After a long stretch of action, the 2021-22 NBA season takes a pause for All-Star Weekend. Always one of the most exciting spots on the league’s calendar, All-Star Saturday Night — the pre-cursor to the All-Star Game — will once again feature a trio of star-studded events: the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest and Slam Dunk Contest.
The night tipped off with the Skills Challenge, which featured three teams in the competition — Team Rooks (Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Josh Giddey), Team Cavs (Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley) and Team Antetokounmpo, which includes Giannis and his brothers Thanasis and Alex. In the end, it was Team Cavs who came away with the crown after Evan Mobley hit the team’s second attempt from half court to ice the victory.
The 3-Point Contest followed and included eight participants — Luke Kennard, Patty Mills, Fred VanVleet, Trae Young, Zach LaVine, Desmond Bane, CJ McCollum and Karl-Anthony Towns — facing off for this year’s shooting crown. Kennard, Towns and Young ultimately made it to the final round with the Timberwolves star emerging as the winner with a score of 29 in the final round.
Ending the night, as always, was the Slam Dunk Contest, which featured Cole Anthony, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Obi Toppin and Jalen Green showcasing their skills and athleticism for the top honor. At the end of the night, it was Toppin who became the third Knicks player to win the honor.
Team Cavs win chaotic, revamped Skills Challenge
Towns breaks final-round record in 3-point Contest
Toppin brings home Dunk Contest crown
Here are three takeaways from the jam-packed night.
1. Karl-Anthony Towns breaks record in 3-point Contest
In perhaps the most shocking finish of the night, Towns went home as the 3-point Contest winner after putting up 29 points in the final round to beat out Kennard and Young. That final score broke the record for most points scored in the final round of the 3-point Contest, surpassing the 28 points Devin Booker scored in 2018.
Towns walked into this event already having declared himself the “greatest big-man shooter of all time,” and while someone by the name of Dirk Nowitzki may want a word with him about that title, securing a 3-point Contest title certainly helps his argument. Towns is the first center to ever win the event, and the first big man since Kevin Love in 2012 to take home the award.
It was an impressive performance from Towns, who is having a solid season with a Timberwolves team that should be in the hunt for a playoff spot this season. Towns’ 41 percent shooting from 3-point territory is just part of the reason why Minnesota has been playing so well this season, and his dominant play on offense earned him another All-Star selection this season. The win Saturday night was a cool moment for Towns, who has been quietly leading a Timberwolves team that looks like they’re starting to figure things out after several years of toiling away at the bottom of the Western Conference.
2. The dunk contest just isn’t what it used to be
It seems like every year we watch the dunk contest we get ourselves psyched up for the event, only to be immediately let down within the first two minutes after the first contestant misses three or four attempts in a row. That was the general tone on Twitter and amongst the commentators, who were clamoring for the NBA to have the 3-point Contest last so that there was at least some guaranteed excitement to end the night.
While the league likely won’t consider that, it can’t be argued that the dunk contest has lost some of the juice it had just six years ago when Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon were duking it out in a final round in what is largely considered one of the best dunk contests ever. Part of the issue is the lack of star power in the event. Where once guys like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Michael Jordan were competing for the crown, now we’re seeing less recognizable names to the casual fan, so the anticipation right off the bat is low. It’s also difficult for guys to pull off truly unique dunks when we’ve seen a wide range of attempts. Couple that with the fact that it sometimes takes three, four, five tries before a guy nails one, and by that time all the excitement is gone.
I’m not sure what the solution is for the league because I don’t even think incentivizing the Slam Dunk Contest will draw the big names everyone wants to see. But perhaps looking outside of just NBA players and bringing in other guys who are considered professional dunkers who have thrown down some truly jaw-dropping dunks would bring some interest back into the event.
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3. The NBA should have a 1-on-1 tournament instead of the Skills Challenge
The Skills Challenge has seen a lot of overhauls, and honestly, at this point, it shouldn’t even be an event anymore. You can tell some of the guys competing in it are going half-speed, the rules were utterly confusing this year, and despite the awesome finish with Cavaliers rookie Evan Mobley nailing a half-court shot to win it, there just isn’t much excitement there.
But you know what would be really exciting that the NBA should have on its Saturday night? A 1-on-1 mini tournament. Let’s take this back to playground basketball, with guys competing for ultimate bragging rights. Guys can call out a player in the league they think they can take 1-on-1, and the player they call out has to accept the challenge. The NBA can hype up the matchups leading up to the event, and just let the trash talking and competitiveness ensue. That would be far more entertaining than watching the newest iteration of the Skills Challenge, and I feel like some players would actually get into the competition and make it intriguing.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism