Giannis Antetokounmpo to compete in Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend

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Typically, rookies don’t get noticed. Typically, players from overseas need more time to build an American following. Typically, Milwaukee Bucks are ignored.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is definitely atypical.

“The Greek Freak” has wowed fans all season with his long arms, diverse skillset and outward happiness.

He’s been so impressive, he’ll be competing in Skills Challenge – a speed drill that tests dribbling, passing and shooting – during NBA All-Star Weekend, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

An invite to to the Skills Challenge hardly constitutes “making it,” but for Antetokounmpo, it’s sure recognition of his incredible progress. Drafted No. 15 out of a third-rate Greek league and the NBA’s youngest player this season, Antetokounmpo was widely viewed as a project – and he is.

Yet, his skills have shined so brightly, they can’t be ignored.

Just six rookies had ever competed in the Skills Challenge since its 2003 inception. Most of them (Damian Lillard,* Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul) went onto win Rookie of the Year.**

*Last year, Lillard became the first rookie to win the Skills Challenge.

**The two exceptions: John Wall and Brandon Jennings. Wall led his draft class in Rookie of the Year voting, but Blake Griffin, who began his NBA career a year late due to injury, won the award. Jennings had a historically great first half to his rookie season.

Antetokounmpo certainly isn’t a Rookie of the Year favorite, and it seems two candidates ahead of him – Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke – would have been more logical options for the Skills Challenge. That’s because they’re point guards.

Positional definitions can get tricky at times, but whatever Antetokounmpo is, he definitely can’t be pigeonholed as a point guard. The last non-point guard in the Skills Challenge was Dwyane Wade in 2008, and LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are the only other non-point guards to ever compete. Until now, being a superstar was the only way to clear the positional barrier of entry to the event.

So, no, a Skills Challenge invite isn’t a crowning achievement for Antetokounmpo. But he incredibly cleared many obstacles to get this far.

What are a few more on All-Star Saturday Night?

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.