Who will win the Dunk Contest?
James Anderson: Donovan Mitchell. Toss-up between Mitchell and Dennis Smith. They both specialize in the cocked back one hander off of two feet, but I think Mitchell is a bit more versatile with alley-oops, going off the backboard, etc. He also finishes with more style and athleticism, while Smith specializes more in brute force and has slightly less swagger.
DJ Trainor: I think Dennis Smith Jr. was the favorite to win this contest before he even got drafted.
Ken Crites: Victor Oladipo. Heís the only one who has competed in this contest before. As an old man, I have to give the nod to experience. Plus he finished second to Zach LaVine in 2015. Finally, I offer this for your consideration:
Alex Barutha: Dennis Smith, Jr. I watched all four videos the NBA put out to promote each dunker, which included the in-game commentary. After one of Smith's dunks, an analyst softly whispered into the microphone: ďthat was provocative." After that, Smith has my vote.
Alex Rikleen: Whoever goes last in the finals. Dunk contest scoring is by far my least favorite thing about the NBA. I'm still irrationally angry about Zach LaVine's highway robbery of Aaron Gordon. But the silly way in which the judges and the fans enter an excitement feedback loop, and the insane willingness to give 10s too early and too often. It all amounts to an advantage to going last. But I expect either Larry Nance or Donovan Mitchell to give us the best dunks of the night.
Ben Miller: I've got one of the rookies coming in and taking the crown. If I have to make a decision between the two, I'm going with Dennis Smith. He's been showing off his hops and athleticism since the start of Summer League and I fully expect that to translate over to the dunk contest.
Nick Whalen: Victor Oladipo. Mitchell and Smith rightfully have the hype on their side, but let us not forget Oladipo put on a very respectable show as the runner-up to Zach LaVine in 2015.
Who will win the Three-Point Shootout?
Anderson: Klay Thompson. No need to overthink this one. If you gave me Thompson or the field, Iíd take the field, but itís not really close if we have to pick a specific winner. Heís probably the best catch-and-shoot shooter of all time.
Trainor: I usually go with the hometown player since it seems like there's more incentive for them to perform well, but Tobias Harris might be the most humdrum hometown favorite of all-time. Give me the defending champ, Eric Gordon.
Crites: The three-point shootout is all about stones. Donít believe me? Ask Larry I hope all you guys in here are thinking about second place, because Iím winning this Bird. It takes stones to shamelessly hoist three pointers. So I donít care about ďthree point field goal percentageĒ. Iím focused on ďthree point field goals attemptedĒ. And guess who leads the league in attempts this season? Well, itís James Harden (522), but heís not competing. Coming in second is Eric Gordon with 461, and then Wayne Ellington at 427. So Gordon is my pick, with Ellington as the runner-up.
Barutha: Paul George. You might think Klay Thompson is the favorite because he leads all contestants in catch-and-shoot three-point makes, attempts and percentage. What you probably didn't consider is that All-Star Weekend being held in LA means that it's a road game (for everyone except Tobias Harris technically) and Paul George leads all contestants in catch-and-shoot three-point makes and percentage on the road.
Rikleen: Klay Thompson. So much of the three-point contest is about who just hits their groove that night, which works in Thompson's favor in two ways. First, among all participants, he's got the best three-point percentage over the last 10 games, so he's currently hotter. Second, in a contest that could go to anyone, might as well go with the guy who, nine days out of ten, is the best shooter in the contest.
Miller: Klay Thompson seems like a pretty safe bet here. Admittedly, I'll be cheering for Tobias Harris to pull off the upset, but if I'm a betting man, you can't steer away from Thompson.
Whalen: I canít think of one good reason to bet against Klay Thompson. Steph Curry is the best shooter ever, but Klay was built for a contest that doesnít involve any dribbling. [Stephen A. Smith voice] THAT SAID, SKIP, give me Brad Beal.
Who will win the Skills Challenge?
Anderson: Lauri Markkanen. Tough call here. Itís really tempting to take Joel Embiid, but Iím going with a big man whose movements are less stiff, which should enable him to move through the event at a quicker pace. Jamal Murray would be my pick if I went with a guard, but letís face it, with Karl Anthony-Towns and Kristaps Porzingis winning the last two Skills Challenges, this has turned into a big manís event.
Trainor: Rooting for anyone besides Joel Embiid seems counterintuitive for people who want to be entertained.
Crites: Can I please be a cranky old man here and just admit that I donít care? I donít care. Iíll shamelessly go with my homer pick of Al Horford. By the way, Buddy Hield, if you canít start for the freakiní Kings, you should not be allowed to compete in this.
Barutha: Lauri Markkanen. As I'm sure you do, I count down the days to the Taco Bell Skills Challengeģ every year. Every true fan knows that you don't stand a chance if you can't make that pass. So, I researched to find the man who commits the fewest turnovers per game via a bad pass. Lauri Markkanen (0.46 bad passes per game) slides in just above Buddy Hield (.56). Lou Williams (2.15), meanwhile, doesn't stand a chance.
