Likes and dislikes from NBA All-Star Weekend 2014

February 17, 2014 in Basketball, NBA, Sport

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The NBA’s annual February showcase just concluded in New Orleans with the Eastern Conference All-Stars earning a record 163-155 come-from-behind victory over the Western Conference All-Stars, with Kyrie Irving winning the MVP after racking up 31 points and 14 assists. Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant each scored 38 in a losing effort.  It’s one of those events I look forward to every year that never lives up to the hype or the expectations, and this year of course was no different. We’re so accustomed to only remembering the highlight reels that we tend to forget all the embarrassing moments, the airballs and the missed dunks.

Having said that, this year’s All-Star Weekend is my favourite in years. Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about it.

LIKEDIndiana Pacers represent!

My Pacers had two All-Stars this year in starter (and third-leading vote getter) Paul George and Roy Hibbert, plus the East coach in Frank Vogel as the Pacers have, ahem, the best record in the [email protected]*$#f&^*ing conference. It would have been even better had Lance Stephenson and David West also made the team like they should have, but it’s hard to complain when your team already has three guys in it.

This is how I voted fir the All-Star Game

This is how I voted fir the All-Star Game

 

And it was a successful outing for the trio. Paul George led the East to a clean sweep over the West in the Dunk Comp and finished with a solid 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the All-Star Game itself, while Roy Hibbert had 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in just 12 minutes off the bench. Coach Vogel, of course, orchestrated the team’s brilliant come-from-behind win.

 Oh, and before I forget it’s actually four Pacers, because assistant coach Nate McMillan coached Team Hill to victory over Team Webber in the Rising Stars Challenge. Hang on, it’s actually FIVE Pacers if you include TNT analyst and the greatest Pacer of all-time,  Reggie Miller!

Overall, a great experience for the team. Even though it would have been good for George and Hibbert to get some rest because they had been playing like crap heading into the break, I think being around all these great players will really pump them up for the back end of the season.

LIKED: The Celebrity Game

This is one of those events I wish gets more coverage because it’s always fascinating to see which celebs can actually ball. I guess they throw in some retired NBA greats and WNBA stars to make it look a little less horrible aesthetically, but personally I would prefer it if they were all non-athletes, or at least people not known for basketball. I don’t usually know most of the celebs in the game, but most of the time you just need a couple of big names like Kevin Hart, Erin Heatherton and Michael B Jordan to keep it interesting.

really liked how they got Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose to coach the teams, but it would have been even better had they been in charge of drafting their own teams by reaching out to celebrities in their respective phone books.

This game itself was also surprisingly entertaining. I only recently watched Michael B Jordan light up the screen in Fruitvale Station, and he showed how he can really ball by pouring in 16 points despite being the focal point of the defense. But really, the star of the night was without a doubt US Secretary of Education (and former professional bball player in Australia!) Arne Duncan, who powered his team to a 60-56 win 20 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists, plus a handful of brilliant highlight-reel plays. He was so good that Kevin Hart, voted MVP by the fans for the third straight year, gave up the trophy.

DISLIKED: Nick Cannon

Mr Mariah Carey hosted the whole thing and he was just terrible. He tried but it was embarrassing seeing him try to liven up the mood and failing. He also posted a -14 plus-minus in 20 minutes of court time in the Celebrity Game along with this wonderful shot chart. To think he missed Valentine’s Day with his wife for this.

THUMB-nick-cannon_medium

DISLIKED: Joe Johnson

No one thought Joe Johnson was an All-Star this year, and yet here he was, taking up a spot that should have gone to Lance! Seriously, Johnson is averaging 15 points on 43.8% shooting with 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game for the 24-27 Brooklyn Nets, while Lance is putting up 14.1 on 50.2% shooting with 7.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists for the 40-12 Indiana Pacers. Come on!

And to prove my point, Johnson came last in the Three-Point Contest with just 11 out of a possible 34 points, then shot 2-7 in the All-Star Game for a team-low 5 points. I won’t torture you with a video of his performance.

