Welcome to Thursday’s Thoughts, where I go over your need-to-know NBA All-Star talk, discuss my Top 5 of the Week, provide some of my favorite upcoming wagers, and have a bit of fun with things I like and dislike. If you’re not a fan of sports, gambling, politics, pop culture, or fun, then still read it anyway because I do it for the love (and hate from Wagner).
Top 5 of the Week
As we roll into All-Star week, there were a couple of fun ideas for this week’s Top 5: top 5 dunk contests of all-time, top 5 dunks, top 5 all-star games, top 5 snubs this season, etc. Eventually, I landed on top 5 players currently in the league that I’d want to see in the All-Star game. This is 100% subjective and about who I think would be the most fun, completely separate from who are the best. For example, Rudy Gobert absolutely deserves to be an All-Star – he’s been one of the 10 best players in the West this season; but he would never make this list, as his game doesn’t make an All-Star event any more fun. Alternatively, Dion Waiters in no way, shape, or form should ever be mentioned as a potential All-Star; however, he’d be a potential selection here because of the pure entertainment value he provides. Also, I’m limiting this list to players who didn’t actually make the All-Star team this season. Let’s dig in.
Honorable Mentions: Dion Waiters, Zach LaVine, Devonte’ Graham, Ja Morant
5. Alex Caruso
How could Air Caruso not be a fun addition to the All-Star game? He’s obviously not anywhere near an All-Star caliber player, but there’s a reason he was top 10 in fan voting for the All-Star game. People just love to watch this scrawny white guy fly.
4. Ricky Rubio
Rubio had a few seasons that bordered on All-Star production, but was never consistent enough to merit real consideration. Still, he’s got Peak Rondo-like vision and is one of the most creative passers we’ve ever seen. In a game where there is less defense than usual and surrounded by the best talent in the league, he would surely show us something unique and crazy.
3. Boban Marjanović
Boban is amazing. Not just because he’s the largest human in the NBA, but he’s also one of the coolest. What other NBA player was in John Wick 3? Answer: None. Would love to see him in the skills challenge, the dunk contest, hell even the 3-point contest. I can’t imagine there’s anything he could be involved in that wouldn’t make it more fun that without him. Crossing my fingers he’s in Space Jam 2.
2. Zion Williamson
If it wasn’t for Luka, Zion could possibly be the biggest draw in the entire NBA. I think he’s going to be one of the best players in the league for years to come, but he will definitely be one of the most entertaining. Look at the aggression in these highlights from just last game. (1:25 and 2:44 in particular). Luckily, this is likely the last season we won’t see Zion at the All-Star game in at least some capacity.
1. Vince Carter
This is a pure nostalgia pick. I want Vince to be in the dunk contest every year from now until he retires. The first thing that anyone thinks of regarding the dunk contest is Vince Carter’s 2000. Half-man, half-amazing. Damn right.
2019-20 NBA Record: 32-22-0
Last Week: 7-3
This week, I’m going to include not just the picks for tonight, but my favorite NBA All-Star Weekend event picks as well.
Boston -2 vs Los Angeles Clippers
As much as I think the Clippers are the better team, they don’t seem to get pumped up for every game. In their last 9 games, they’ve lost to the Timberwolves, Kings, and Hawks; it’s clear some games just aren’t very important to them. I think Boston will end up taking this game more seriously than L.A. and for a team that’s 22-5 at home, giving just 2 points isn’t enough. Celtics win big.
Oklahoma City +2.5 @ New Orleans
The Pelicans have won 6 of their 9 games since Zion’s return, losing only to the Bucks, Rockets, and Nuggets. They have been very good over that stretch, and figure to make a playoff push. But Ingram is questionable for tonight (which, lately in the NBA has meant out more often than not), and the Thunder are just a better team. Give me OKC outright.
Rising Stars Challenge
USA (undetermined line)
I assume the line will be fairly close to even, but maybe USA will be favored by a point or two. The World roster has the undisputed best player in the game, Luka Dončić, and a well-rounded starting lineup around him (DeAndre Ayton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Rui Hachimura, and Brandon Clarke). On the surface, the teams look fairly even, but after a deeper dive, the World roster falls off heavily after it’s top 5, and can’t really compete with the domestic rising stars. The USA starters (Trae Young, Ja Morant, Miles Bridges, Zion Williamson, and Jaren Jackson Jr.) have more talent aside from Dončić, and all play a style that is much more conducive to the high-scoring All-Star game format.
The same can be said to even larger degree for the reserves. Off the bench (the starters I’ve listed are presumed – we don’t actually know the starters/reserves, but these lineups made the most sense to me), the highest scoring player on the World team is RJ Barrett at 13.6 points per game; 3 bench players on USA score more than that (Collin Sexton – 19.8; Devonte’ Graham – 18.1; Kendrick Nunn – 15.3) and every single player on the 12-man USA roster scores more points per game than Mo Wagner (11.3) who is the next leading scorer for the World roster. In a game focused much more heavily on scoring than defense, having the better scorers is important.
