After 30 years of absence, the NBA All-Star Game returns to Utah. This weekend, starting early on February 18th (Baltics time) and stretching till Monday morning, February 20th, basketball fans will be pampered by several exciting NBA competitions, such as the skills challenge, Dunk contest, 3-point contest, and others.
The All-Star weekend will kick off with a Celebrity Game and conclude with the main spectacle, the All-Star Game itself, as Team LeBron will take on Team Giannis. What are these year’s starters? What are the biggest snubs, and which players will miss this event due to injuries? Let’s take a closer look.
All-Star Game format
The starters and reserves have been voted. You would think now is the right time to hold a draft and determine which players will play for which team. Not this time. Unlike other years, this time will be the first when the All-Star Draft will take place directly before the game itself. Lebron, who is freshly coming off from beating Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record, and is on pace to break the legendary player’s record for most All-Star appearances (19), will have the first pick in the starters draft. With his 7th All-Star appearance, Giannis will proceed with the 2nd pick. The draft will continue in this manner until all four starters for each team have been selected. Next, the NBA head coaches will choose the 14 reserves (seven for each team).
This year’s All-Star Game will use the same format as the 2020 edition when a “target score” to determine the winner. Each of the three quarters will start with a score of 0-0 and will last 12 minutes. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the game clock will be turned off, and a Final Target Score will be set. It will be determined by taking the leading team’s total accumulated score through three quarters and adding 24 points, a dedication to the late Kobe Bryant. For example, if the cumulative score of the first three quarters is 100-90, the Final Target Score will be 124 points. The teams will then play an untimed fourth quarter. The first team to reach the Final Target Score will win the NBA All-Star Game.
- Two-time reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokić from Denver Nuggets with his 5th appearance.
- Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen has deservedly earned his first All-Star appearance and will represent this year’s host, Utah Jazz.
- Memphis Grizzlies leader Ja Morant will make his 2nd appearance.
- Red-hot Luka Dončić from Dallas Mavericks with his 4th appearance.
- Joel Embiid from the Philadelphia 76ers will look to make his 6th appearance.
- This season’s current highest scorer, Jayson Tatum from Boston Celtics, with his 4th fourth appearance.
- Donovan Mitchell from the Cleveland Cavaliers is currently having his career-best season and will look to inspire the All-Star Game with his 4th appearance.
- Dallas Mavericks’ new signing Kyrie Irving will make his 8th All-Star appearance.
Biggest snubs and injured stars
James Harden, the 2018 MVP and ten-time All-Star, will miss the event for the first time since 2013. The player didn’t shy away from voicing his displeasure about not being selected this year, and you can understand why. Although the prime years of his career might be behind him, Harden still puts up All-Star-worthy statistics for the Philadelphia 76ers, helping his team to one of the best records in the Eastern Conference.
Almost 30 points and over ten assists on average per game, as well as 27 double-doubles this season, wasn’t enough for the undisputed leader of the Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young. However, this isn’t the first time. He was also not voted in the 2021 All-Star game. Was it the dislike from fans (and even commentators) that he receives due to his playing style or the lack of Hawks games being televised nationally? For now, it remains a mystery.
Jimmy Butler has had six All-Star selections (played in four) in his career and is unquestionably one of the NBA’s best defenders, with five NBA All-Defensive Team honors in his pocket. The Olympic gold medalist is averaging solid two steals per game this season and is also the leading scorer for Miami Heat with 21.7 points on average. You might think a spot in this year’s All-Star Game is guaranteed. Sadly, not this time, probably because of the time he missed due to injuries. However, Butler himself is still seemingly happy with the time off, joking, “I’m happy I get a vacation”.
Unfortunately, no one’s safe from injuries. Even the best basketball players in the world haven’t been spared. This year, we’ll have to make do without the 3-point parade by the brilliant Steph Curry. The four-time NBA champion will miss his 9th All-Star appearance due to a leg injury. Meanwhile, a knee injury will see the 13-time All-Star and Phoenix Suns’ newest acquisition, Kevin Durant, on the sidelines. Lastly, Zion Williamson won’t be able to attend his 2nd All-Star Game with a hamstring injury. The 22-year-old, while explosive and dominant, has proven to be highly injury prone, much to the chagrin of the New Orleans Pelicans, who were one of the most promising teams at the start of the season but have lost the momentum without Zion.