SI.com periodically panels its NBA experts to ask a pressing question about the league. Today, we discuss All-Star Weekend festivities in Toronto and make predictions on the big awards and events.
Event you're most excited for?
Rob Mahoney: Skills Challenge
Would it be weird to say the Skills Challenge? There’s always been something silly about watching the best athletes in the world jog their way through basic drills, but I’m all about the inclusion of big men in this year’s field. Whether Draymond Green, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and DeMarcus Cousins are ultimately novelties in the competition is almost beside the point; this is one event that could certainly use a little novelty.
Ben Golliver: All-Star Game
Ninety-nine years out of 100 I would say the Slam Dunk Contest, but Kobe Bryant's Farewell Tour gets top billing this year. Although Bryant has provided plenty of reasons to both love and hate him over the years, it's clear that he has immense respect from his younger colleagues, particularly guys like Kevin Durant and Paul George who are young enough to have watched him play during their formative years. Bryant's special standing in the galaxy of NBA superstars should make for a memorable game on Sunday; maybe it won't top Michael Jordan's All-Star send-off, but it should be close.
• MORE NBA: Dunk contest preview: Can Zach LaVine repeat?
DeAntae Prince: Skills Challenge
The All-Star Game has obvious intrigue because the collection of talent that takes the court together is just unparalleled. But I have to believe the Skills Challenge could be the most entertaining event of the weekend. The infusion of big men into the competition throws the entertainment factor way up (Drake joke there). Draymond Green is a Swiss Army Knife, but I'm interested to see Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and Karl-Anthony Towns show off their ballhandling under the bright lights.
Matt Dollinger: All-Star Game
The All-Star Game has a little extra meaning this year with Kobe riding off into the sunset. No one will be calling for an encore, but it’ll be fun watching Kobe go against the game’s greatest one last time. Lakers regular-season games have become completely void of meaning, making Sunday’s showcase the rare game that actually matters for Kobe. Will someone try and punk him? Will he cross someone over and drill a jumper in their face? Will he launch an air ball that finishes two feet short of the rim? All are in play.
Jeremy Woo: All-Star Game
Lately I've been nostalgic for when the All-Star game was cool. Forty-one points from Russell Westbrook was pretty cool last year. I'm hoping Steph Curry and a bunch of guys who might want to upstage Steph Curry will make this one cool. Also hoping Kobe decides to rack up like 15 assists instead of shooting just as a final statement. Also hoping for 41 more points from Russell Westbrook.
Who wins the Slam Dunk Contest?
Rob Mahoney: Zach LaVine
There’s no need to get cute here. Zach LaVine has the biggest bounce, the most hangtime, and a knack for throwing down in a competitive setting. Take the prohibitive favorite and move on.
Ben Golliver: Zach LaVine
As much as I want to pick Aaron Gordon to pull the upset, it's just too difficult to envision anyone hanging with LaVine. Minnesota's second-year guard is the prototype for a Slam Dunk Contest champion: he gets way off the ground, he does it quickly, he is incredibly coordinated while in the air, and he boasts years of experience showing off his skills. The fact that Andrew Wiggins, LaVine's Timberwolves teammate, is ducking the competition is a clear warning sign for the rest of the so-so field. LaVine definitely has a few more contest-winning tricks up his sleeve as he looks to become the first back-to-back champion since Nate Robinson.
DeAntae Prince: Will Barton
I'm going to throw out a wildcard here and pick the most unpredictable player in the bunch. Will Barton is a serious athlete whose game is predicated on creativity, and I think he could excel in an event like this for that reason. Zach LaVine is the obvious favorite because of his insane leaping and finishing ability, but Barton has the best shot of ending his reign.
Matt Dollinger: Zach LaVine
Zach LaVine could lord over the dunk contest for the next 10 years and I wouldn’t be surprised. This year’s competition offers little resistance to him pulling off back-to-back titles. LaVine has a host of factors in his favor, but the No. 1 thing he’s got going for him will be the crowd support. Fans want to see a memorable performance and LaVine is the most likely to deliver.
Jeremy Woo: Zach LaVine
Zach LaVine, again. He could probably do the same three dunks he did last year and still win, because that's how far we've fallen. I'd be down for someone else doing something crazy though, like Will Barton trying to jump over all three Plumlees and all three Zellers at once (Yes, there's a third one). I would vote for that.
Who will win All-Star Game MVP?
Rob Mahoney: LeBron James
I’m guessing that much of the West will try to feed Kobe Bryant as much as possible to make the most of his twilight. There are enough shots to go around, still, though the tilt toward Kobe might put some of the West’s top stars at a slight disadvantage. That’s where LeBron comes in. James has two All-Star MVPs to his name but none since 2008. This could be a prime opportunity for him to play both facilitator and finisher, racking up counting stats as voting fodder. I like LeBron’s chances.
Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry
This is probably the most boring pick possible. Still, it's an irresistible one. The reigning MVP has all the motivation in the world to show out on Sunday: he enters the weekend on top of the NBA world, he's flanked by two of his teammates in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and he's yet to truly have a signature All-Star Game performance. Would anyone be surprised if he dropped eight three-pointers in the first half? Would anyone be surprised if he finished with 40 points in a no-defense showcase? No and no. Curry surpassed LeBron James by a wide margin in All-Star votes this year, and Sunday would be an excellent time for him to lay claim to the throne as the NBA's top star.
DeAntae Prince: Stephen Curry
The Warriors' campaign to become America's Team has made Stephen Curry its golden boy. He's the best player on the most visible team playing on one of the biggest stages. If everything goes according to storyline, Curry will rain down a barrage of three-pointers against very light defense.
Matt Dollinger: Kobe Bryant
For better or worse, I’m doubling down on my Kobe Bryant predictions. The Black Mamba has never been shy when it comes to hoisting jumpers and his Western Conference teammates will likely be feeding him the ball so he can go out in style. I could see Kobe topping 30 points in the city he once dropped 81. He’s a mortal lock to take the most shots.
Jeremy Woo: Stephen Curry
It’s his year. He could win it off the strength of one big quarter and sit down for the rest of the game and it's all anyone would remember. There’s also Kobe, who is playing better lately and has the advantage of adoring millennial teammates that will probably defer to him a lot.
Who will win off-the-court MVP?
Rob Mahoney: The Starters
NBA TV’s The Starters, J.E. Skeets, Tas Melas, Trey Kerby, and Leigh Ellis have been doing shows from Toronto all week, in which they threw axes, ate poutine competitively, and traded for the blazer off of Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s back. There’s plenty left to come in The Starters’ Canadian homecoming, though the gem of the slate is the much-anticipated (and well-hyped) dunk contest rematch between Kerby and Ellis. Bless these hoops heads for diving into the festivities with gusto, as always.
Ben Golliver: The Starters
NBA TV's J.E. Skeets and Tas Melas are back where they started this weekend, and they're getting tons of hometown love in great profiles by Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star and Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. The duo and their cohorts have hosted live shows, interviewed Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, and generally made the rounds as the feel-good success story that they are. No celebration of basketball in Canada would be complete without them.
DeAntae Prince: Drake
If you thought Drake's NBA presence was heavy before, wait until this weekend truly gets under way. Drake already has an official title with the Raptors, wears his own line of Jordan Brand shoes, and calls a long list of NBA players close friends. He started in earnest with a ping pong game against Reggie Miller, but the onslaught is just beginning.
Matt Dollinger: Sting
I’m taking Sting. Fans laughed it up when the NBA announced the 64-year-old would be performing at NBA All-Star Weekend, but you’ve got to remember he’s also performing on Valentine’s Day. That’s in the rock star’s wheelhouse.
Jeremy Woo: Kanye West
Kanye West, because very few things can make me pay for in-flight Wi-Fi on a one-hour flight and I don't think many other things will play at any parties. Your move, Drake.
One All-Star tweak you'd like to see?
Rob Mahoney: Voting Change
The voting mechanisms don’t need to change—only the way in which the players are divided up. The leading vote getter for each conference could work as a captain, getting his first choice of the other eight players voted in by the fans or 14 added by the coaches. Mic up the captains, line up the league’s finest, and watch the fireworks as LeBron and Kobe build their teams.
Ben Golliver: Warmer climate
This is a truly radical idea: Imagine how much fun All-Star Weekend could be if the participants weren't frozen solid like ice cubes for four days straight. Credit the NBA league office for changing things up by including both New York and Toronto (the first host outside the USA) these last two years, but enough is enough. Charlotte in 2017 should be a welcome change, but let's get back to the basics: Miami, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and other warmer weather cities make for more natural All-Star Weekend hosts in the middle of February. The high in L.A. on Sunday is 89. Miami will be 71. New Orleans will be 68. Toronto? It will be 3 on Saturday and 13 on Sunday. That math just doesn't add up.
DeAntae Prince: Four-pointers
It might seem random to drum up this conversation again, but we all remember the talk about four-pointers. The problem there was that it became too serious. If there's ever going to be a four-pointer, the All-Star Game is the perfect place for it. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, James Harden, and others would relish the chance to show off their shooting range. And anyone who has attended an NBA practice knows how much players love to compete on shots from deep.
Matt Dollinger: One-on-one tournament
With the NBA restoring order to the Dunk Contest and putting the Shooting Stars competition to bed, All-Star Saturday is ripe for innovation. The league needs to figure out a way to showcase its biggest stars that night. A one-on-one tournament would do just fine…
Jeremy Woo: All-Star shootout
Let Steph shoot 60 contested threes. Let Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard shoot 20 free throws each. Let Josh Smith and Dion Waiters shoot 30 long twos each. See which team makes more. Your new three-point shootout.