With all-star weekend behind us, the eyes of every NBA fan now officially shift to the playoffs. The NBA doesn’t have any more big events until the post-season (unless you count the contract extension deadline and I don’t) so for the next few months we’re not really going to have a lot to look forward to. This lack of immediate drama could be even more pronounced because of just how great this all-star weekend was. Since the legendary dunk contest in 2016, All-star weekends have been floating somewhere between B+ and C grades for the past few years. But between the new format of the big game, Zion in the Rising stars challenge, and Aaron Gordon-gets-snubbed 2.0 in the dunk contest, and we’ve definitely had one of the better All-star weekends in a while.
Part of what made this weekend so successful was the changes the NBA made to the formatting of the contests and games. This was highlighted by this years’ all-star game, in which we saw more defense down the stretch than we had in decades. But it was also a standout year in smaller ways, with the addition of the Mountain Dew shot in the 3-point contest and the selection process for the rising stars. The NBA prides itself on being a league that is constantly working to improve its product, and All-star weekend is a great testing ground to see how the fans will react to new additions. Expect to see Commissioner Adam Silver trot out something new every All-star weekend for as long as he holds his job. Because I know he reads my blog, I’m gonna do some quick pitches for what I’d like to see added to all-star weekend going forward.
The Celebrity game
Every year, the weekend kicks off with the highly anticipated celebrity game. Listen, I know this is the least popular event of the weekend and I know that the TV ratings for the celebrity game are less than 1% of the dunk contest, but if I had to be honest, I love this event. It’s just so stupid and fun, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. I wouldn’t change anything about the format or the game or anything, just the players. The celebrity game will always be a second-class event, but if we continue to get second-class celebrities then it will most definitely stay that way. And if we start to leak into the realm of third-class celebrities then it’ll only dip accordingly. I understand that for this event the NBA tries to find people with at least a bit of basketball experience, and while it’s great to see that Lil Rel Howery kinda has a jump shot, that’s not why people watch this event. I love that they include retired NBA stars (although can we please do better than Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson?) I love that they include WNBA stars, but rather than get a C+ rapper who can actually play basketball, let’s get A list celebrities who can barely dribble. This will give more scoring opportunity to the NBA and WNBA stars, and we’ll get to laugh at famous people, which really is what this game is all about. My all-time celebrity all-star game wish list is to have Barak Obama play. He’s A+ level famous, he loves basketball, and apparently is pretty good at it. If he plays one day, you’ll never hear me complain about this event again. I mean it. Never.
The Rising stars challenge
The rising stars challenge is fun for two reasons. One, it’s fun to see young guys who aren’t stars yet get some recognition and time to shine. Two, this game is 120% of the all-star game athletically and maybe 60% of the skill. Everyone is a giant, uber-athletic child, and for an hour and a half we get to watch them fly around and do cool dunks and shoot from half court . Fans never care as much about this event so we don’t get as much backlash about the players not trying on defense. The only controversy we hear about is with the selection process. Every year there’s a player who gets snubbed and we have to hear their fans mope about it for a month. With social media and the passion of players and fans we will always have people who feel they got the short end of the stick for these things. Bradley Beal was a prime example this year. But while the all-star game selection is pretty fair, the rising stars challenge has some weird rules that end up keeping more deserving players out.
To fix it, we first have to get rid of the USA vs. World system. It punishes American players and creates a weird power imbalance during the game. I would return to the Rookie vs. Sophomore system we had a few years ago. This will allow more rookies to participate, and rookies are really focus of this event anyway. By their second year in the league we have a much shrewder idea of who a player is, and at the bottom of the selection list I’d rather see some spunky not-ready-yet rookie than a solid contributing second year player. Seeing Moritz Wagner bump out a Matisse Thybulle and Terence Davis is just disappointing. With this selection system we’ll be able to showcase more talented rookies, while still keeping the top-tier sophomore talent around. We still want as much Luka as possible.
The Skills challenge
Hold on to your hats people, I’m coming in swinging with this one.
