Grades for the 2021 NBA All-Star Night

March 7th, 2021

by Alan Lu

The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry won the 2021 Mountain Dew 3-Point Contest, and the three-point contest was the best part of the night.
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press, via The Mercury News)

Today, we were treated to a series of events that comprised of the 2021 NBA All-Star Night. Most of the festivities were fun (such as the three-point contest), and one turned out to be very bad (I’m looking at you, dunk contest). Here are my grades for each of the events that happened today.

Although the dunk contest happened during the halftime of the All-Star game, I decided to write that last, since I feel that was by far the worst event, and also to spare some of the readers the pain of having to read through all of my thoughts on this year’s painfully lackluster dunk contest.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge:

Domantas Sabonis won the 2021 Skills Challenge by besting Nikola Vucevic in the final round.
(Source: Twitter/@NBA)

I enjoyed watching the Skills Challenge.  Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic consistently did well in the Skills Challenge, and they ended up facing each other in the finals.  Luka Doncic came up way short in the second round to Sabonis, but Chris Paul came up close only to miss a layup once, and some threes, as he lost to Vucevic.

Indiana Pacers’ center, Domantas Sabonis defeated Orlando Magic’s center, Nikola Vucevic in the final round to win the 2021 Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
(Source: Twitter/@NBA)

Sabonis edged out Vucevic in the skills challenge, and it was fun to watch them pass, handle, and shoot the basketball and compete in a timely manner.  Domantas Sabonis ended up being the 2021 Taco Bells Skills Challenge winner.

The 2021 Skills Challenge Grade: B+

The Mountain Dew 3-Point Contest:

The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry edged out Utah Jazz’s Mike Conley 28-27 in the finals to win the 2021 Mountain Dew 3-Point Contest.
(Source: Twitter/@NBATV)

This was a pretty good contest.  Stephen Curry delivered by making 31, and he notched 28 to defeat Mike Conley on a moneyball winning shot. Mike Conley was calm and efficient, and he served as a good challenger, as the Utah Jazz’s veteran guard finished in second place.  He had 28 and 27 in the two rounds.

Jayson Tatum started off hot by making 25 in the first round, which earned him a trip to the finals in the 3-point shootout, but he quickly ran out of steam in the second, as he ended up with 17 and finished third.

The Stephen Curry’s 1-point win and celebratory finish as he edged out Mike Conley made this a memorable 3-Point Contest to remember.

The 2021 3-Point Contest Grade: A

2021 NBA All-Star Game:

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the All-Star game MVP, as Team LeBron defeated Team Durant in the 2021 NBA All-Star game.
(Source: Twitter/@NBAonTNT)

This game was fun, even though it was a blow out.  We get treated to see Giannis making step-back threes, Dame Lillard and Steph Curry making half-court threes with ease, and it was entertaining all-around.

For those that are interested, here are some of the best highlights of this game:

On this play, Giannis Antetokounmpo made a Curry-esque corner three, as he used a pump fake, and a quick step-back move to make the shot, and he showed off uncanny outside shooting skills to help Team LeBron get the victory.
(Source: Twitter/@NBAonTNT)
Watching Golden State Warriors’ guard, Stephen Curry and Portland Trail Blazers’ guard, Damian Lillard trade threes that they made from way out was really fun to watch.
(Source: Twitter/@NBA)
Damian Lillard made a deep three-point shot from way out to help Team LeBron get the win over Team Durant.
(Source: Twitter/@NBAonTNT)

For those that were interested in who won, Team LeBron won 170-150 over Team Durant, with Giannis Antetokounmpo having won the All-Star game MVP.  Even though it technically qualifies as a blowout, this was very entertaining, with Dame Lillard and Steph Curry trading 40-foot threes, and Giannis going perfect from the field, and also having made multiple bank threes.

I think we’re all winners for having seen this game, and it was just in time for viewers to watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

The 2021 All-Star Game Grade: B+

Runaway thoughts on the At&T Slam Dunk Contest:

This dunk contest was incredibly underwhelming.  To cut to the chase, Portland Trail Blazers’ guard Anfernee Simons was proclaimed the winner, which was entirely expected because there has been an inherent bias in favor of smaller dunkers, but he probably shouldn’t have been named the winner of this dunk contest.

It got off to a bad start when Cassius Stanley threw down a very good, between the legs dunk and finished with his off hand, only to get a 44, and that the judges somehow deemed that to be the worst dunk of the first part of the first round. I thought that dunk would’ve been good enough to get him a 48, and at least a 45 at a minimum.