Rikleen: Joel Embiid. I love it when the big guys win this -- as has happened each of the past two years -- and Embiid seems like the type to really want to win this. Embiid edges Al Horford as the favorite among the bigs. I could see Dinwiddie having the best night among the guards.
Miller: I've got Jamal Murray picking up the victory in the skills challenge. He's been dealing with some significant chest pains, but is adamant that he's going to take part in the contest, so he seems pretty dedicated to pulling it out.
Whalen: Everyone who knows me knows how much I love and respect All-Star Weekend, but the Skills Challenge is a waste of time. Iíll go with Embiid to extend the streak of big men winning this event to three straight years.
Who will be named All-Star Game MVP?
Anderson: Giannis. He should have won last year, but didnít get starterís minutes. This year he takes it home. Team Curry is significantly more loaded after all the injuries that have hit Team LeBron, and Giannis will try harder than anyone else on Team Curry. There are no double teams in the All-Star game, and the idea of someone on Team LeBron: A) seriously trying to stop Giannis; and B) succeeding in stopping Giannis is laughable.
Trainor: Easy money. Russell Westbrook.
Crites: Whoever plays the least amount of defense. Seriously, and this is why I hate ASG. I miss the 80ís and 90ís when youíd decapitate a guy before giving up a free-be layup. The olí matador defense of all-star games is disgusting. James Harden plays the least amount of defense, so Iím going with him. A triple-double with zero steals wouldnít surprise me.
Barutha:LeBron James. This pick is only because I want to see talk shows debate whether or not LeBron winning All-Star MVP in LA means he's coming to the Lakers.
Rikleen: Russell Westbrook or Paul George. Few players want an All-Star MVP as bad as Westbrook. This being a glorified exhibition game, that extra amount of 'wants it more' goes a long way. My only hesitation is that as much as Westbrook wants an MVP, he wants a long-term partnership with Paul George even more. I could easily see Westbrook going the extra mile setting up his Thunder and Team LeBron teammate to make sure George ends up with a gaudy box score.
Miller: It's hard not to go with Giannis. If I remember correctly, he appeared to be the only one going full tilt last season and I could definitely see him doing that once again.
Whalen: This is an easy one with Paul Millsap not in the game: LaMarcus Aldridge.
Which team will win the All-Star Game?
Anderson: Team Curry. Team LeBron includes Goran Dragic (!!!), Andre Drummond, Kemba Walker, and LaMarcus Aldridge. The worst players on Team Curry are Al Horford and the two Raptors. Hereís hoping LeBron, KD and AD at least try to keep it close.
Trainor: This is lining up to be the most competitive game we've seen in a while, but it still comes down to who cares the most. Since I'm still not fully convinced anyone but Westbrook will actually care, I'll take the team rostering Westbrook, which is Team LeBron.
Crites: The quantity of injuries to Team LeBron makes me assume Team Steph will win 180 to 165. And Bill Russell will secretly hold back a tear as zero defense is played by all.
Barutha: Team Steph. LeBron being the best individual player on either team but still losing to the Warriors is very similar to how I envision the NBA Finals going down. So I think it makes sense to have it happen in the All-Star game as well.
Rikleen: I would have picked LeBron's team before all the injuries, but replacing Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis, and John Wall with Goran Dragic, Kemba Walker, Andre Drummond and Paul George is too massive a downgrade to ignore.
Miller: Now that half of Team LeBron has been ruled out with injuries, I'm going to take Team Steph as the winners. I love the Curry, Harden and Antetokounmpo trio and feel like that will be enough to take down the injury-depleted opponent.
Whalen: Eighty percent of winning the All-Star Game is knocking down wide open threes. Give me the team with Curry, Thompson, Harden, Towns and Lillard.
Which player are you most looking forward to watching in the Rising Stars Challenge?
Anderson: Lauri Markkanen. I think Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell will put on a show, but I also think Markkanen is going to prove to be one of the best players on the court at all times, especially playing with quality teammates for the first time all season. Joel Embiid is by far the best player in this game, but I canít imagine him caring or trying too hard. Heís above this.
Trainor: Frank Ntilikina is the player with the most to prove, so I'll be interested to see if he gives a little more effort than anyone else.
Crites: Iím looking forward to Kyle Kuzma and Donovan Mitchell yelling at each other for shooting too often.
Barutha: Ben Simmons. Simmons was built for an All-Star game, as he makes highlight reel plays every time he steps on the court, especially since he can be on either end of an alley-oop.
Rikleen: Jaylen Brown, Donovan Mitchell, Brandon Ingram. I feel like I know what I think about all the guys on the World team. But all three of these Americans are budding, potential superstars, and I'm hoping the different format (i.e. not playing with their normal teams) will give me some new insights. Is Brown the next Kawhi, Ingram the next Durant, and Mitchell the nextÖ well, I don't have a good comp for him? It'll be years before we know for sure, but I'm hoping to get a better sense Friday night.
