AP Basketball Writer
The Splash Brothers have turned the 3-point contest into must-see TV. Zach LaVine made the dunk contest cool again.
When the NBA convenes All-Star weekend in Toronto beginning on Friday, the league’s annual “midseason” showcase will be as strong top to bottom as it has been in some time. But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be ways to add more flavor and different twists to keep things fresh.
With that in mind, TNT analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith were asked if there were any changes they would like to see the league make to one of its most popular events of the season. And like most other matters concerning the game, the trio didn’t hesitate to offer some suggestions.
“I would love to see an outdoor game,” Barkley said. “That would be my suggestion.”
That wouldn’t work in Toronto next weekend, obviously. But why not give it a shot when the All-Star Game next goes to Miami or Phoenix or Los Angeles?
Barkley also would like to see the league try a United States versus the World format to get away from the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference matchup used ever since the game was first played in 1951. With the influx of international talent to the league and the NBA’s global reach, it’s an intriguing thought. This year the Rising Stars Challenge featuring the best rookies and sophomores will be played that way.
“We’ve got enough international players now to make it competitive,” Barkley said. “I think that would be exciting.”
Smith would like to see a non-NBA player get a chance to compete against LaVine and the league’s other high flyers in the dunk contest and also wouldn’t mind seeing past 3-point champions get to come back and face the winners of today.
As for Shaq, he proposed a tournament of 1-on-1 games featuring the All-Stars, with the winner taking home $1 million to ratchet up the competition.
All intriguing ideas, but here are some things to watch in Toronto this weekend that will actually be happening:
KOBE’S LAST RIDE: The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant reaches its zenith at the All-Star Game. Fans voted him a starter even though he has been a far cry from his once dominant self, but he’s found his scoring touch just in time. He’s averaging 28.3 points over his last four games.
KAWHI’S DEBUT: San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard is making his first All-Star appearance. The rising star already has won a Finals MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award, but his super-quiet personality seems to be anathema to the All-Star glitz and glamour. Will he come out of his shell, for at least a day or two?
CLASH OF SPLASH: Warriors teammates Steph Curry and Klay Thompson headline the 3-point contest for a second straight year. Curry won last season, but Klay isn’t the only tough competition in a loaded field that also includes James Harden and J.J. Redick.
LAVINE’S ENCORE: The Minnesota Timberwolves guard put on a breath-taking performance as a 19-year-old last year in New York, one that some said was the best since Vince Carter’s peerless show in 2000. The precocious LaVine said he has more tricks up his sleeve for this year when he squares off against Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Denver’s Will Barton and Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.
BIG SKILLS: The annual skills competition has been one of the lesser anticipated events of All-Star weekend. So the NBA is trying something new this year by allowing big men to compete in the guard-oriented obstacle course. Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Golden State’s Draymond Green and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis are the big guys who will give it a go.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City, Wednesday against Orlando: 24 points, 19 rebounds, 14 assists. In a week where Steph Curry scored 51 points and John Wall had 41 points and 10 assists — in the same game! — Westbrook gets the nod for his astounding work on the glass. His 19 boards were the most by a point guard since Jason Kidd in 2007.