We need to get rid of the skills challenge all together. Why? Because while it’s fun to see the big guys defeat guards in a contest the guards should be better at, nobody really cares about this event. It’s not a real measurement of a player’s skills the way the dunk contest and the 3-point contest are. It’s not exiting or flashy, it never sparks any narratives, and it’s an hour a of national television that could be better spent on something else. We see all-star skills challenges in other sports like Hockey, and those make a lot more sense. But for an NBA event, it doesn’t check any of the important boxes.
So what do we replace it with? The only good part about the skills challenge is the mono-a-mono style of the competition. It creates more suspense and pushes the players to give more of a shit. These guys are competitors by nature, so the best way to keep them interested is through real competition. We need to embody the 1 v 1 format of the skills challenge while changing the actual challenge. We need a 1-on-1 tournament. It would operate with the same matchup format as the skills contest, with an eight-man bracket that splits up bigs and smalls until the finals. Games to 11 with 2s and 3s.
This event is totally fool proof. NBA players play 1-on-1 with each other all the time. It’s a matter of pride and is always competitive. If we could create an event like this that pushes players to really try, focuses on real important basketball skills, and will definitely produce some highlights and twitter drama, why wouldn’t we? The one wrinkle would be what level of player would be interested in this contest. I understand that superstar players don’t want to risk losing in front of everyone and making themselves look silly, but at the same time the best players in the league all truly believe they can take anyone 1-on-1. It could be the most competitive event of the weekend because there’s real pride involved. Maybe we won’t see a LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant matchup in this tournament, but I could see players like Louis Williams, or Joel Embiid play. How fun would it be to see them in the finals going at it? Or what if we saw Kyrie Irving and James Harden breaking each other’s ankles for ten minutes straight? If Adam Silver takes any of my words to heart today, please let it be these: “Change the Skills challenge to a 1-on-1 tournament, it’s better for the planet. We’ve had almost 20 years of people not watching the skills challenge, and now it’s time to give the people what they want.”
The 3-point contest
This event is actually fine, it’s just a little long. Maybe cut it from 8 contestants to 6? Or make it just two rounds?
The Dunk contest
Similar to the 3-point contest, the dunk contest is pretty close to perfect. It’s the most anticipated event of all-star weekend, and despite having a little hiccup in the early 2010s, this decade has shown us some of the best dunks ever. Everyone loves the dunk contest, but in the wake of the Aaron Gordon controversy, and the back to back to back to back to back perfect scores this year, there is one problem with the dunk contest that can be very easily fixed.
Let’s just score the dunks on a scale of 100 instead of 10. It all but erases the possibility of a tie, it’s much harder to get a perfect score when the judges are able to express subtleties in their ratings, and it would just be a more accurate way of judging the contest in general. I think if the judges were scoring everything out of 100, Aaron Gordon would have two dunk contest trophies instead of none. But mostly this is just a way of keeping the contest as fair and accurate as possible.
The All-star game
With the new format of the game being such a huge success, I don’t think we need to change anything more about the rules of the contest. But with players like Paul George out and Kris Middleton in I think it’s time we change the selection process. The player/fan/media voting is great, but I think that in the same way we got rid of the East and West split for the game, we need to get rid of it for the voting as well. The all-star game is about the best players in the world, and having the voting go by conference punishes players in the more star-studded half of the league (West). Again, it’s about making the selection as fair as possible and as entertaining as possible. I like Kris Middleton as much as the next guy, but there are a lot of guys I’d rather see in the game
2020 has shown us one of the best all-star weekends ever, and it’s important to remember that as we talk about ways it can improve. The NBA always puts on a great show, a better show than any other league’s all-star festivities. The success of the weekend is fully based around the love people have for the game and for the league. It’s all about showcasing the talent and fellowship of the NBA and its players, and in the wake of a truly trying year in the basketball world it’s good to have a time to celebrate all that we still have.
The final stretch of the regular season is ahead of us and there’s no looking back now. The break is over and it’s time to get back to business. This year’s all-star weekend was great, and I think we can all expect similar greatness for the rest of the NBA season and the playoffs. I for one am ready for it. You know what? I take back what I said before, it only gets better from here!