A better-than-expected season translated into a couple of All-Star Weekend appearances for the Bucks, even if they didn’t result in any All-Star Game cameos.
The 2015 event, held at the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, featured NBA stars showcasing their skills through the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, the Degree Shooting Stars Challenge (which is different from the Rising Stars Challenge, I promise!), the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Foot Locker Three Point Contest, the Sprite Dunk Contest, and the 2015 All-Star Game brought to you by Kia/State Farm/Gatorade/(insert other sponsor here).
The festivities opened on Friday evening with Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s second appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge. Unlike last year’s fantasy draft between Grant Hill and Chris Webber, 2015’s contest pitted rookies and sophomores from the US against those from the rest of the world. The new format paired Giannis with Andrew Wiggins (Canada, Timberwolves), Rudy Gobert (France, Jazz), Dennis Schröder (Germany, Hawks), and Nikola Mirotic (Montenegro, Bulls), among others, against Victor Oladipo (Magic), Zach LaVine (Timberwolves), Mason Plumlee (Nets), and Trey Burke (Jazz), also among others.
Giannis brought his usual all-around game to an otherwise defense-deficient affair, tallying 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks to go along with 5 turnovers. While he didn’t necessarily dominate the spotlight (which primarily was focused on on Wiggins’, Oladipo’s, and LaVine’s 22-point efforts), the Greek Freak’s impact was certainly felt throughout the night.
Whether it was opening the scoring or playing tight defense on everyone from Oladipo to Plumlee, he definitely brought a larger presence than in his debut a year ago. It was also readily apparent that he takes a different mindset than most players in All-Star games when he opted to put a hard(ish) foul on Plumlee in the open court to make sure he didn’t get away with a breakaway dunk. While it was somewhat of a faux pas given the typically freewheeling attitude of the event, it did show the competitive energy that Giannis brings to each game, regardless of the consequences.
All of your Giannis highlights can be seen here.
The second Buck-involved event of the weekend, the Skills Challenge, also featured a new format. In previous years, NBA stars teamed up in an East vs. West format, resulting in two winners from the same conference. This year, all eight competitors were set into a single-elimination tournament to determine a single winner. In addition, competitors competed head-to-head instead of running for the best time on a solo course. The course itself involved dribbling from one end of the court while weaving through a series of obstacles, completing a chest pass through a tire-sized target (given three opportunities), running to the other end of the court, completing a layup, and running back down the court to hit a three-point shot (again, given three opportunities) or simply making any kind of basket to finish the court.
If you think that sounds complicated, don’t worry. Several of the competitors seemed like they didn’t entirely understand the rules either. That uncertainty, combined with the chaos of multiple players shooting on the same basket, resulted in a sloppy competition that nevertheless created some excitement. Brandon Knight knocked off Burke and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry before finally succumbing to Houston’s Patrick Beverly in the final round. While he got out to a fast start in all three rounds due to his speed and proficiency in precision passing, Knight was unseated by a trailing Beverly, who nearly lost his handle altogether before calmly draining his first three-point attempt to win it.
Finally, the event everyone really came to see: the Dunk Contest! Giannis was the only competitor to enter with a posse of “Greek Goddesses”:
So obviously, he was juiced up and ready to go. Right?
An ambitious dunk attempt (that involved serving the ball to himself off the floor and stretching the limits of even his wingspan) proved to be too much for Giannis to convert in the three attempts provided for his first entry. For his second dunk, Giannis tried something simpler and also more family-oriented:
There. That’s better.
Sadly, even this brother act wasn’t enough to woo the judges and Giannis was eliminated after his second attempt along with Plumlee. While he didn’t really hold a candle to the eventual winner, LaVine, or even runner-up Oladipo, it was pretty cool to see Giannis get some shine and really look like he was having fun while also getting his older brother Thanasis involved.
Thanasis, by the way, had his own highlights and help from his younger brother in the D-League dunk contest:
While it wasn’t exactly the Antetokounmpo domination that we all had hoped to see, a trip to New York did provide some of the young Bucks with another opportunity to showcase their skills on a national stage, hang out with their peers, and get some recognition for their skills. And it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll be seeing at least one Buck in the league’s Sunday night All-Star Game in upcoming years as well.
Next up for the Bucks is a week-ish vacation until they return home to face the Denver Nuggets on Friday.