LIKED: Damian Lillard

At the opposite end of the scale is Damian Lillard, who set a record by participating in five All-Star Weekend events — the Rising Stars Challenge (13, 5 and 5), the Skills Challenge (winner along with Trey Burke), Three-Point Contest (18, just missing out in final), Dunk Comp (lost to Eastern Conference) and the All-Star Game itself (9 points). His self alley-oop through-the-legs and 360 bounce pass lefty dunk were two of the better ones of the evening too. Sure, only one win from five events, but full marks for effort and participation. Great work, young man.

LIKED: The Three-Point Comp

Interesting strategic addition this year with the one rack containing all money balls (which are worth 2 points instead of the usual 1), which the contestant can choose where they want to put. This means together with the single money ball at the end of the other four racks there are 9 money balls all up, raising the maximum score from 30 to 34.

Unfortunately, despite having some of the best shooters in the league competing this year, only two guys, the winner Marco Belinelli and runner up Bradley Beal, had rounds of more than 20. Belinelli saved his best for last, scoring 24 in the tie-breaker round, while Beal had 21 in his first round. However, it was exciting to see the contest head into a tie-breaker and there were moments of real intensity, especially when the contestants got to the all-money-ball rack.

PS: Really disappointing that heavy favourite Steph Curry only had 16 and didn’t make the second round.

LIKED/DISLIKED: The Dunk Comp

I know a lot of people hated the new format, but I think it’s commendable that they at least tried something new because there hasn’t been a really good dunk comp in years with so many professional dunkers posting their ridiculous feats on YouTube and contestants favouring flair over substance and props over genuine creativity. Moreover, this year there were some real stars participating, unlike previous years, with Paul George, John Wall and Damian Lillard leading the way.

The new format pitted the three dunkers from each conference against each other, first in a “freestyle” round where they had 90 seconds to do as many dunks as they like (with at least one dunk from each team member), then a “battle” round where it’s one-on-one between the two conferences, with the first to rack up three victories emerging as the winner. This year the East dominated the freestyle round and all three of the battles, with John Wall being voted “Dunker of the Night” by fans with this killer jam.

With all the negative feedback, it seems more likely that the league will scrap the format altogether and return to the way it was before. Personally, I’d like to see them try it one more year but with a few tweaks.

First of all, the freestyle round thing has to go because watching three guys running around at the same time saps the excitement and anticipation as it makes each dunk less meaningful. It also makes it extremely hard to judge. That said, I do like the teamwork element of it, so maybe next year they can have a “team round” where each team gets to perform three team dunks (with a different finisher each time) and the total scores added to determine the winner of the round. They don’t have to use all three guys with each dunk, but they need at least two to make it a team dunk.

Secondly, the battle round is nice and all, but viewers were left unsatisfied because: 1. There was no actual scoring, just a “who was better” vote; and 2. It ended abruptly as soon as the East got the three required wins. What I also don’t understand is the link between the two rounds — what if the West won the freestyle round and the East won the battle round? Who is declared the victor then? Shouldn’t they still have a scoring system which will help determine the winning team overall?

What most people have suggested, which I agree with, is to have the three dunkers from the winning squad take on each other with at least one more dunk. That way you have an actual “Slam Dunk Champion” as opposed to a “Dunker of the Night”. As for the fan voting to decide the winner? I’m not sure if it’s good or bad. Maybe they need to make it 50/50 with the judges or something.

LIKED: The All-Star Game

Fugly jerseys, maybe, but personally I didn’t mind the sleeves all that much.

I don’t usually get overly impressed with the All-Star Game, but this year’s was damn entertaining. A record 318 points scored, 100 three-pointers attempted (30 made), 88 assists and only 28 turnovers (not too different to most normal NBA games). Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin scored 38 each, which is third-most all-time behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 42 and Michael Jordan’s 40. And Blake Griffin’s alley-oops were incredible, as were LeBron’s explosive coast-to-coasts, Carmelo Anthony’s record 8 three-pointers and Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry’s insane handles. Just a fun showcase.

Thoughts on Bieber winning Celeb MVP, Griffin Dunk Comp

February 20, 2011 in Basketball, NBA, Sport

2011 Getty Images

I was pretty excited for this year’s NBA All Star Weekend, even though not a single player from my Indiana Pacers made any of the events (I thought at least one of Paul George, Darren Collison or Tyler Hansbrough would have made the Rookie/Sophomore game).  The reason?  Blake Griffin.

