Tonight is my personal favorite part of All-Star weekend. As much flack as the Slam Dunk contest gets for being played out or whatever, I still marvel at the athletic abilities of the participants. The three-point shootout is usually good for some drama, and the Skills Challenge can get pretty interesting. There's no Shooting Stars competition this year, so let's look at the fields for the remaining events:
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
For the second straight year, the Skills Challenge will feature a head-to-head bracket to determine a champion. For the first time ever, though, big men will be involved.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
The rookie Mudiay is replacing the Rockets' Patrick Beverley, last year's champion, who is unable to participate due to an ankle injury. In my opinion, Mudiay has been the best point guard in this rookie class (sorry, D'Angelo). We'll see how he does under the spotlight of All-Star weekend.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The first big man on the list, it'll be interesting to see how Cousins fares. Normally a low post player who doesn't do a lot of dribbling, Cousins is a good passer for his size. How it translates to the competition will be key.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Green is arguably the worst ball handler of the competition. He's also one of the best passers. Can his strength help him overcome his shortcoming?
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Davis was a point guard in high school before hitting a growth spurt so he may have an advantage the other bigs don't. Speed is the name of the game here and Davis is pretty quick for a man of his stature.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
McCollum is normally known as more of a scorer, but he is quick with the ball. His backcourt partner Damian Lillard won the event in 2014 (along with the Utah Jazz's Trey Burke, back when it was a team event) and you know McCollum doesn't want to go back to Portland empty handed and have to hear about it.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Towns is one of the hardest working rookies. In college, he started out as a low post dominant player and worked on his jump shot, eventually being relied on heavily for his three point ability. I get the feeling he may want a win more than anyone else in the field.
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
The Tacoma native and Washington Husky will be in the All-Star Game on Sunday for the first time, but he'll also take part in the Skills Challenge tonight. Thomas is usually a scoring point guard, but he has good handles and if he can hit the passes, he should be considered a favorite.
Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers
Clarkson has been a league surprise. Not quite to the point of Thomas, but he was a second round pick who made the All-Rookie first team. He's now having to defend his starting point guard position against D'Angelo Russell, and a win here would help his cause.
Foot Locker 3-Point Contest
In the second event, the long range shooters take the stage. Here's who will be taking part:
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Well, that doesn't seem fair. Curry, last year's champion, is shooting .458 on the season, .015 higher than he shot last year. He's fourth in the league in percentage and first in attempts (and makes). Good luck, everyone else.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Steph's Splash Brother, Thompson is shooting .434 from downtown. Thompson won the first round last year, but could only hit 14 in the finals.
J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers
Another carryover from last year, Redick couldn't get out of the first round, shooting 18. However, he leads the league in three point percentage this season at .482.
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Middleton is shooting .411 from beyond the arc and has been a pleasant surprise for Milwaukee the past two seasons. We'll see how that talent transcends into the three point competition.
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden came in dead last in last year's competition with a score of 15. His shot is a little slower than some of the others, causing him to have to hurry it up to get all the shots in before time runs out. We'll see if he's figured it out.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Bosh was so good at the Shooting Stars Competition that they had to shut the whole thing down after his team won it four years straight. We know Bosh can hit half court heaves, but how will he fare in the three point contest?
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Lowry is only shooting .388 from beyond the arc this season, but he's the hometown player so he gets a pass.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Booker is a guy who can flat out shoot. He's not as high as some of the others in the competition at .418, but he's a rookie. We'll see how he holds up under the spotlight.
Verizon Slam Dunk
In the main event of the evening, the league's high flyers look to dazzle the crowd. Here are this year's participants:
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
Last year, Renton native LaVine put on a show, throwing down bethween-the-legs dunks from every angle. However, he was disappointed in himself for not getting a perfect score every round and told reporters he didn't even pull out the tough dunks. It'll be interesting to see what he's got up his sleeve as he looks to defend his crown.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Big men are usually at a disadvantage in the dunk contest so Drummond will have to be extra creative to win. Can he follow in the footsteps of Dwight Howard and steal the title? I can't say I've seen him do much more than a putback dunk, but I'm willing to see what kind of tricks he has.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Gordon is a freak athlete and recently threw down a Harold Miner-esque double clutch reverse IN A GAME. If there's a clear challenger to LaVine, one would think it would be Gordon.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
Barton isn't the sexiest name on the list, but they don't call him "The Thrill" for nothing. Nearly half of his field goals this season have been dunks, totaling 31 slams in all. Anyone who has watched Barton during warmups knows he has some moves and could be a dark horse.