What a spectacle! First, we had a Celebrity Game. This was followed by an entertaining game that featured Rising Stars, the best rookies and sophomores in the NBA. Then we had a Skills Challenge, a Three-Point Contest, and a Slam Dunk Competition. Finally, we had twenty six of the world’s finest cagers displaying their wares in a super-loaded weekend of fun and frenzy.
Charlotte brought out the reddest of red carpets to show the world what a great city it was. It is said that city officials lined up more than 150 different city events for the weekend, topped by the game of games, the spectacle of stars, the NBA All-Star game featuring arguably the 26 best cagers in the planet.
But more than the spectacular shots and the death-defying dunks, more than the sizzling speed and fancy flight so abundantly displayed, more than the fun-soaked fans that came to see the circus, what did the NBA All-Star Weekend tell us? What else did the cage gods gift us with? What lessons did we learn that we need to prepare for in the future? Here are some of my takeaways:
- The Europeans are coming!!!
In fact, the whole world is coming. Giannis took in all 5 rookies into his all-star squad: Nikola Jokic, Nikola Vucevic, Khris Middleton, D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons, although Simmons would later be traded to Team Lebron. Of the 5 new All-Stars, only 2 are homegrown American talents, Khris and D’Angelo, who only came in as a substitute for the injured Victor Oladipo. The 2 Nikolas were born and raised in Europe (Jokic is from Serbia, and Vooch is from neighboring Montenegro) and Ben Simmons hails from Australia. If Ben had stayed with Team Giannis, they could have fielded a ‘Rest of the World’ team composed of the 2 Nikolas, Giannis, Ben and Joel Embiid (Cameroon).
Luka Doncic, that 19-year old sensation from Slovenia, would have easily made the All-Stars if fan-vote alone were to count. He’ll definitely be ready for the big-time next year. Of course, there’s Kyrie Irving (he has a dual citizenship for Australia and the US, and I didn’t know this till now). And then there’s Kristaps Porzingis, from Latvia, who is also expected to make waves next season. Of course, there are the veterans Goran Dragic, also of Slovenia; Tony Parker from France; brothers Pau and Mark Gasol from Spain; Loul Deng of South Sudan; and Al Horford, from the Dominican Republic, all former all-stars. And then there are budding stars who may still make it to the top. Guys like Rudy Gobert (France), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania), and Deandre Ayton (Bahamas). Indeed, the cage kingdom is rapidly expanding. With more talents coming from Europe, Africa and the rest of the world. A total of 108 international players are playing in the NBA this season. The game is no longer played solely in the US of A. Kids are speeding and soaring and shooting from all over the world now.
Hakeem Olajuwon, from Nigeria (1994) was the first non-American to have won the NBA’s coveted MVP award. He would be followed by Tim Duncan of the Virgin Islands (2002, 2003), Steve Nash (Canada – 2005, 2006), and finally, Dirk Nowitzki of Germany (2007). And now, Giannis, the Greek Freak, is giving a serious case as the next non-American to be crowned king.
2. Speed and space are now the name of the game.
Incidentally, in my previous article (The 2019 NBA All-Star Extravaganza: Who You Got?), I predicted Team Lebron to beat Team Giannis by a score of 175 – 167. The final score was 178 – 164. Boy, how close is that?
The game seemed to have become the All-Stars’ oversized 3-point and dunk showcase. With practically no defense played, the stars played soft ‘D’ and tried to keep away from injuries. But even as the defense relaxed, what was very evident was the growing emphasis on speed and proper spacing.
Gone are the days when teams would walk the ball, wait for their big bodies to occupy a huge part of the shaded lane, before commencing the attack. Today’s positionless ball calls for a full-throttle charge with take-no-prisoners written all over their faces. If the opponent is just as fast, teams resort to quick ball movement and spacing to confound the opposite team. This evolution in the game was in full display.
3. As size get bigger, so will scores soar.
Today’s players are becoming ridiculously bigger, faster, and can soar higher. And as they grow bigger, their shooting range increase proportionately. The All-Star game showed us more shots fired from outer space. So unlike a decade ago, when only a select few had the firepower in their offensive arsenal. Even today, regular season games have shown a marked increase in 3-point shots attempted, and points scored.
Not anymore. The shock heave from Jayson Tatum to win the Skills Challenge signals the new era of the long-range bombs. Next year, I foresee the All-Star Game finally breaching the 200-point mark. Previously viewed as unreachable as the moon, that 200-points is bound to fall.
4. New alliances are shaping up.
Lebron had great opportunities to tinker with different line-ups, what with his team shored up – deliberately or not – with soon-to-be free agents. Howdy, folks! Here’s how a much-publicized Bron – Anthony Davis union will look like. Would a Bron reunion with Kyrie Irving appeal to you? Add in a Klay Thompson. How does a Bron-Durant tandem look like? Or a Bro-Kawhi tag team? Yeah, Ben Simmons could run our Laker offense just like Magic did decades ago. How about if we try Damian running point? Even a Durant-Irving tandem was on display. Mix and match; who fits, who doesn’t. Both Team Lebron and Team Giannis had mouth-watering fantasy line-ups for the fans to see.
The NBA landscape is about to change. Drastically. And it’s coming very soon.
Gentlemen and ladies, it is now just a short sprint to the end of the regular season. The All-Star Game was indeed a fun respite. But at the same time, it provided us a teaser of what to expect not just in the season to come, but in the playoffs only a few weeks up ahead.
Gentlemen, the die is cast. Let us prepare for war.