For those who don’t follow the NBA, Griffin is this year’s lock for Rookie of the Year — a 6’10”, 251 pound freak of nature that jumps and dunks over everything in sight.  He was actually drafted last year but missed the entire season with a broken kneecap.  Now he’s back and wrecking havoc on the league.  Here’s a video of some of his dunks.  Remember that he has only played in 56 games in his entire NBA career so far.

The other reason is because I wanted to see teen hearthrob Justin Bieber (generously listed at 5’5″) play in the celeb game — not because I’m a fan of the kid, but because I was genuinely fascinated by whether he’ll embarrass himself in front of his millions of adoring fans.

Here’s a video of Bieber tearing up the court in a Proactiv commercial.  I’m not kidding.

Well, I can honestly say I did not come away disappointed.  Bieber’s boxscore was uninspiring (8 points on 3-11 shooting, with 4 assists and 2 rebounds) and his team lost 54-49, but he still managed to win the Celeb game MVP because it’s an award voted by the fans.  The highlight of the night was when the Biebs was rejected by Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen while going up for a jumpshot.  Bieber elevated and tried to shoot but Scottie swung his arm out at about chest level and smacked the crap out of the shot.  Hilarious.  Scottie was even congratulated by former Pacer Jalen Rose for the fantastic rejection.

On the other hand, Griffin participated in the Slam Dunk Contest today as part of All-Star Saturday.  He already played in the Rookie/Sophomore game the day before and will be a reserve in the proper All-Star Game tomorrow.  Given that they were win LA given his popularity, Griffin was a heavy favourite to win the comp, where the final round is voted by the fans.  His opponents were relatively unheralded — JaVale McGee (Washington), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto) and Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City) — but Griffin’s presence alone was enough to make this the most anticipated Dunk Comp since Vince Carter brought the house down with some of his classic dunks (since then it’s been a bit of a farce as the comps have focused more on style than substance).

As expected, Griffin won the comp (against McGee in the final), and while he may have deserved it overall, he probably didn’t even have one of the best 3 dunks of the night.  Each of McGee, DeRozan and Ibaka had some sick jams that didn’t get the respect or scores they deserved, while Griffin had a bit of hometown judging to help him out.

That’s not to say Griffin didn’t have some amazing dunks.  His first one of the night was an example of how freakishly athletic he is — a twisting 360 degree two-handed slam with the ball brought back behind his head.  His second dunk of the first round saw a teammate toss the ball off the backboard support — he caught it in mid-air and windmilled it through.

In the second round, he threw the ball off the backboard and went up so high that he dunked his entire forearm through the hoop ala Vince Carter — but this was more impressive because it was off the backboard, he went up higher, and there was a lot more power (so much so that he had a welt on his arm from it).

His final dunk brought everyone to his feet even before he attempted it — they drove a car out onto the court and had a gospel choir singing at halfcourt.  Griffin took a run up and leaped over the hood of the car, just as Baron Davis passed him the ball through the car’s sun roof.  Griffin caught the ball in mid-air and slammed it down two-handed.  To be honest, that description made the dunk sound better than it really was.  It was, after all, a jump over the hood of the car (as opposed to the top of it), though the presentation deserved props as did the fact that it was a potentially dangerous attempt by someone who just recovered from a broken kneecap.

Griffin got scores of 49 and 46 for his first two dunks, which I believe were about right — only if they scored the dunks of his opponents with as much generosity. If they did, I don’t think Griffin would have made the second round (more on this in my next post) — actually, you could even make an argument that Griffin was the fourth-best dunker in that first round.

Griffin’s two dunks in the secound round were not scored as the result was decided by fan voting (he got 68% of the vote to edge out McGee), though I believe he deserved the nod — only because McGee’s second dunk was a run-of-the-mill (if you can call it that) off the backboard, one-handed slam.  If he left one of his spectacular first round dunks for the second round, I believe he should have won it.

Anyway, here are the highlights.

More to come.