Los Angeles –Devin Booker‘s Suns have the NBA’s worst record (18-41).
“I think everyone is fed up with the losing, from the top to the bottom of the organization,” Booker said this afternoon. “So, for us, it’s what’s next?”
A 3-point contest victory.
Overcoming Phoenix’s poor record to draw an invite to All-Star Saturday Night, Booker won the 3-point contest with a whopping 29 points in the final round.
That score left little margin for 2016 champion Klay Thompson, who capped the event with a 25-point round that was otherwise the night’s high. Clippers forward Tobias Harris, in his new home arena, finished third.
Booker was all smiles after the rare victory.
“Season not going how we planned, but I know a lot of the city was ready for this All-Star Weekend, having somebody participate,” Booker said. “So, I’m glad I could win it.
Where he and the Suns go from here is still questionable, but he has a plan.
“I’m going to win the dunk contest next year,” Booker said. “No, I’m just kidding.”
Usually, this spot is our three things to know from the night before in the NBA, but for one day we’re changing our focus onto something to look forward to — three things to be excited about for the All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
1. Dunks and threes — All-Star Saturday night is better than the big game itself. We all know this is true, can we just admit it. Sure, the actual All-Star Game on Sunday has all the biggest names (of non-injured players) in one place, but it’s not basketball. Not in any sense we recognize. It’s an exhibition played with less defensive effort than the average pickup game at the Y. We get to see dunks and slick passes, but it feels hollow.
All-Star Saturday, on the other hand, is genuinely competitive. Light-hearted, skills competitions only, but at least genuinely competitive. It’s way more entertaining.
Then there’s the highlight of the night, the dunk contest — every year I get my hopes up (and most years those hopes get dashed). This one has serious potential. Three guards with mad hops — Victor Oladipo, Dennis Smith Jr., and Donovan Mitchell — and then Larry Nance Jr., who has had a couple of the best in-game dunks of the past two seasons (plus his dad won the Dunk Contest). This should be high-flying and intense.
It will be the best show of the weekend… well, outside the Kendrick Lamar performance across the street. It’s all the stuff around the big game that makes the weekend work.
But this All-Star Game is about the future — it’s already here and taking over the All-Star Game.
Sunday we will see All-Star first-timers Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and Goran Dragic. Then there are second-timers such Andre Drummond and Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s putting the best and brightest of the next generation out there on the big stage. Joel Embiid on this stage? He’s going to say/Tweet something that will have us talking all weekend. Even if the game and the Dunk Contest fall flat, Embiid alone will be worth the price of admission.
And that’s just the Sunday game — the Rising Stars game on Friday has Ben Simmons, Lauri Markkanen, Jamal Murray, Jayson Tatum, not to mention Smith Jr., Mitchell, and more. Sure, the Rising Stars game has less defense played than the All-Star Game — heck, the stationary defender cutouts used in Saturday’s Skills Competition may play better defense than we see in this game — but there is a raw energy in the USA vs. The World Rising Stars game that is just fun to watch.
3. The new All-Star Game format… it’s got to make the game better. Right? The last couple of years the All-Star Game has been such a dud in terms of effort, defense, and entertainment that the Chris Paul and the players’ union sat down with Adam Silver and the league office to figure out how to make it suck less. They decided to shake up the format.
No East vs. West. It’s Team LeBron versus Team Stephen Curry with teams those guys drafted (unfortunately behind closed doors, but the NBA will hopefully get that part right in the future). The draft already led to some drama — LeBron picking Kyrie Irving to be on his team, plus the reuniting of Durant and Westbrook on a team. James Harden throwing lobs to Joel Embiid. Antetokounmpo driving and dishing to Towns. There is so much potential with this format.
I doubt the addition of the increased payout to the winners ($100,000 per player) is going to motivate them much, and the winning team getting to donate more to charity is a nice touch but likely not doing too much. Rather, the hope is that pride — wanting to play for the guy that drafted you, against teammates and friends — will motivate the players. The dream is that will bring some level of effort and caring lacking in recent years.
We’ll see. I’m not sold. But it certainly can’t be worse.
Paul George, Eric Gordon, Klay Thompson lead 2018 3-point contest
Eric Gordon is the returning champion from 2017, having beat Kyrie Irving. Gordon will have to fend off everyone from guards to power forwards in this season’s version of the high-scoring contest.
Here are the rules, per the NBA:
The JBL Three-Point Contest is a two-round, timed competition. Five shooting locations are positioned around the three-point arc. Four racks contain four NBA regulation balls (each worth one point) and one multicolored “money” ball (worth two points). The fifth rack is a special “all money ball” rack, which each participant can place at any of the five locations. Every ball on this rack is worth two points.
The players have one minute to shoot as many of the 25 balls as they can. The three competitors with the highest scores in the first round advance to the championship round.
Perhaps the oddest part of the whole night will be the fact that Gordon has the lowest 3-point percentage of the whole group. The Rockets wing is shooting 33.6 percent from the year, four percent worse than the next lowest contestant in Beal.
Could he repeat? The 3-point shootout is typically my favorite event of the weekend, so I’ll be looking forward to watching if Gordon can repeat.
Wayne Ellington scores game-winner, DeRozan and Dragic scuffle (VIDEO)
NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
Midnight nears for the Heat.
Tyler Johnson‘s salary will more triple (to $19,245,370) next summer. Miami owes the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.
Unable to roll over cap space and rebuild, the Heat at least locked in a respectable roster before turning into a pumpkin.
Those long-term deals all come with significant risk.
It just might not be wise to get a couple contract-year players into the best shape of their careers then reward them with multi-year deals. Waiters’ attitude concerns didn’t disappear overnight, and remaining motivated might not be enough for Johnson, who’s already on the wrong side of 30.
Will Olynyk Olynyk thrive at power forward? He creates the most matchup problems at center, but Miami has Hassan Whiteside and No. 14 pick Bam Adebayo there.
Adebayo provides nice upside, and Justise Winslow returning from injury will keep the Heat from becoming too stale. They also hope their 31-10 finish (after a 10-31 start) last year forebodes a stronger full season.
Miami doesn’t look like an Eastern Conference power – not now, not later. LeBron James‘ Cavaliers are still favored, with Boston trying to prove a thorn in their sides. The Wizards are the potential bridge team with the Celtics, 76ers and even Bucks on the come up.
The Heat’s window to crack through is narrow, their chances higher of falling out of the playoffs completely the next few years. But even if they peak as a mid-tier playoff team, that’s OK.
It was understated how perilous their position was entering the summer, the picks owed to Phoenix and Johnson’s raise posing major complications. Miami didn’t land a whale like Gordon Hayward, but considering the circumstances, this outcome isn’t half bad.