Young NBA stars on the rise headlined NBA All-Star Saturday Night. Brooklyn Nets Guard Spencer Dinwiddie won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, while Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker dethroned reigning Three-Point Contest Champ Eric Gordon and Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell won a fiercely competitive Slam Dunk Contest.
The Taco Bell Skills challenge placed eight players head-to-head in a bracket format. Sixers rookie Joel Embiid was the first to advance, defeating Al Horford after struggling at the passing tire. Lauri Markkanen, the replacement for New York Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, outshot Andre Drummond at the three-point obstacle to advance.
Spencer Dinwiddie had a comeback victory against Buddy Hield and Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams fell to Jamal Murry. On the second round, Embiid faced Markkanen; the two young players raced neck-and-neck through the obstacles, but Markkanen sealed the deal at the three-point line and reached the final round.
Despite a slow start, Dinwiddie surpassed Murray at the three-point shot to reach the final. Markkanen and Dinwiddie would both meet in the final round. With only one attempt at the pass tire and two at the three-point line, Dinwiddie would become the champion of the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
“I didn’t think Lauri was going to give me more attempts at it,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s big for me to even be at All-Star Weekend considering the road that’s been in my career, very up and down.”
The JBL three-point contest featured L.A. Clippers forward Tobias Harris, and southland natives Paul George and Klay Thompson. Harris set the bar high with 18 points, casting a shadow on Wayne Ellington and George’s attempts.
Reigning three-point champion Eric Gordon did not protect his title with his 12-point effort. Booker hit a rhythm at his third rack to earn a score of 19 and take the lead. Kyle Lowry landed only two money ball shots and earned 11 points.
Washington Wizard Bradley Beal only landed one shot out of his first two racks, scoring 15 points. Thompson rivaled Booker with a 19-point rally.
Booker, Thompson and Harris advanced to the final round. Harris went first and cleared the fourth rack after a slow start to earn 17 points. With the accuracy of a sniper, Booker landed shot after shot, only missing five attempts. Thompson had to beat Booker’s 28 points, coming short at 25.
“My preparation was none,” Booker said. “I just got here, practiced right before I went out there and ended up coming out with the win.”
The Slam Dunk contest was a talented homage to the Association’s rich dunking history. Larry Nance Jr. donned his father and inaugural Slam Dunk champion Larry Nance’s jersey to reenact one of his dunks from 1984. Mitchell stole the show, honoring Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith by taking a pass of the side of the backboard and jumping over his sister, Jordan, along with Kevin Hart and his son.
“Just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing.” Mitchell said. “Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz and he was an incredible player.”
For the win, Mitchell wore the Raptors No. 15 jersey of Vince Carter, committing a 360 slam.
The contest would not go without its share of gimmicks. Mitchell acquired two basketball hoops to bounce the ball off one backboard to dunk it in the other. Victor Oladipo summoned the power of Wakanda, taking a Black Panther mask from Chadwick Boseman before one of his dunks.
Through their talent, creativity, and skill, the young winners of Saturday night showed the bright future the NBA has.