NBA All-Star Weekend is here! This is the third consecutive year in which captains participated in a fantasy draft and selected their own teams, a change from the traditional East vs. West format.
Here’s what we’re watching as the league’s best showcase their skills in Chicago.
Rising Stars | Friday, 9 p.m. ET (TNT)
After an appetizer of All-Star Celebrity Game action (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), 20 of the top NBA rookies and sophomores will go head-to-head in the Rising Stars game, with the teams divided into USA and World squads for the sixth consecutive year.
For the league’s first- and second-year players who didn’t make the cut, it’s far from the end of the world, as budding stars such as Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby were all once snubbed from the event.
Among the players who will take the floor, there is a handful of interesting matchups, led by the Dallas Mavericks‘ Luka Doncic vs. the Atlanta Hawks‘ Trae Young. Now, the 6-foot-2 Young is unlikely to actually defend 6-foot-8, 240-pound Doncic, but the two will always be linked given the draft-day trade that changed the course of their franchises. No one would be surprised to see the two young stars trading 30-footers down the stretch Friday night.
The best head-to-head matchup to watch? It might be Young against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has made a strong case as the third-best guard to come out of the 2018 NBA draft.
I’m also interested to see how No. 3 overall pick RJ Barrett looks, as I would consider him a dark horse MVP candidate in this one. With Doncic recently coming off an injury and also playing in Sunday’s All-Star Game, I wouldn’t expect him to be his typical high-usage self, which opens the door for the Duke lefty. Barrett is as aggressive as they come, and I’d imagine he’ll treat this as an opportunity to remind the world that he’s far better than the player people have seen in Madison Square Garden trying to create on a clogged court this season.
— Mike Schmitz
All-Star Saturday Night | Saturday, 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
The skills contest is designed to showcase a little bit of everything — quick dribbling through obstacles, throwing bounce passes and chest passes through cylinders, an end-to-end run for a layup and back the other way for a pull-up 3. It’s a head-to-head tournament format, and the fastest time advances. There’s always the fine line to walk of trying hard without looking like you’re trying too hard, which is why Patrick Beverley is a popular pick — he’s going full speed.
The 3-point contest is getting a small tweak to it for the eight-player field. There are the standard four racks with four regular balls plus one money ball that is worth two points. Then there’s the all-money rack, where each ball counts for two, placed at the shooter’s desired location.
But the new twist is an additional two balls — colored green — that will be 6 feet behind the line and worth three points apiece. There are two rounds, with the three highest scores moving on to the finals, where highest total wins.
Joe Harris is the defending champ, but Davis Bertans might be the pick. Not only is the Wizards sharpshooter completely lights out, but he’s one of the best long-range shooters in the NBA, playing right into the revamped rules.
There are no changes to the dunk contest this year, but we do get a blast from the past.
Aaron Gordon is an easy pick because he helped produce one of the most memorable duels of all time alongside Zach LaVine in 2016. Derrick Jones Jr. can get up, too, and has previous dunk contest experience.
And Superman returns!
The nostalgia factor alone makes Dwight Howard a popular pick to win, but how much bounce remains in those 34-year-old legs remains a question.
Keep an eye on dark horse Pat Connaughton, though. He didn’t make it by accident. After all, 44-inch verticals give people a lot of time to do cool things in midair. And he might already have something up his sleeve.
— Royce Young
This year’s game features plenty of changes, from the score resetting after each quarter to the winner being decided using an Elam-style finish that will also honor Kobe Bryant.
Still, there is one important thing that will remain the same: 24 of the best players in the world will go head-to-head until one side comes out on top.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key things to watch as this year’s edition of the league’s annual midseason showcase unfolds inside Chicago’s United Center:
Matchup to watch: Giannis vs. everyone
Over his six-plus seasons in the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo has proved himself to be as competitive and driven as anyone in the sport. There’s little doubt that, over the past couple weeks, he’s heard the comments about how his team doesn’t measure up to the one LeBron James has drafted. And there is equally little doubt that if there is anyone who would play hard enough in an All-Star Game to try to overcome those doubters, it would be The Greek Freak.
The question here is whether that will be enough to overcome what is a pretty clear talent gap between the two sides. If it works out that way, however, then we all know who the MVP of the game will be.
Teammate vs. teammate!
There are only two matchups of teammates going up against one another in Sunday’s game: Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker vs. forward Jayson Tatum, and Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons vs. center Joel Embiid.
For Simmons and Embiid, this is nothing new — the two of them faced off against one another last season, after Antetokounmpo and James engineered a draft-night trade to send Simmons from Team Giannis to Team LeBron. But this is a first-time thing for both Walker and Tatum — Walker because he’s never had a teammate in the All-Star Game before and Tatum because he’s never been there at all.
Walker said Thursday that he hasn’t given Tatum any advice on how to handle it.
“It’s an experience you just have to go through,” Walker said. “Whatever he’s feeling, he’s supposed to feel that way. It’s his first time, he doesn’t know what to expect, he’s an All-Star, man. That’s it. I’m super proud of him, he deserves it. It’s going to be fun.”
Dark horse MVP pick: Trae Young
Yes, it is Young’s first time as an All-Star. But he’s also got the perfect game for this format: the ability (and willingness) to launch from 30 or 40 feet with abandon, as well as throwing all sorts of crazy passes to players either spotting up for 3s or flying to the basket for rim-rocking dunks (the fact that no defense is required doesn’t hurt, either).
