The NBA All-Star Game is arguably the best all-star game in sports and All-Star Saturday is a big part of that. The dunk contest and 3-point shootout are marquee events on the NBA calendar.
This year’s All-Star Game is in Cleveland on Sunday, Feb. 20, but for many people All-Star Saturday is the highlight of the weekend. This year’s version starts off with the Skills Challenge at 8 p.m. ET followed by the 3-point shootout before the dunk contest ends the night.
Here’s a layout of the competitors in the events, with betting odds from FanDuel for the 3-point shootout and dunk contest, plus Cole Huff previews the events and makes picks for each.
Team Antetokounmpos: Alex Antetokounmpo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Format: Each of the three teams will compete in three rounds: shooting, passing and a relay. In the shooting game, each player will shoot from five different spots on the court to score as many points as they can in 30 seconds. In the passing game, the teams will have to hit passes into oversized, moving targets to score points. The relay is similar in format to what the individual skills challenge involved in previous years with a mix of passing, dribbling and shooting.
After those three rounds, the two teams with the most points will advance to the final round, which is a race to make a half-court shot.
What to watch for: This isn’t the skills challenge that we’ve grown accustomed to. It’s new and, honestly, hard to predict. But the event format makes it seem as though teamwork and group collaboration is key. In that case, look for the Antetokounmpos (who knows each other better than brothers?) and Team Cavs to have a slight edge. — Cole Huff
Cole Huff’s pick: Team Rooks
The event also requires a ton of skill, hence the title, and Team Rooks has that. I like their trio of players and the little bit of everything that each rookie brings to the table. And when it comes down to the halfcourt shot, something tells me that Josh Giddey has mastered that in his off time. A bit of a stab in the dark here but I’ll roll with the new kids.
Format: Each shooter will have 70 seconds to score as many points as possible from 27 balls. As usual, there are five racks of five balls each around the 3-point line. Additionally, there are two deep shot locations six feet behind the 3-point line with one ball each. Each deep 3-pointer made is worth three points.
The top three scorers will advance to the championship round, which has the same scoring format as the first round.
What to watch for: I always know what I’m going to get from the 3-Point Contest and I appreciate that kind of certainty in life. Some of the best shooters and most high-profile names in the league are the ones that usually participate, and they more often than not deliver a great showing. Not only that, but the competition has switched up the format over the years by adding two Mountain Dew basketballs that are worth three points, and also by allowing players to have strictly a moneyball rack where they go through a rack with the possibility of earning two points for each make. The changes are video game-like, but fun.
There’s no Steph or Klay this time around. In fact, there are no previous 3-Point Contest winners. The field is very good, though. Fred VanVleet feels like a sneaky candidate to win, he’s quietly second in the league in 3-point makes per game this season and has a shooting form that requires very little body movement. Don’t forget that he’s made some big-time threes on the NBA’s biggest stage; underrated fact. Desmond Bane is a sniper, Luke Kennard is fifth in the NBA in 3-point percentage, and we all know about the way Trae Young and Zach LaVine can heat up. Picking a winner only gets harder when you throw in guys like CJ McCollum and Patty Mills, guys who crack the NBA’s Top 10 in 3-point makes per game.
There’s no clear-cut favorite this year, and also isn’t a true weak link of the bunch. It’s actually reasonable to truly believe that any of this season’s participants could win. — Huff
Cole Huff’s pick: Luke Kennard (+600)
I’m rolling with Luke Kennard. Look, don’t underestimate the feeling of performing in your home state. There’s this invincibility that the familiar surroundings give to you, and I’m convinced that the basketball gods throw you a slight boost. You’ve also got to be a great shooter and that’s exactly what Kennard is. He’s never shot less than 39.4 percent from deep in any of his five NBA seasons and is currently at 43.4 this season on 2.6 makes per game. Y’all have seen by now how he T Mac’d the Wizards a few weeks ago, right? That was cold-blooded and I have no good reason to doubt what that man can do shooting open, set shots.
Longshot pick: Karl-Anthony Towns (+1200)
I’m going to give the big fella some love here because nobody thinks “big man” when talking 3-point contests. Well, that’s because Dirk Nowitzki (2006) and Kevin Love (2012) are the only two bigs to win the contest in 35 tries — shoutout to them. Also, shoutout to KAT, who is sneakily a nearly 40 percent 3-point shooter (39.6 percent) throughout his seven years in the league and has the fourth-highest percentage of the 3-Point Contest participants. He hardly jumps when he shoots threes and his ground-bound, tippy-toe form is ideal for getting up a bunch of shots. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Big KAT get the job done.
Slam Dunk Contest
Format: Each dunker will get two dunks in the first round, with a panel of five judges scoring each dunk from 6 to 10. The dunkers with the top two scores will advance to the final round, which will also consist of two dunks each.
What to watch for: The Slam Dunk Contest is always the biggest mystery of All-Star Weekend. Its potential is so incredibly high – think Aaron Gordon vs. Zach LaVine in 2016, Blake Griffin over the Kia in 2011, Dwight Howard going Superman in ‘08, or the shows that Vince Carter and Jason Richardson put on in the early 2000s. And it has the possibility of being exceptionally bad — Chris “Birdman” Andersen’s 32 missed dunks in ‘05. Personally speaking, such highs and lows of past dunk contests have led me to take a cautious approach as far as expectations for the event go.
Pessimism (or optimism aside), the show will go on. And some of this year’s contestants are compelling. I don’t know that I really need to explain why Jalen Green is the favorite (+170) to take home the trophy but I will anyway. He’s pretty easily the best leaper in this event and the way he glides through the air off of both one and two-foot takeoffs is truly mesmerizing to watch. Then there’s Juan Toscano-Anderson who has one of the nastiest posters of the season (sorry, JaVale). But besides being an in-game dunker, can he put together something flashy in the air?
Obi Toppin took second place in last year’s competition, so he brings experience that the other participants don’t have. And finally, there’s Cole Anthony who…you know what? Scroll down to the next section. — Huff
Cole Huff’s pick: Cole Anthony (+250)
His name is Cole; that’s enough to get my support. It doesn’t hurt that he’s incredibly springy as well. There’s a highlight reel of in-game dunks alone that showcase his potential as a dunk contest champion — lobs, fastbreak punches, dunks in traffic — he does it all with relative ease. And if that’s not enough, you can find footage online of him killing some high school dunk contests a few years back. I’m assuming that he’s even bouncier than he was as a teenager because, you know – weight room, body maturing, etc. And as far as NBA dunk contests go, don’t underestimate the boost that smaller guys receive when they pull off some nice dunks. Cole is a great dunker, and my pick is made. #ColeWorld
(Photo of Cole Anthony: Fernando Medina / NBAE via Getty Images; The Athletic may receive an affiliate commission if you open an account with BetMGM through links contained in the above article.)