I think your vantage point on this weekend’s NBA festivities says a lot about your sports personality. You either love it, delight in the fun, loose nature and marvel at the athleticism and skill of some of the best athletes on the planet, or you bristle at the stale nature of the dunk contest and bemoan the lack of defense as tomorrow’s game turns into a bunch of dudes throwing passes to themselves off the backboard.
Neither vantage point is WRONG, I think it is just very indicative of HOW you consume and enjoy basketball.
Me? I love tonight. Sure, it ain’t the Jordan/Wilkins or Vince Carter shows of our youth, and no, legit STARS aren’t lacing em up for the Dunk Contest (sorry DeAndre Jordan, I know you were First Team All-NBA last year and an Olympian, but I think you guys get my larger point). But it is still a stunning display of athleticism and visual proof of the evolution of the NBA athlete. These guys are doing things ROUTINELY that would have left our jaws on the floor 25 years ago. Dr. J from the foul line? Yawn… Dominque’s Double-Pump? Warm-ups!
I like to enjoy tonight for what it is; a celebration of hoops and skill. But I also admit, it is a little more entertaining with a few bucks on the outcome (especially the 3-point Shootout). So, here’s my card for tonight.
REMINDER – THESE ARE ENTERTAINMENT WAGERS! No real serious “handicapping” for an unguarded shooting contest. Be smart – have some fun if you WANT to, but don’t regard these as events that are meant to be intensely scrutinized (or large) wagers.
Today’s NBA Skills Challenge Picks:
THREE POINT SHOOTOUT:
The favorite is easy and obvious – KLAY. He has such a gorgeous, compact, quick shot it is like he were cosmically created for this event. He is the favorite, and no one else is even close. Of course, that status is well-reflected in the line (+110) in an eight-person field. The second slimmest odds are for Kyrie at +400, to put it in context.
And if you had to CREATE the shot, I might lean Kyrie. He is the best “scorer” in the field and certainly the quickest and most elusive with the ball in his hands. But no one is contesting these shots – you just have to grab one off the rack and fire, so Kyrie is a little over-priced for my liking. He is an excellent shooter, and would absolutely win the “contested layup” contest, but he is not “pure” like Klay or CJ McCollum.
Which brings me to my darkhorse pick, CJ McCollum. He IS a pure shooter. Quick release, compact stroke, deadly accurate. Plus-600 is a nice value play for CJ. My other value play is Eric Gordon. He is the third purest shooter in the field and a nice value at +900, especially playing in his old arena, which could be a little advantage.
Klay is the favorite, but at even money in a crowded field, I’ll shy away and take two lotto tickets instead. I certainly may regret it, but picking the overwhelming favorite here in a crowded field just doesn’t provide a ton of value. Instead, I’ll go with the long shot in his old gym, Gordon, and my favorite overall pick, CJ McCollum in two value plays.
MY PICKS: ERIC GORDON +900, CJ McCOLLUM +600
SLAM DUNK CONTEST:
There’s just four guys in the field, and frankly, just two guys who can legitimately win this thing; the overwhelming favorite, Aaron Gordon and the rookie upstart (slash “who the hell is this guy?”) Derrick Jones, Jr.
Gordon has the edge for two reasons; one, he is an insanely creative and acrobatic dunker, but two, and maybe more importantly, this contest is judged by HUMANS, and those humans know and LIKE Aaron and feel he was a deserving co-champion in last years contest which is being hailed as the greatest in the post-MJ/Nique Era. There will be some strong hold-over sentiment in his favor.
A word of caution – Jones, Jr. can leap in a way we haven’t really seen in this contest before. He isn’t as great at “basketball” but don’t be surprised if he pulls out some Cirque de Solei insanity tonight. We are talking “hit your chest on the rim” type of inhuman nonsense. He looks like the guys who do the trampoline shows at halftime. THAT kind of ridiculous.
But, again, human judges, so I’ll go Aaron Gordon at -150. If Jones were as high as +200, I’d take the flyer, but at +125-ish, I don’t trust these old-school “get off my lawn” retired greats to give the unheralded rookie the benefit of the doubt.
MY PICK: AARON GORDON -150