Admit it. You don't miss the Rookie Game. You love seeing your favorite stars in the All-Star Game. But the events of All-Star Saturday Night are the ones you really can't wait for.
Where else are you going to see an athlete pull off a move you've never seen before other than the gravity-defying dunk contest? Or bury 20 three-pointers in the span of a minute other than the three-point shootout? Saturday Night, you see, is all about the individuals who make up the sport of team basketball. Here's a preview of what's to come:
SLAM DUNK CONTEST
Rookie Josh Smith already had NBA experience under his belt, but he didn't truly arrive until we saw him put on a show at the 2005 Sprite Rising Stars Dunk Contest.
Let's review what the 6-9 skywalker pulled off:
-- Jamming from the free throw line
-- Slamming over a seated Kenyon Martin
-- Throwing it down in a Dominique Wilkins jersey
-- A 360 windmill
All we could say to ourselves was "Are You Kidding Me?"
And all Smith can tell us about what he'll bring this year is: "
I have a little something-something."
Surely Smith remains the favorite, but how about his competition -- none of which have ever participated in a slam dunk contest?
Well, not since Spud Webb has a competitor stood so low yet jumped so high with the inclusion of Knicks guard Nate Robinson. The 5-9 jitterbug can flat-out sky – check out this
Dunk of the Night from November. He may not be the favorite, but he could be the sentimental favorite, given he's got the "little-guy" thing going for him.
Meanwhile, Andre Iguodala has been a highlight reel for the Sixers this season, ranking sixth in the league in NBA TV Top 10 Plays of the Night appearances. He enters the competition with the prototypical dunk artist size. At 6-6, he's sure to get high in the sky, but he's not too long to the point where it doesn't look as if he's not getting far from the ground.
Many big players have experienced trouble in the past for that reason (see Shawn Kemp, one of the league's top dunkers ever who never won the crown). It's an obstacle that Smith beat but Memphis Grizzlies rookie Hakim Warrick will still have to prove he can overcome. Standing 6-9, Warrick certainly isn't your prototypical winner. But Warrick is light at 219 pounds, meaning he's also quick -- a trait necessary for pulling off mid-air moves in split seconds.
“He’s going to win, there’s no question. Hakim Warrick’s the best dunker in the NBA,” teammate Lorenzen Wright said.
Ray Allen's sweet looking jumper has only translated into one win, thus far.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
Critics say Quentin Richardson
only tied for the NBA lead with 226 three-pointers in 2004-05 because he had Steve Nash
passing him the ball. While that's all well and good – Richardson's percentages have dropped from .358 to .329 and he's only hit 48 treys in 43 games since moving to the Knicks – Steve Nash was not
passing him the ball in last year's Foot Locker Three-Point Shootout
. And so, Richardson remains a dangerous threat. But his competition is fierce. Insanely fierce.
While the world's best dunkers may not annually participate in the dunk contest, no triggermen shy away from a chance at bragging rights in the three-point shootout. This group of contestants brings experience.
Seattle's Ray Allen won it in 2001, made the finals in 2000 and also participated in 2002 and 2005. He's a career .397 shooter from beyond the arc and has perhaps the prettiest-looking jump shot in the NBA. Ironically, the latter may not be an advantage in such a setting.
Taller, set shooters have disproportionately won contests because they don't have to rely on their legs for power behind their shots but rather their upper bodies allow for less time spent jumping and more speed in going through the racks of balls. In fact, 33 percent of the winners in the three-point shootout stood 6-8 or greater – Larry Bird, Dale Ellis, Glen Rice and Peja Stojakovic.
Accordingly, many are predicting success for Mavericks seven-footer Dirk Nowitzki. The German sharpshooter made it to the finals in 2001 and participated in 2000. Nowitzki is having a career year from beyond the three-point stripe, shooting .417 this season.
Chauncey Billups is the fourth competitor with experience in this competition, having participated in 2004. Like Nowitzki, Billups is shooting a career-high from three-point range this season at .431, good for eighth in the NBA. He's also on pace to hit more treys in one season than he has ever in his career.
New to the competition is Gilbert Arenas and Jason Terry. Arenas is a replacement for Raja Bell, who was excused from the competition because of a family illness. Arenas is shooting .343 from beyond the arc this season.
As for Terry, he's 12th in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage (.425) and sixth in three-point field goals made (108). Nobody in this field is worth overlooking.
PLAYSTATION SKILLS CHALLENGE
If the field is stacked in the three-point shootout, it's overflowing in the PlayStation Skills Challenge. Three of the four competitors (LeBron James, Steve Nash and Dwyane Wade) are starting in the All-Star Game the following night. Such brilliance in talent prompted the other competitor, Chris Paul, the leading Rookie of the Year candidate, to joke during player arrivals Thursday that he couldn't believe he was even invited to participate.
But fear not, Chris. Rec-baller extraordinaire and NBA.com staffer Rob Peterson took the challenge last year, and even beat the times of Stephon Marbury and Tony Parker in Los Angeles in 2004.
So it doesn't matter how many points you average or how many All-Star appearances you have. This competition focuses on fundamentals and speed in executing them. If that doesn't scream "Steve Nash", what does?
It's no coincidence then that Nash took home the title in 2005, doing so rather easily. The Phoenix Suns point guard posted the top times in both the first and final rounds, claiming victory with a contest-best 25.4 seconds.
But with a nickname like "Flash", Wade seems like the perfect candidate to dethrone Nash. He has perhaps the best baseline-to-baseline speed of anyone in the field.
Then there's James, who has already made his mark in the competition by being the first forward in its three-year history invited to participate. And we shouldn't forget the rookie Paul, who has astonished people all season by playing like a fifth-year veteran. Despite questioning whether he belongs, Paul remains a prime candidate to surprise.
RADIOSHACK SHOOTING STARS
The Phoenix Suns will attempt to defend their RadioShack Shooting Stars trophy this year, and we have to admit, there's nothing better than another opportunity to see "Thunder Dan!!!" step out onto the floor.
Dan Majerle, for those of you who don't know, made a career out of hitting 30-foot three-pointers during his NBA days. And this competition is all about shooting. Each team, comprised of an NBA player, WNBA player and NBA legend, must shoot at six numbered locations of increasing difficulty.
There will be a tweak to the defending champ's roster, however. While Shawn Marion and Majerle are back, Diana Taurasi is not. She's currently playing in Russia during the WNBA offseason. Phoenix Mercury sharpshooter Kelly Miller will replace her.
The mix of NBA talent, WNBA talent and NBA legends is considerable from the competition they face. The host city Houston will be represented by Tracy McGrady, Sheryl Swoopes and Clyde Drexler.
Los Angeles' hopes are pinned on Kobe Bryant, Lisa Leslie and Magic Johnson.
San Antonio boasts a roster of Tony Parker, Kendra Wecker and Steve Kerr.