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Jazz Fans NBA All-Star Weekend Primer

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) high fives Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) after having a foul called on him against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (Silas Walker, Deseret News)

CHICAGO, Illinois – The NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us, and KSL Sports is well-represented on-site in Chicago to cover the Utah Jazz and the entire NBA as both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert prepare to make their debut in Sunday’s star-studded event. 

However, before the main attraction kicks off, basketball fans have a full weekend of excitement to look forward to during the NBA’s weeklong hiatus. 

Events kick off Friday in the Windy City with the All-Star players taking part in the NBA Cares program. Gobert will take part in the Social Responsibility Activation for the league Friday morning, while Mitchell will take part in the NBA Cares Day of Service at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. 

Friday evening, the NBA will announce the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame class which will include Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. Bryant will be well represented at All-Star weekend, with Team Giannis wearing number 24 in honor of Bryant, while team LeBron will don number 2 in honor of Bryant’s daughter GiGi. 

Celebrity Game

Friday night the league’s competitive events kick off with the always bizarre Celebrity Game. The teams are made of casual celebrities, some with basketball experience, but most without. Usually, the game devolves into 1-2 players on either team aimlessly hoisting three-point shots as their legs have given up long before the final buzzer. 

You can find the rosters for both teams here.

Fans can watch the game on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET.

Rising Stars Challenge

Later Friday, the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge features the best rookie and sophomore players in the world pitted against one another basked on nationality. It’s remarkable that each season the NBA can fill 10 man rosters of both American and foreign-born players with two years or less of NBA experience. 

The full rosters can be here. I’ll be watching the matchup between Luka Doncic and Tre Young. The two were traded for one another on draft night, and while Doncic is the superior player, the open floor format may better suit Young’s skillset. Incredibly, both players were also named starters for their respective conferences in Sunday’s main event. 

 Jazz fans will get to hear Mitchell provide color commentary on the event on TNT, after playing in the game each of the last two seasons. 

I’m predicting the World Team to take the trophy with Doncic winning MVP.

You can find the roster here.

The game can be found on TNT at 9 p.m. ET.

Saturday

Saturday morning the rosters for Sunday’s All-Star game will be made available to the media, followed by practice for each team. Mitchell and Gobert were both drafted by Giannis Antetokounmpo, so Jazz fans can have a clear rooting interest in the game. 

Fans can watch both the media availability and the All-Star practice sessions on NBA TV beginning at 10:30 a.m ET. 

Saturday evening will feature the NBA’s All-Star specialty contests, feating the Skills Challenge, the Three-Point Contest, and the highlight of the night the NBA Dunk Contest. 

Skills Challenge

The Skills Challenge has become an under the radar excellent event at All-Star Saturday Night, testing the overall ball handling, passing, and shooting skills of the league’s mostly young players. Following the obstacle course to complete the challenges is often the trickiest issue for the players. 

This year’s participants include: 

  • Patrick Beverley – G – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – G – New Orleans Pelicans
  • Bam Adebayo – C – Miami Heat
  • Spencer Dinwiddie – G – Brooklyn Nets
  • Khris Middleton – G – Milwaukee Bucks

Tatum is last year’s returning champion and should face tough competition in Gilgeous-Alexander, Dinwiddie, Middleton, and Siakam. 

  • Duncan Robinson – F – Miami Heat
  • Trae Young – G – Atlanta Hawks
  • Buddy Hield – G – Sacramento Kings
  • Devin Booker – G – Phoenix Suns
  • Duncan Robinson – F – Miami Heat
  • Trae Young – G – Atlanta Hawks
  • Buddy Hield – G – Sacramento Kings
  • Devin Booker – G – Phoenix Suns
  • Devonte’ Graham – G – Charlotte Hornets

Three-Point Contest

The Three-Point Contest took a hit with the departure of Damian Lillard from All-Star weekend after suffering a groin strain against the Memphis Grizzlies. Lillard will be particularly missed in the two new shooting zones the league has added to the contest, stationed six feet behind the standard three-point line to test the best shooters’ true range. Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns was selected to replace Lillard in the contest. 

Here are this year’s participants: 

  • Joe Harris – G – Brooklyn Nets
  • Zach Lavine – G – Chicago Bulls
  • Davis Beratins – F – Washington Wizards
  • Duncan Robinson – F – Miami Heat
  • Trae Young – G – Atlanta Hawks
  • Buddy Hield – G – Sacramento Kings
  • Devin Booker – G – Phoenix Suns
  • Devonte’ Graham – G – Charlotte Hornets

Of the grouping, Trae Young may be the best pure shooter and has the deepest range, but could be tired from taking part in the Rising Stars Challenge the night before and practice for the All-Star game Sunday night. 

My Pick: Zach Lavine – After getting skipped over for Sunday’s main event in Chicago, the Bulls guard would be a fun story to win for the hometown team. 

Dunk Contest

While it would be fun to see the Lavine compete in the dunk contest, arguably the best dunk contest participant ever, the NBA was fortunate to have Aaron Gordon commit to competing in Chicago despite losing controversially to Lavine in what most dub the greatest dunk contest of all time. 