And if you really want to go deeper down the rosters, Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker — the last player into the game — is another intriguing choice. Another first-time participant, Booker might not get enough time on the court to make a run at the award. If he does, there are few guys who can score as quickly as he can — which is the perfect recipe for getting yourself in contention to win this game’s MVP award.
— Tim Bontemps
Team LeBron James*
1. Anthony Davis*, Lakers
2. Kawhi Leonard*, Clippers
3. Luka Doncic*, Mavericks
4. James Harden*, Rockets
5. Devin Booker^, Suns
6. Ben Simmons, 76ers
7. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets
8. Jayson Tatum, Celtics
9. Chris Paul, Thunder
10. Russell Westbrook, Rockets
11. Domantas Sabonis, Pacers
^Replaces Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard
Team Giannis Antetokounmpo*
1. Joel Embiid*, 76ers
2. Pascal Siakam*, Raptors
3. Kemba Walker*, Celtics
4. Trae Young*, Hawks
5. Khris Middleton, Bucks
6. Bam Adebayo, Heat
7. Rudy Gobert, Jazz
8. Jimmy Butler, Heat
9. Kyle Lowry, Raptors
10. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans
11. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz
* Voted in as starters
* Replacing Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard
Jayson Tatum | Celtics
Pascal Siakam | Raptors
Bam Adebayo | Heat
Domantas Sabonis | Pacers
Patrick Beverley | Clippers
Khris Middleton | Bucks
Spencer Dinwiddie | Nets
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander* | Thunder
* Replacing Pistons’ Derrick Rose
Zion Williamson | Pelicans
Trae Young | Hawks
Ja Morant | Grizzlies
Jaren Jackson Jr. | Grizzlies
Kendrick Nunn | Heat
Eric Paschall | Warriors
Devonte’ Graham | Hornets
Miles Bridges | Hornets
PJ Washington | Hornets
Collin Sexton* | Cavaliers
* Replacing Heat’s Tyler Herro
Luka Doncic | Mavericks (Slovenia)
RJ Barrett | Knicks (Canada)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Thunder (Canada)
Nickeil Alexander-Walker | Pelicans (Canada)
Brandon Clarke | Grizzlies (Canada)
Rui Hachimura | Wizards (Japan)
Moritz Wagner | Wizards (Germany)
Svi Mykhailiuk | Pistons (Ukraine)
Josh Okogie | Timberwolves (Nigeria)
Nicolo Melli* | Pelicans (Italy)
* Replacing Suns’ Deandre Ayton
All-Star Celebrity Game
Team Stephen A.
Chance The Rapper (captain) | Rapper
Anthony “Spice” Adams | TV host, former NFL tackle
Taylor Bennett | Rapper
LaRoyce Hawkins | Actor
Lil Rel Howery | Actor, comedian
Marc Lasry | Bucks co-owner
Darius Miles | Former NBA forward
Katelyn Ohashi | former UCLA gymnast
Quavo | Rapper, one third of Migos
Ronnie 2K | Digital marketing director, 2K
A’ja Wilson | Forward, Las Vegas Aces
Common (captain) | Rapper, actor
Jose Andres | Celebrity chef
Jon Batiste | Musician
Kane Brown | Country artist
Bad Bunny | Reggaeton artist
Hannibal Buress | Actor, comedian
Famous Los | Rapper
Chelsea Gray | Guard, Los Angeles Sparks
Jidenna | Rapper
Alex Moffat | “Saturday Night Live” cast member
Quentin Richardson | Former NBA guard
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All-Star Game FAQs
What is the new All-Star Game format?
This year’s All-Star Game will be all about honoring Kobe Bryant.
In a major change to the All-Star format, the NBA announced it will turn every quarter into a mini-game for charity before an untimed final quarter with a target score that will decide which team wins. Scores will be reset — back to 0-0 — at the start of the second and third quarters, then restored to begin the fourth quarter.
That’s where the tribute to Bryant and the No. 24 jersey he wore for the final decade of his NBA career comes into play. The team that wins the All-Star Game will be the first to reach a target score, determined by the total points the team in the lead scored in the first three quarters combined — plus 24, the obvious nod to Bryant.
How does the All-Star voting process work?
Beginning in 2016-17, current players and media joined the fans in the voting process. Fans account for 50% of the vote to determine the starters, while players and media account for 25% each. Once votes are tallied, players are ranked in each conference by position (guard and frontcourt) within each of the three voting groups.
Each player’s score is calculated by averaging his weighted rank from the fans, players and media. The two guards and three frontcourt players with the best score in each conference are named starters. Fan votes serve as the tiebreaker for players in a position group with the same score.
The seven reserves from each conference are selected by NBA head coaches. If there needs to be an injury replacement, that pick is determined by NBA commissioner Adam Silver.
How are captains and teams selected?
Instead of the traditional East vs. West format, the NBA moved to a new format in 2018, where two captains pick the teams from a pool of 24 players who are voted in by fans, media and players.
The captains are the All-Star starters who earn the most fan votes in their respective conferences. Alternating picks, the captains draft the eight remaining players from the starter pool in the first round and then all 14 players from the reserve pool in the second round, making selections without regard to a player’s conference affiliation or position.