At its core, the NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be pure, unfiltered entertainment.
The concept is simple: gather the league’s very best players on one court and give them the platform to put on a show for the fans.
A competitive game with players putting in more effort than usual would raise the entertainment value and hopefully the new format with LeBron James and Stephen Curry picking their teams will help do that.
But we still want dunks, crossovers and ridiculous passes – just with a little more resistance on the defensive end so it’s not a walk in the park.
And while players like Al Horford and Draymond Green fully deserve to be there, the little things they do better than almost everyone else – screening, switching on defence, etc. – aren’t why we watch the showcase.
With that said, here’s our ranking of the top 10 most fun players to watch on Sunday, from a pure entertainment standpoint.
In a league full of athletic specimens, the Greek Freak somehow stands out as the biggest physical anomaly. Anytime he’s on the court, Giannis is capable of doing something we’ve never seen before – whether that’s leaping for a dunk from an obscene distance or gliding full-court with only a few dribbles. And no one in Sunday’s game is a better alley-oop target.
2. LeBron James
All-Star games almost feel beneath LeBron and his greatness, but because he does literally everything on a basketball court well, James is never not entertaining – even when he’s barely trying. You already know he’s going to throw a couple no-look passes and throw down a few power dunks, and if the game is close at the end, he’ll have the ball in his hands.
3. Kyrie Irving
Mister ankle-breaker himself, Irving will be must-see anytime he has the ball in his hands. He could theoretically draw plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” and get the crowd on their feet without even taking a shot, but Irving is bound to do his customary ‘get buckets’ routine. Plus, we get to see how he interacts with LeBron with the two teaming up again.
The guy scored a record 52 points in last year’s game, so yeah, he’s going to be pretty fun to watch. He can put down highlight dunks, shoot and swat shots – making him a walking highlight on both ends of the court. He’s also on LeBron’s team so there’s a good chance he’s on the receiving end of some of beautiful passes and alleys.
5. Stephen Curry
It’s pretty self-explanatory why the greatest shooter ever is on this list. It’s a blast to watch Curry shoot and the All-Star Game setting gives him more liberty to pull the trigger from further out than he normally would. And the crazy thing is, we have yet to see Curry catch fire in any of his previous four All-Star appearances, so we’re due for an explosion.
The All-Star Game may be a time to let loose for most players, but Westbrook doesn’t have an off switch. Expect to see more of the same fury he plays with on a day-to-day basis, especially because there may be a time in the contest when he’s up against three of the four Golden State Warriors involved in the game.
7. James Harden
It speaks to the quality of the field that Harden, who’s arguably the MVP favourite at the moment, is this far down the list. He’s both really good and really entertaining, but part of what makes him so dominant is his ability to draw fouls and no one wants to see free throws in an All-Star Game. The step-back jumpers? Those are more than welcomed.
8. Joel Embiid
In the entire NBA, who has more fun than Embiid? Forget for a moment how skilled the Philadelphia 76ers big man is. He’s going to make the All-Star Game more entertaining with his trash talk and light-hearted nature alone. It will be cool to see how the first-time All-Star meshes with some of the brightest stars in the league.
9. Kevin Durant
This ranking for the second-best player in the game isn’t meant as a knock. It’s just that Durant’s style of play, while aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t jump off the page in the same way like Irving’s or Westbrook’s does. Durant can do things that no one else at his size can, but this is the one occasion where his incredible efficiency doesn’t matter.
The last spot on this list was a tough one, but why not give it to a first-time All-Star who also happens to be one of the most skilled offensive players in the league? Even though he’ll come off the bench, one factor working in Towns’ favour is the lack of big men on his team, which means he should get plenty of minutes to fill up the stat sheet.
The NBA’s All-Star weekend has returned and with it the Slam Dunk Contest, which seemingly gets more theatrical and outrageous with each passing year.
Taking to the court this year are the Indiana Pacers’ Victor Oladipo, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Larry Nance Jr, the Dallas Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr and the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell.
But before they attempt to enter the Slam Dunk Contest’s hall of fame, we take a look at the top blasts from the past …
1. Vince Carter’s Vinsanity
Half-Man, Half-Amazing lived up to his nickname in the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest by putting on an absolute show at the Oakland Coliseum. Carter had a number of jaw-dropping slams that night, but the best of the best was his unbelievable 360 windmill. Not only was the combination of a 360 degree turn and windmill ridiculous, but Carter did it from the left side as a right-hander. Vinsanity indeed.
2. Aaron Gordon’s Stuff
It’s hard to imagine what Gordon pulled off, let alone execute it. In 2016, the Orlando Magic phenom jumped over Stuff, the Magic mascot, while grabbing the ball out of his hands, putting it under both legs and flushing with his off-hand. The human body isn’t supposed to do that. And he still lost to Zach LaVine.
