The three-point contest features nothing but all-stars: Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz and Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls. This year’s event will include multiple shot attempts from six feet beyond the arc.
In the skills challenge, in which players dribble, pass and shoot in a timed, obstacle-course-like environment, there will be six competitors, including five all-stars: Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns, Julius Randle of the Knicks, Domantas Sabonis of the Pacers and Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic. Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington rounds out the group.
The three-man dunk contest is the smallest pool of contestants in the event’s history and is decidedly lacking in a well-known headliner. While LaVine, a two-time winner, and New Orleans Pelicans sensation Zion Williamson were selected as all-stars, they passed on the opportunity to compete in the dunk contest. Trail Blazers forward Derrick Jones Jr. and Magic forward Aaron Gordon — who finished first and second in last year’s event — also declined, as did Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges and Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, according to Yahoo Sports.
Recruiting participants for this year’s events was surely made more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted the NBA to hold a scaled-down, single-day All-Star Weekend in a bubblelike environment and a largely empty arena. Rather than taking place on Saturday like usual, the skills contest and three-point contest will start at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time Sunday before the All-Star Game tips off at 8. The slam dunk contest will be held at halftime and will be judged by five former winners: Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb, Josh Smith, Dee Brown and Jason Richardson. Wilkins, Webb and Smith claimed their crowns as members of the Atlanta Hawks.
After last year’s dunk contest was spoiled by controversial judging, fans were surely hoping for all-star participation to provide a boost. Alas, here’s a rundown of what to expect from this year’s participants, who lack star power but have plenty of impressive highflying acts to their names.
Obi Toppin, Knicks: The 6-foot-9, 220-pound rookie forward drew regular comparisons to Amar’e Stoudemire during the pre-draft process thanks to his easy leaping ability and power. Toppin, 22, hasn’t played much this season because of injuries after being selected eighth, but he was a highlight-reel regular during his days at Dayton.
His signature in-game dunk is a two-handed alley-oop finish, with a little extra flourish as he swings on the rim, but Toppin has a deep arsenal, including windmills with either hand. A mix tape that circulated in November showed Toppin going between his legs to finish a right-handed slam after throwing an alley-oop to himself off the backboard, among other tricks.
Anfernee Simons, Trail Blazers: The 21-year-old is 6-3, but his slight frame and incredible bounce conjure memories of Nate Robinson and Webb when he hurtles through the air. In his third season with the Trail Blazers after making the leap from IMG Academy, the 2018 first-round pick is still finding his way in a backcourt led by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Simons, who posted a 41½-inch vertical leap during the 2018 draft combine, told the Athletic this week that he would like to use Lillard in his routine and was receiving instruction from Jones, his Blazers teammate and last year’s winner. High school tape shows Simons throwing down windmills and double-pump reverse dunks after tossing alley-oops to himself, and at one point he jumped high enough to graze the back of his head on the rim.
Cassius Stanley, Pacers: Stanley, 21, has appeared in just eight games for the Pacers during his rookie season. But he has been a social media celebrity for years thanks to a vertical leap that reached 46½ inches during his season at Duke, breaking Williamson’s program record, and a class-leading 44 inches at the 2020 draft combine.
The 6-5 wing drew plenty of attention online during his standout prep career in Southern California, and he went through his legs backward to finish with his left hand during a 2018 dunk contest. There’s a gracefulness to Stanley, a 2020 second-round pick, whose best work sees him float smoothly before finishing with authority.