This year’s participants include:

  • Derrick Jones Jr. – F – Miami Heat
  • Dwight Howard – C – Los Angeles Lakers
  • Pat Connaughton – G – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Aaron Gordon – F – Orlando Magic

Derrick Jones Jr. might be the best dunker in the NBA today and is one of the greatest in-game dunkers in NBA history. He can simply fly and as a result, shouldn’t be counted out as a contender to win the contest. However, Jones Jr. may need to be dunking over people to be truly appreciated and he can’t do that in the contest. The league should figure out a way to incorporate defenders into the dunk contest to make it truly special.

My Pick: Aaron Gordon – It would be silly to count out Gordon who nearly beat out LaVine a few years ago and has had years to think about it. Two things that should go in Gordon’s favor are his consistency as a dunker, making most of his first attempts in his previous appearance, and his creativity. LaVine and Gordon went to overtime in the contest, and still, he was able to pull out creative dunks nobody had seen before. 

Sunday

Sunday is reserved for the 69th NBA All-Star game at United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls. While the game will feature all of the league’s biggest stars, including Jazzmen Mitchell and Gobert, the format has changed from the last time fans watched the game. 

In an attempt to drive up competitiveness in the game, the league will have the teams compete to win each of the first three quarters individually, with a $100,000 prize donated to a Chicago-based charity represented by either Team LeBron or Team Giannis. 

After each of the first three quarters, the score will be reset to zero. 

Entering the final quarter, the league will tally up each team’s total cumulative points through the first three quarters, then add 24 points to the highest total to set the Final Target Score. The two teams will compete to see who first gets to that final score in an untimed fourth quarter. The team that first reaches the Final Target Score will win a $200,000 donation to the charity they represent. 

The starters for the two teams were voted on by fans, media, and fellow players, while the reserves for each roster were chosen by league coaches. 

The rosters are as follows: 

Team LeBron

  • LeBron James – F – Los Angeles Lakers (Captain)
  • Kawhi Leonard – F – Los Angeles Clippers
  • Anthony Davis – C – Los Angeles Lakers
  • James Harden – G – Houston Rockets
  • Luka Doncic – G – Dallas Mavericks

Reserves

  • Nikola Jokic – C – Denver Nuggets
  • Chris Paul – G – Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Domantas Sabonis – F – Indiana Pacers
  • Ben Simmons – G – Philadelphia 76ers
  • Jayson Tatum – F – Boston Celtics
  • Russell Westbrook – G – Houston Rockets
  • Devin Booker – G – Phoenix Suns (Injury replacement)
  • Damian Lillard – G – Portland Trailblazers (Injured)

Team Giannis

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo – F – Milwaukee Bucks
  • Pascal Siakam – F – Toronto Raptors
  • Joel Embiid – C – Philadelphia 76ers
  • Kemba Walker – G – Boston Celtics
  • Trae Young – G – Atlanta Hawks

Reserves

  • Rudy Gobert – C – Utah Jazz
  • Donovan Mitchell – G – Utah Jazz
  • Bam Adebayo – C – Miami Heat
  • Jimmy Butler – G – Miami Heat
  • Brandon Ingram – F – New Orleans Pelicans
  • Kyle Lowry – G – Toronto Raptors
  • Khris Middleton – F – Milwaukee Bucks

Without question, when looking at the rosters Team LeBron has far more top talent in it. Not only did James have the first pick in the All-Star draft, he simply made better draft selections. With that said, perhaps there’s too much talent on that team?

James is always on the hunt for another All-Star MVP, especially after a disappointing season last year with the Lakers. Being the leading vote-getter and representing the Lakers may give James a foot up in competitiveness going into the game. 

However, with Harden, Westbrook, and Booker on the roster, shots may be harder to come by for James and the roster could be too deep to have one specific standout. 

Is there a chance Antetokounmpo filled out his roster with lesser-stars to up his own odds of winning All-Star MVP. 

Without question, the Greek Freak is the most talented player on his own team and if he can get hot from three he might be the favorite to take home the MVP honors. Truly his biggest hurdle may be teammate Trae Young who will be happy to hoist up shots, especially if he disappoints in the Three-Point Contest Saturday night. 

My Pick: Giannis Antetokounmpo – The Milwaukee Bucks are clearly the league’s best team, Antetokounmpo is coming off an MVP winning season, and still his team can’t seem to gain much traction nationally as a team worth watching. Winning the All-Star Game MVP in spectacular fashion could help shine a light on Milwaukee and put him in line to repeat as league MVP. 

Gobert and Mitchell

Simply having the opportunity to watch Mitchell and Gobert at the All-Star game might be the best part of Jazz fans evening as first-time All-Stars rarely get enormous minutes. 

Even last year in the league’s Rising Stars Challenge, Mitchell seemed happy to take a back seat to fellow participants at the benefit of not over-exerting himself. And yet, Mitchell’s game may be tailored for the All-Star environment, especially if he can find his shooting range. 

Mitchell has stretches where he can get hot and could put up points in a hurry. Mix that with the ability to contribute highlight level dunks and he becomes a darkhorse to be one of the better draws at Sunday night’s event. 

Unfortunately for Gobert, his style of game likely won’t fit the game, unless he’s willing to significantly deviate from his nightly skillset. The french center regularly hits three point-shots in practice and what better place to debut that skillset than in a meaningless exhibition. 

However, Gobert is extremely prideful and may prefer to not embarrass himself should he miss one of the shots badly. The Jazz center should finish with a few dunks, and maybe even a block or two, but his defense won’t be utilized for most the night. 

The 69th All-Star Game can be seen on TNT Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

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