It’s All Star weekend in the NBA, with the greatest basketball players in the world heading to Utah to put on a show for the fans. The main action gets underway with All Star Saturday Night featuring the Skills Challenge, 3-Point and Slam Dunk Contests, before the Main All Star Game on Sunday, and there are plenty of betting opportunities for us to explore.
NBA All Star Skills Challenge
The Skills Challenge feels like a bit of a filler event, and the NBA is still to find a format that really appeals to the masses. This year it features three teams of three - one made up of home Utah Jazz players, one of Rookies, and one of three of the Antetokounmpo brothers.
The format sees a timed team relay testing dribbling, passing and shooting skills, then a passing round followed by a shooting round. Safe to say it should in general suit the smaller, more skilful guys, ruling out Team Antetokounmpo - Giannis, Thanasis and Alex - straight away. The rookie team - Paulo Banchero, Jaden Ivey and Jabari Smith Jnr - will be a danger, but if we’re having a bet here, I’d side with the favourites, the Jazz team - Jordan Clarkson, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton - to be roared home by the partizan Utah crowd.
NBA All Star Skills Challenge Odds
|Team Jazz||Team Rookie||Team Ante|
Recommendation: 3pts Team Jazz to win the Skills Challenge at odds of 1.90
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NBA All Star 3-Point Contest
The 3-Point Contest has become the highlight of the All Star Game side events as the Slam Dunk Contest’s appeal wanes, but it feels a bit like it’s lacking in star names this year. The NBA drew criticism when it announced the eight participants - Tyrese Haliburton, Tyler Herro, Buddy Hield, Kevin Huerter, Damian Lillard, Lauri Markkanen, Anfernee Simons (since injured and replaced by Julius Randle) and Jayson Tatum - as it featured none of the top 10 three point shooters by percentage.
With no Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, widely regarded as the two best shooters in the league, the favourites are 2020 winner Buddy Hield and arguably, alongside Jayson Tatum, the biggest name in the field, Damian Lillard.
The format of the 3-point contest is random enough that anyone has a chance to win. The eight players get 70 seconds each to score as many points as possible. There are five stations around the 3-point arc with five balls each, the first four worth one point and the final ‘moneyball’ worth two. These days there are also two ‘Starry balls’ worth three points, stationed much deeper, around half way between the halfway and 3-point lines.
The top three scorers in the first round go again in the final, with the top scorer in the final (even if it’s less than was scored in the first round) crowned champion.
You can make an argument for many of the competitors, but I can’t look past Lillard. He’s averaging over 31 points with over four threes per game on the season, and since the turn of the year he’s ratcheted up his production even more, upping his average to 34.5ppg in January and over 36 in February.
As well as being bang in form, Lillard is the one player of these eight that you’d make favorite to have the range to connect with one of the ‘Starry balls’ - doing so on one will give a massive advantage, and on both would make him very hard to beat. It could well be Dame time.
Anyone looking for a lively outsider could do worse than backing Lauri Markkenen. He’s had an unbelievable season for the Utah Jazz having joined with minimal fanfare as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade, and has deservedly been called up for his first All Star Game proper.
With the home fans cheering on their new darling, I wouldn’t put it past the big Finn adding another chapter to his dream first season with the Jazz.
NBA All Star 3-Point Contest Odds
6pts Damian Lillard to win 3-Point Contest at odds of 5.00
2pts Lauri Markkanen to win 3-Point Contest at odds of 7.00
NBA All Star Slam Dunk Contest
It feels like we’re at a crossroads with the Dunk Contest, with many basketball fans feeling it’s had its day. Obi Toppin won last year in what many regard as the worst Dunk Contest ever, and the days of superstars like Michael Jordan competing, or the gravity defying feats of Spud Webb and Vince Carter seem distant memories. There’s always the hope that we get a surprisingly good array of dunks, as happened a couple of years ago between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon. Any repeat of last year’s snoozefest, where 90% of the dunks seemed to be misses, and this could be the beginning of the end of this event.
The NBA have not been helped that Shaedon Sharpe, the Portland rookie who has been grabbing headlines with his in-game dunking prowess, decided to pull out to concentrate on making his way in the big league.
While Sharpe is ducking the Dunk Contest for the sake of his NBA career, Mac McClung is doing the opposite. The former Georgetown Hoya is yet to make his mark on the pros despite being aged 24, and is currently on a two-way deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, though he is yet to take the court for them. Last year, he managed 22 minutes in his one game with the LA Lakers and three minutes in his one game with the Chicago Bulls, but he enters the Dunk Contest as the favourite to win.
McClung has built a reputation as an acrobatic dunker with a vertical of around 45 inches, and to whet the appetite further, he’s teased two dunks that have never before been seen in the Dunk Contest.
With the motivation that success on the national stage might give his NBA career that boost it needs, and his reputation as a dunking specialist, McClung looks a worthy favourite, but can any of the other entrants cause an upset?
Jericho Sims certainly piques some interest. It’s rare to see a big man in the dunk contest, but the 6ft10 New York Knick is no lumbering center, and certainly has shown he has hops. He may have been my value pick had I not caught a throw away comment from Jamal Crawford on NBA TV last week.
No mean dunker himself, Crawford was asked who his fancy to win the Dunk Contest was, and he let slip that Kenyon Martin Jr was his favourite due to his leaping ability…and his Dad, former NBA player Kenyon Martin, being an old mate.
Where that becomes interesting is Crawford is one of the five judges for this year’s Slam Dunk Contest. Along with two two-time Dunk champs, Harold Miner and Dominique Wilkins, hometown hero Karl Malone and WNBA legend Lisa Leslie, Crawford will be marking the dunks and deciding the winner, and knowing we have 20% of the panel onside is good enough for me to have a medium bet on KMart Jnr to take the title.
NBA All Star Slam Dunk Odds
|Kenyon Martin Jnr||3.75|
|Trey Murphy III||4.50|
6pts Kenyon Martin Jnr to win the Slam Dunk Contest at odds of 3.75
NBA All Star MVP
The actual All Star Game isn’t a great betting heat with the teams not even known until around an hour before tip now that it’s a case of the two captains, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, taking it in turns to draft their sides.
There is betting on the MVP though, and with so many great players on show, there are plenty of big price tempters, as ever, it’s just finding the right one.
With basically no defence played, it’s often either someone who catches fire from 3-point range, or who puts on some showstopping dunks who attracts the votes, and Donovan Mitchell and Anthony Edwards fit the bill for both. Both players are enjoying fantastic seasons, are bang in form, and can shoot it and get up and dunk with the best of them.
Mitchell, of course, is returning to Utah having been traded away in the off-season, and will not get the friendliest of welcome homes. That will go one way or the other, with Spida either putting on a show and getting his former fans back on side, or he’ll not enjoy the experience and barely play. With a lot of the older players probably looking forward to a rest rather than putting on a show, I’m happy to back Mitchell to do the former at odds of 15.0.
As for Ant Man, he’s been brilliant since KAT went down with an injury in Minnesota, and aged just 21 is young, athletic and exciting enough to put on the kind of show that could see the MVP votes flooding in if he’s given enough game time.
NBA All Star MVP Odds - Top 10 in the odds
2pts Donovan Mitchell to win All Star Game MVP at odds of 13.00
1pt Anthony Edwards to win All Star Game MVP at odd of 26.00
All betting results and odds provided by PlayUp, Australia's best NBA sportsbook.
By Max Bennett | 02/18/23
Follow Max Bennett on Twitter at @MaxBTheJumpHub