In the years since, the 3-point contest has eroded into becoming one of less exciting parts of the NBA Saturday night All-Star snoozefest. Lately, such memorable names as James Jones (riding the bench for the Cavaliers); Daequan Cook (now with SPO Rouen Basket in the French league); and the recently retired Jason Kapono won the skill challenge. The only two marquee names who have won the shooting crown in modern times are Cavs teammates Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
For this weekend’s 3-point affair, there’s hope for a mini revival. No, Larry Bird will not be dragging his arthritic body onto the court, and Hodges will not take the weekend off from his current duties at head coach for the Halifax Rainmen. A crop of young stars who can nail a ring-tailed howitzer (come on, trivia buffs) from behind the arc will attempt to thrill the crowd.
This year’s contestants are:
Marco Belinelli (Spurs)
Last year’s winner, Belinelli is a bit of a role player with the San Antonio Spurs, his fifth team since joining the NBA in 2007. A bit mechanical in his approach, he possess the quiet on-court prowess typical of players who started playing pro in Europe. It’s rare that a 3-point shooter wins two years in a row, and this weekend that jinx will hold true. Semifinalist at best
Stephen Curry (Warriors)
Considered by many to be the greatest shooter in NBA history, Steph is the son Del Curry, a marksman himself who retired as the Charlotte Hornets’ all-time leading 3-point scorer. Leaving aside the argument that Jerry West, Ray Allen, Dale Ellis, and a few others were better shooters than Curry, in big events such as this one, big stars tend to perform rather dismally. (Richie Sexson, MLB Home Run Derby, 2003). Bold prediction: He will not make it beyond the first round.
James Harden (Rockets)
No doubt only selected for his bow tie, stylish facial hair, and colorful on-court manner, the former Sun Devil is not even among the current top 20 3-point shooters in the league. He may be a fringe MVP candidate, but Harden is another first-round bust Saturday night.
Kyrie Irving (Cavaliers)
Who doesn’t love the Australian-born former Duke star who was the MVP in last year’s All-Star game? Irving’s ankle-breaking crossover rep and winning smile—not to mention those great Pepsi commercials—are the reason he was selected for the shootout. Statistically, he is tied for 14th in the league with a forgettable 41.5 percent accuracy from long distance. He will make it to the second round, but nothing more.
Kyle Korver (Hawks)
Even with an off night, this former Creighton star who holds the Philadelphia 76er record for 3-point shooting, is the favorite to win the shootout. A true long-range assassin, Korver sits atop the league leaders having made an astounding 52.3 percent of his long-range bombs. He also leads with 161 big-time buckets. Unless he gets lost in traffic, this stone cold shooter will take home the trophy.
Wesley Matthews (Trailblazers)
Who? Now why would the NBA braintrust select Matthews for the shootout? Well, he is the all-time leader for 3-point scoring for the Blazers, but with a career long-range average at 39 percent, it only means he was what they call “a chucker.” He also is an iron man, playing 250 consecutive games before sitting out with a hip injury, so he is sure to complete his rounds without serious injury. Matthews may be playing in the Saturday night contest to pay for his $20,000 fine which he received after being ejected in November.
J.J. Redick (Clippers)
Tied for seventh among current 3-point shooters, the former Duke star was the 2006 NCAA player of the year, and the 11th pick the draft that year. Redick, owner of a picture-perfect long-range jumper, has turned out to be a mediocre pro, with a lifetime scoring average a hair over 10 points per game. A guard who averages only two assists a game is not ticketed for the hall of fame. Still, I like Redick as a dark horse here.
Klay Thompson (Warriors)
With his running mate Stephen Curry, Thompson makes up half of the high-flying Splash Brothers—the force behind the Golden State Warriors’ league-leading record. With a lightning-quick release, Thompson is averaging more than 22 points per game, and is sixth in the league in 3-point accuracy. The former WSU Cougar has to be among the favorites, but playing in his first All-Star Game, Thomson may have a bit of the jitters which could cost him the big prize.
After due consideration, I am selecting Korver to win, beating out Klay Thompson in the finals. Korver is part of the magic formula that has led to the bewildering turnaround of the Atlanta Hawks, and it’s his first All-Star Game after being in the league since 2003. Consider the fact that he’s played on some gawdawful teams (like the Sixers), so it all sounds like a feel-good story to me.
Photo via Rus Kersey/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)