3. Zach LaVine from distance
You thought Michael Jordan’s free throw line dunk was cool? LaVine somehow went one better in 2016 by adding a windmill from the same distance. And this wasn’t one of those cheap free throw line dunks where the step comes well after the line either. Remarkable athleticism by a highflyer who was born to dunk.
4. Michael Jordan takes flight
When it comes to iconic dunks, there’s a reason why His Airness is at the top of the list. Sure, Julius Erving, did it first, but MJ built upon Dr J’s free throw line slam in 1988 by adding his own style and form. The run-up, the jump, the pump, the extension and the finish – all of it picture-perfect and leaving a lasting image.
5. Jason Richardson goes between the legs
Of the three dunk contests Jason Richardson took part in, his best slam arguably came in the one year he didn’t win. In 2004, Richardson unleashed this throw-down – an off-the-glass lob into a through-the-legs finish. And he made it look easy. If ever there was an automatic 50 for the judges to hand out…
6. Andre Iguodala’s hang time
Though somewhat forgotten because Iguodala would lose to Nate Robinson in 2006, this dunk has aged well. It featured Allen Iverson tossing an alley off the glass from behind the backboard and Iguodala catching it, ducking both his head and the ball and staying in the air long enough to finish on the other side.
7. DeMar DeRozan reverses it
He’s now a complete player and one of the best scorers in the league, but DeRozan was known for his bounce early on in his career. And in 2011 he showed what he was capable of by delivering this mind-blowing reverse windmill, with a hint of rocking the cradle. The unorthodox nature of the slam took it to another level.
8. JaVale McGee doubles down
McGee’s 2011 slam may not have jumped off the page in the moment, but its level of difficulty is underrated. Not only did McGee manage to dunk two basketballs in different hoops, he threw the one in his right hand off the glass. The concentration and wingspan needed to pull this off is off the charts.
9. Carter’s honey dip
Carter’s 2000 showing was so awe-inspiring, it features twice on this list. While his other slams that night immediately brought the crowd to their feet, his famous elbow-through-the-rim dunk took a few moments to sink in as the crowd saw on the what happened on replay. Carter managed to leave the arena speechless.
10. Gerald Green blows out the candle
In 2008, Green gave us a slam that mixed equal parts athleticism, creativity and absurdity with his birthday cake dunk. Even though it wasn’t anyone’s birthday and the cake in question was actually a cupcake, the fact that Green could get his head on level with the rim to blow out the candle was impressive.
Instead of running circles around defenders and pulling up for his patented mid-range jumpers, Rip Hamilton nowadays provides insight on TNT‘s ‘Players Only’ broadcasts.
The 40-year-old’s second act will have a hard time reaching the highs of his playing career, which included three All-Star appearances, 15,708 points and a championship with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons.
Sport360°‘s Jay Asser caught up with Hamilton recently and asked the former shooting guard about a range of topics, from how his Pistons side would fare against these current Golden State Warriors, to the art of coming off screens and everything in between.
JA: Do you think Dubai would be a good place for the NBA to host one of its Global Games?
RH: Definitely. When it’s such a destination, especially when a lot of my peers have visited there, taken their family there and went there to hang out, I definitely think that’s a place that one day, hopefully, the league could potentially have a game or something there.
JA: LeBron James has been to seven-straight NBA Finals. During your time with the Pistons, you and the team went to six-consecutive conference finals. Just how impressive is it what LeBron is doing?
RH: It’s unreal. Seriously, it’s unreal. At least with the Pistons, I could lean on other guys. I could lean on Chauncey [Billups], I could lean on Rasheed Wallace to dominate and take over the game. LeBron dominates, not just on the offensive end, but on the defensive end. He can do it by scoring, passing and rebounding. Not only that, I mean also what he’s been doing for USA basketball, playing and giving up his summers to play basketball. He hasn’t had a break, so what he’s doing right now is unreal.
JA: There’s an abundance of up-and-coming young players in the league right now. Who’s the young guy that you’ve been most impressed with?
RH: Giannis Antetokounmpo. I think in a couple years, once LeBron retires, he will be the MVP of the league. I think he’ll be the best player in our game. He has stuff you just can’t teach. He’s just gifted. With his length, he makes up so much ground on the floor and he loves to play both ends of the floor.
JA: You mastered the art of coming off off-ball screens. Who’s the guy in the league right now that you think does that the best?
RH: I would have to say Klay Thompson. He’s a guy who can dominate the game without having the ball in his hands.
JA: How much of coming off screens is an art form that requires feel, and how much of it is technical that comes with repetition and practice?
RH: One, you have to have a feel for the game. When I played, there were certain plays on the court when coming off a screen, I would tell a guy like Arron Afflalo, who was a rookie at the time, to locate me. Sometimes he couldn’t see it. So I think it’s something that is a feel, you have to practice in it and you have to believe in it. It’s not as sexy as the guy coming down the court, crossing somebody over, taking out their legs. It’s not as sexy as that. You just have to be committed to it and say ‘hey, you know it’s the way I can dominate the game without taking my team out of offensive rhythm’. Because when you’re moving without the ball, everyone can still make plays and the ball is not bogged down in the hand.