As I mentioned above, we don’t know what the line is, but my guess is due to Dončić being on the World roster, the line won’t have them as big underdogs, if at all. But his impact (as well as Trae Young’s) could also be undermined by the fact that both are playing in the actual All-Star game on Sunday and probably won’t play full minutes tomorrow night. Despite wanting to root for the only Minnesota player in the game (Josh Okogie is on the World roster), as long as the betting line doesn’t come out as USA by double figures, I’m taking the home team. USA! USA! USA!
Buddy Hield +700
Hield isn’t averaging the best percentage of the group, but the 3-point contest is different than in-game shooting; it more closely resembles catch and shoot threes, where Hield thrives. I like Joe Harris (+300) and Dāvis Bertāns (+450) too, but neither is near the value play of Hield. Zach LaVine is streaky, so he’s tempting at +900, but the chances he gets hot twice (both rounds) is unlikely. Obviously players like Devin Booker (+500) and Trae Young (+350) are great, but I don’t love betting on players going to the All-Star game, as they have bigger media responsibilities and time crunches. The other players can focus on preparing for just one event. The 3-point contest is a bit of a crapshoot, but if you’re only going with 1 guy, go with Buddy Hield.
NBA Dunk Contest:
Pat Connaughton +500
Dwight Howard (+550) essentially has no chance in this competition. Big men have a tougher time in the dunk contest because even their most impressive dunks don’t look as impressive because of their stature; Dwight has won before, but he’s not the same guy as he was 12 (yes 12!) years ago. Aaron Gordon (-110) and Derrick Jones (+180) are both great dunkers, but you don’t get much value for them. If I had to bet everything on this, I’d go with Gordon (and likely will have a bit on him as a hedge) over Jones. Jones lost to Glenn Robinson III in a lackluster showing while Gordon lost to Zach LaVine, and was actually the most impressive dunker in an all-time dunk contest. However, the reason I chose Connaughton is that +500 is ridiculous odds for a guy with a 44-inch vertical. He’s not getting the recognition because he doesn’t showcase his athleticism, but he’s no less likely than Jones for taking this home. He’s the only new dunker (all 3 others have been in the competition before, and most guys don’t like to repeat dunks) and +500 for a guy with a real chance is great value. Connaughton for the payday!
Team LeBron -4.5
Team LeBron is all-around better than team Giannis in every single way, but especially for the All-Star game. Scooping up creative passers (Jokić, Simmons, and Sabonis) to pair with the best athletes (Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard) is a better strategy than taking well-rounded, defense-first players (Adebayo, Gobert, and Jimmy Butler). Obviously both teams have a ton of shooting and scoring talent, but Team LeBron is deeper with better offensive talent, and in the All-Star game, offense trumps defense. While it will be a bit different with the quarter by quarter results, considering there are so many points scored every year in the All-Star game, 4.5 points is basically nothing, and I think this is an easy choice. Team LeBron by double figures.
Things I Like and Things I Don’t Like
I don’t like
Avoiding the Dunk Contest. Zach LaVine was invited to participate in the dunk contest, but has yet again refused to return. LeBron has famously never competed. Zion won’t be there. Why are we stuck with the B-team? Derrick Jones is averaging a career-high 8.7 points per game and Dwight Howard is 40 years old. Seemingly every year, we have at least one player who doesn’t even play a major role on a team, let alone being an All-Star in the contest. That can be fun, but is there any doubt seeing LeBron would be better? Stop dodging and give the fans what they want. (Okay so Howard is only 34, but you believed me).
Adding a Decathlon. On JJ Redick’s podcast, he and Zach LaVine discussed the potential of adding a decathlon to the All-Star game. Imagine watching NBA players play 3v3 volleyball, a football-passing skills competition, a soccer shootout, etc. It might not be completely feasible for some events, but they could make something similar work. Let the fans watch how well-rounded the best basketball players in the world are.
I don’t like
2019-20 All-Star Snubs. In every season, there will be a few players who don’t make the All-Star game and have an argument for making in. Usually these players are on the border of making it, and if they did make it, the person they replaced would have just as good of a gripe about being left off. However, this season was more egregious than usual. Karl-Anthony Towns deserves a spot over a few of the All-Stars in the West, and Jaylen Brown deserves one in the East. But their inclusions weren’t easy decisions. I still disagree with them being left off, but they weren’t insane omissions. Bradley Beal and Devin Booker were.
Beal has been one of the 8 best players in the East this season; Same with Booker in the West. Both of them have played better than *at least* 4 All-Stars in their conference. Leaving them off is an insult. Update: Booker has been named as the replacement for Lillard in the All-Star game. (It’s still insulting he didn’t make the original roster).
Vengeance Tours. Players can find all types of ways to give themselves a chip on their shoulder to drive them to playing harder. This can range from imagined (or invented) slights, to full blown insults. All-Star snubs (whether egregious or minor) will have a chance to get revenge against the players who made it in their stead. I can’t wait for these guys (especially Towns for me) to wreak havoc after the All-Star break.