The same judges gave Anfernee Simons a 48 for leaping up very high to get a ball to dunk it on a normal sized rim, with no other moves, no windmills or between the legs to throw it down.  Put it this way, if Stanley or Toppin replicated Simons’ first dunk or third dunk, the judges would’ve probably just handed them 8s instead.  I get it, it’s impressive watching a player with a 41 1/2-inch vertical leap dunk, but the mere fact that Simons is shorter than the rest of the field should not give him an inherent advantage.  The NBA needs to do a better job of leveling the playing field so that creative, high-degree of difficulty dunks that are completed can be rewarded from dunkers of all sizes.

Stanley’s first dunk may have been the best of the night, and it was graded as the worst dunk of the first part of the first round. Anfernee Simons’ and Obi Toppin’s second dunks were pretty solid, and Stanley seemed to get really discouraged to the point where he decided to only throw down a regular dunk, as he then got eliminated. To me, I felt Simons’ second dunk of the first round was his best dunk, as that one I felt was actually a pretty solid, creative dunk that he threw down that time.

In the finals, Obi Toppin threw down a between the legs dunk just short of the free throw line.  He earns some creativity points, but because he’s 6-9 and much taller than the other contestants, he may have lost a few points because he made it look so effortless.

Much commotion was made after Anfernee Simons attempted to kiss the rim, but his face came up short, but he threw down a forward, one-handed toss dunk, which netted him a 3-2 win over Obi Toppin.  Simons only threw down one creative dunk, which was his second one of the first round, but he threw down multiple underwhelming dunks that kept netting him extremely favorable scores.

It seemed that the judges graded him up on a little guy curve that seemed to help others (i.e. Nate Robinson over Andre Iguodala, or any dunk contest he was in, Fred Jones over Jason Richardson, arguably Spud Webb over Dominique Wilkins, even), and history was doomed to repeat itself.

Honestly, I feel that Cassius Stanley arguably had one of the best dunks of the night, but it was so smooth that it seemed to hurt him. I also felt that no dunk was worthy of a 50, or a 49 even in this dunk contest.  I feel like Obi Toppin should’ve been named the winner, but Anfernee Simons won, and is the 2021 Dunk Contest winner.  But I will say, Obi Toppin should’ve been declared the winner, as I felt his dunks were better all-around.

The flaw in the dunk contest is that it is entirely too subjective, and it is often skewed towards the little guy, which puts every other dunker at a disadvantage.  One possible solution would be to make it less subjective, and make it more definitive like the other two competitions, and one idea I had would be something akin to a dunk contest that is also like a HORSE contest, aka “dunk horse,” but maybe with a shorter word for dunkers to spell out like NBA, or Kobe so then it doesn’t go on forever and so someone doesn’t blow out their knee or their back from constantly jumping. 

The idea would be that the first dunker would do something creative, and the other dunkers would have to try to replicate it, via HORSE rules.  This would mostly eliminate the need for judges.  The only tweak would be with the final elimination, the last person standing would have to complete a dunk that would be deemed a 45 or above to clinch the victory, so that way, it doesn’t get an anti-climatic victory with a missed dunk.   

The overtly little guy curve in the judging means that we were failed as fans, as we were treated to one of the worst dunk contests ever.  To me, the Vince Carter‘s dunk contest win in Oakland in 2000 may have been the best, with the Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins one in 1988 being a close second. Vince Carter threw down some of the most creative, ferocious dunks in NBA history, all in one contest. On a competitive, high-stakes level, the Jordan-Wilkins’ contest was very entertaining, and the Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon dunk contest in 2016 was also an incredibly fun one to watch, as the 2016 dunk contest in my mind was among the best ever.

To me, Orlando Magic’s forward, Aaron Gordon remains the greatest dunker to have never won an NBA slam dunk contest, with his shot in 2020 being the closest in his agonizingly close loss to then Miami Heat forward, Derrick Jones Jr.

But today, the 2021 NBA Dunk Contest today was nowhere close to that level, and today’s dunk contest clearly looked to be among the worst of all-time.

To me, the Fred Jones’ dunk contest “win” over Jason Richardson was the worst dunk contest in NBA history, but today’s dunk contest would rank near the bottom, as it would get awfully close to that.

The 2021 Dunk Contest Grade: F

After all of that, I will now give you my final thoughts on how the All-Star night went in general.

Overall Grade for the 2021 All-Star Night: B-

The dunk contest stuck out as the worst of the night, but all of the other events were very good.  I briefly lost my enthusiasm after having watched the awfulness that was this year’s dunk contest, but watching the second half of the All-Star game got my mood back up again.

If only if we had better judges, Aaron Gordon in the dunk contest, or eliminated the inherent bias favoring little dunkers, that would’ve been better.

The best of the night was Stephen Curry going toe-to-toe with Mike Conley in the three-point contest, and the Skills Challenge and the All-Star game were also very good, which makes up for a very lackluster dunk contest that arguably may have been one of the worst dunk contests in NBA history.

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