JA: You were a killer from mid-range. If you were playing in today’s game, would more of your shots come from beyond the arc, or would you still target the mid-range?
RH: Well the game is totally different now. I think that with the way the game is played now, I would have more opportunities than I did because defensively, the game has changed. And teams are a lot smaller. For instance, I would be able to get to the basket even easier because now you’ve got a small forward playing the five position. When we played, the centre was 7-foot and the power forward was 6-foot-11. Nowadays the power forward is 6-foot-7 and the centre is 6-foot-7.
JA: From an efficiency standpoint, the mid-range is considered the worst shot in basketball. Do you think it still has plenty of value and is an area that can be exploited?
RH: Absolutely, especially when it comes to playoff basketball. People get caught up on how Golden State has performed over the last couple years, but the league is like, whoever wins the championship, everybody else wants to copycat. So it’s kind of like when we (the Pistons) won defensively, everybody felt as though you had to defend to win. So if you’re like, let’s say, I compare Golden State to the Phoenix Suns, who were the first team that actually played four out, one in with Amar’e Stoudemire. Nobody believed you could win a championship that way. Now Golden State is doing the same thing and everyone is trying to duplicate that, but it’s hard to do that when you don’t have the personnel.
JA: The 2003-04 team won the championship, but you were a part of other Pistons teams that had better records and fell short of the title. Was that 03-04 squad the best team you played on?
RH: Absolutely. We had guys that came off our bench that ended up being starters and franchise players, like Mehmet Okur. I thought he was a huge plus for that team that people forget and don’t give a lot of credit to. You look at a guy like Corliss Williamson, who was a mismatch each and every night because you could play him at the three and we would just pretty much give him the ball and he would always get us in the penalty. Then we had great pit bulls in Mike James and Lindsey Hunter. So I think that team was definitely the best team.
JA: The enduring legacy of that 03-04 squad was that it was a ‘team’ in every sense of the word, greater than the sum of its parts, etc. But that side was stocked with talent and multiple potential future Hall of Famers. Do you ever feel like that team gets an unfair characterisation as a team devoid of stars?
RH: We don’t get caught up in what the media says. If you ask anybody that played in the NBA during that time and if you had the rank the guys we had on our team, you would probably rank multiple guys in the top five, top 10 of their position. It’s just that we did everything the right way and weren’t caught up in personal stats.
JA: Do you think that 03-04 team could beat this version of the Warriors?
RH: It all depends on what rules we’re playing by. If we’re playing with the same rules that we played in 2004, during that era, I don’t think they would have a chance. But if we played in the era now where the game is a lot more wide open, you can’t put your hands on or touch guys going to the lane, I think the advantage would be theirs.
Rasheed Wallace thinks the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons could beat this year's Golden State Warriors. pic.twitter.com/s84fGnyVRR— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 9, 2017
JA: You’re fondly remembered for rocking the protective mask for much of your career, even after your nose injury healed. Was that something you were just comfortable with and became routine after a while?
RH: Yeah, I was definitely comfortable. The doctor told me I had to wear it for the rest of my career, but that was something that I could have easily taken off and not worn anymore. But it was kind of like my cape, kind of like my brand. It was kind of my make-up.
JA: The Pistons moved to a new arena downtown this year, but have struggled with attendance. As someone who played at Auburn Hills, what did you think of the move?
RH: I think it was great to see that when you look at Detroit sports and you see the success of the Red Wings and Lions, two teams who were downtown, and now have the opportunity to have all three (major) teams downtown, I think it’s something special. Like I wish that we had the opportunity to play a few games downtown, just from the fans standpoint. So I definitely think it’s something the fans have to get used to, because a lot of them were used to going to Auburn Hills. Like for me, if I went back, I would feel more comfortable going to Auburn Hills than downtown just for the simple fact that’s where I went all the time. But I think it’s great for the city for the team to be downtown.
JA: There’s been a lot of discussion about the NBA’s age limit for players turning pro. There’s been talk of extending it from 19 to 20, or at least two seasons in college, as well as getting rid of it completely. You played three years at UConn before going to the league, so what’s your stance on what the rule should be?
RH: I would say you get rid of the rule itself. I don’t think you should hold a guy back that could come out of high school and go straight to the NBA. The one thing about it is, at the end of the day, it’s the general managers and presidents of the teams that are drafting these kids. So if you feel like a kid’s not ready, it’s up to you to draft him or not. I feel as though we have a lot of talented guys and basketball right now is at an all-time high. If you look at last year’s draft lottery, you probably had six or seven guys that were freshmen. So I don’t believe you should hold a guy back that’s talented enough to play in the league right now.