Karl-Anthony Towns, U.S. Team – This man is definitely on the list of All-Star snubs. He is averaging 23.7 PPG and 11.8 RPG. Although the Timberwolves are 13 games below .500, they are only 3 games back from being the 8th seed, and Towns has a lot to do with that. He has increased  his averages in all 3 major categories. He also has become a more consistent shooter from deep. With all that being said, Karl-Anthony Towns should be the favorite to take home the MVP award from this game.

Devin Booker, U.S. Team – He may be the front-runner right now for Most Improved Player. If Booker played in the East, I believe he would have been an all star this season. He is a dead-eye shooter and with little to no defense being played, Booker may shoot the lights out on his way to an MVP award.

Joel Embiid, World Team – “The process” has taken the league by storm. In his first season, he averages 20 points and just under 8 rebounds a game. He is another one of the names that would be high on the list of All-Star snubs. With the recent injury to Kevin Love, he may not be a snub for much longer. Right now, it is clear that Embiid is the favorite for Rookie of the Year. He has such an outgoing personality, so he’ll find a way to make the game more fun to watch and also contend for MVP.

Nikola Jokic, World Team – This is my sleeper to take home some hardware. Jokic has been BALLING lately. Last week, he dropped a career-high 40 points. On Monday, he recorded a triple-double that included 21 rebounds against the Warriors. This game is full of talented big men, but Jokic could easily find a way to come out with the best performance of them all.

My Projected MVP Winner: Karl-Anthony Towns

Taco Bell Skills Challenge:

This is a competition that is hard to make a decision on. Everyone is in play to take home the victory in this event. While the competition does require skill, it features some stations that have nothing to do with an actual NBA game. The contest only features two point guards, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas. Anthony Davis is in the competition too, and he has a lot of versatility for a big man. My sleeper pick for the Rising Stars game MVP, Nikola Jokic, is also in this competition as a replacement for Joel Embiid, but I don’t see him being as much of a contender in this event.

My Projected Winner: Isaiah Thomas

JBL Three-Point Contest:

Kyrie Irving. Klay Thompson. Just seeing those two names next to each other gets me fired up. This is what the people want to see. Thompson is the reigning champion of this event, but I am sure Irving won’t let him forget about Game 7 of the Finals, or the game-winner he hit over Thompson on Christmas Day. It will also be interesting to see if any other players in this field could push, or even upset, either of these two. My dark horse for this is Nick Young. Swaggy P is one of the streakiest shooters in the league and if he gets in a rhythm, it could make for an interesting final round.

My Projected Winner: Kyrie Irving

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest:

Last year, Aaron Gordon and Zack Lavine put on a show for the history books. Many people argue that it was one of the best dunk contests of all time, and that Aaron Gordon should have won the contest. Unfortunately, Lavine tore his ACL and will not be participating in this year’s contest. His replacement, Derrick Jones Jr., has some big shoes to fill, but he has the ability to fill them. Jones doesn’t get many minutes in Phoenix but during his pregame warm-ups, he shows off his bounce. He has posted some videos of his potential dunks on social media that he has not yet completed but if he finds a way to perfect them before Saturday, we could be in store for another memorable contest. Glenn Robinson III could be a sleeper in this event. He has not WOW’d me with any of his in-game dunks in Indiana, but he may have a plethora of tricks up his sleeve for Saturday. As for the other competitor, DeAndre Jordan, he is among the league leaders in dunks, but I don’t see him impressing me with anything that he has in his arsenal. He’s not even the best dunker on his team, so I think it’s a longshot that he’ll be the Slam Dunk Champion this year.

My Projected Winner: Derrick Jones Jr.

NBA All-Star Game: russ-mvp

This is always the most anticipated event of the weekend. The return of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant being teammates is by far the biggest headline of the weekend. I am sure we will have nothing close to this type of embrace from these two seen in the picture up above. Steve Kerr NEEDS to have a lineup in place for Westbrook to be on the court at the same time as the other 4 Warriors all stars. How great would it be if that happened, and every possession Westbrook went 1-on-5 without making any passes? Westbrook may be on a mission to repeat as the game’s MVP. Can’t wait to see how Kerr tries to keep everyone happy and keep the team chemistry together. On the other side, the East is lead by the dynamic-duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. We know those two are going to ball; there’s no question about it. The question is who else is going to step up? I’m most excited to see what Giannis Antetokounmpo does in his All-Star game debut. He is a matchup nightmare for everyone on the Western Conference roster. I wouldn’t be surprised if Giannis came out and had a triple-double. The other guy I want to see is Isaiah Thomas. He’s second in the league in points. He gets buckets when the defense is draped all over him, so I can only imagine what he’ll do with lackluster defense on him. In the end even with all of that offense on the East, the West will prove to be too stacked. I’ll say the Final score will be 156-148 with the West coming out on top.

My Projected MVP Winner: Russell Westbrook

The All-Star weekend is supposed to be a fun time where all the stars come together. Maybe it’s just me, but this year feels different. Between trade rumors, the Russ and KD saga, and the many injuries that we’ve already seen, things just don’t seem the same. We will see what trades, if any, will be made after the break and where everyone finishes up the seasons at.