Miller: Donovan Mitchell is the guy I'd love to see more of. I haven't caught too many Jazz games this season, but the rookie is an absolute force. It should be entertaining watching him battle in this type of up-and-down affair.
Whalen: Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Ben Simmons should all be a lot of fun. Pretty much everyone but Dillon Brooks.
Is there an All-Star "snub" you believe should be playing in the All-Star Game?
Anderson: Chris Paul. Considering heís been one of the 10 best players in the league this season, Paul is the easy answer here. The notion that we need an even number of players from East and West even though weíre doing captains for the teams is just ridiculous. Paul is roughly 10 times the player Goran Dragic is, and I actually like Dragicís game and hate a lot of CP3ís antics.
Trainor: With three injuries opening up the door for Andre Drummond, Goran Dragic and Kemba Walker, there's not much room for a debate about who got snubbed like we've been able to have in year's past. But, I can understand swapping out Goran Dragic for Ben Simmons.
Crites: I think they got the rosters right and the high quantity of injuries certainly let a few border-line guys participate. Goran Dragic? I prefer my starting PGís to average more than 4.8 dimes per game.
Barutha: Ben Simmons, again. Simmons should be in over Goran Dragic. Simmons' team has a better record and he averages 2.8 steals/blocks compared to Dragic's 1.0, has essentially the same assist-to-turnover ratio, and has a true shooting percentage 1.2 points higher despite bricking everything outside of the paint. Dragic also has a -4.7 net rating compared to Simmons' +5.0.
Rikleen: Ben Simmons. I thought he should have made the initial roster over Porzingis, who, by almost all metrics other than raw scoring, was having a worse season than he had in 2016-17. The competition between Porzingis, Drummond, and Simmons was close, though, so that wasn't quite a "snub". Selecting Walker over Simmons was shaky but defensible. But the All-Star game is not a lifetime achievement award, and therefore 2018 Dragic has no business being anywhere near it. Advanced stats say this is one of the worst seasons of his career. By traditional stats, this season is barely in his top five (of 10). Adam Silver didn't just make the wrong choice, he made a very bad choice.
Miller: Honestly, I really didn't think there were any indefensible snubs and with all the injuries that occurred, any player you could have made an argument for previously, has now been added as an injury replacement.
Whalen: I would have gone with Simmons over Dragic or Walker, but it didnít help that Simmonsí least-productive stretch of the season coincided with All-Star selections. I think it goes without saying that more than one Western Conference player deserves to be in L.A. over any of the Eastern Conference injury replacements.
What is your most memorable moment in All-Star history?
Anderson: The 2001 All-Star game. The East made a furious comeback that amounted to Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury versus Kobe Bryant down the stretch. In addition to some awesome clutch shots from Iverson, Marbury and Bryant, we were also treated to a glorious final play where Bryant had Tim Duncan wide ass open for a good three or four seconds and then finally passed out of a double team only when it was too late. Classic Kobe. Classic Iverson. Classic Marbury.
Honorable mentions: Michael Jordan severely missing an uncontested breakaway dunk in the 2002 All-Star game, the uniforms from the 1995 and 1996 All-Star games.
Trainor: Shaq sitting on the sidelines with the Camcorder at the 2000 Dunk Contest is easily my favorite All-Star Weekend memory. Vince Carter's 360-windmill dunk was great, but Shaq's reaction and getup was better.
Crites: I got to attend the slam dunk contest in 1988 at the Chicago Stadium when Michael Jordan won his second dunk trophy. It was awesome to see the cityís continued love affair with His Airness. I was 19 years old, new to Chicago, and loved every minute of it. Frankly, Dominique Wilkins probably should have won instead, but ĎNique wasnít going to overcome Michaelís huge home court advantage. Give yourself a moment to enjoy the greatest dunk contest ever:
Barutha: Jason Williams' elbow pass in the then-Rookie/Sophomore game
In my opinion, this is just one of the best passes of all time.
Rikleen: Getting angry at the Dunk Contest every year. It's become a bit of a tradition for my wife and I to watch it together, enjoy the skills on display all through the Saturday event, and then get outraged together at the Dunk Contest scoring. I enjoy that tradition more than any individual event.
Miller: I'll be honest, my viewing of the Slam Dunk Contest doesn't necessarily go too far back, so the classics aren't necessarily in consideration for me. In the last 10 years though, I'd say I found the 2011 contest most memorable with Blake jumping over the car.
Whalen: As the self-proclaimed worldís biggest Tracy McGrady fan for most of my youth, T-Macís off-the-backboard dunk, of course, holds a special place in my heart. But my all-time favorite moment has to be in 1997 when Michael Finley -- the Michael Finley -- pulled off whatís now known as simply The Dunk: