Even though we are still two months away from the NBA All-Star Weekend, some Indiana Pacers players have made quite a compelling case on why they should be in the All-Star Weekend festivities. The NBA All-Star Weekend typically lasts three days and has four components to it. The components are usually a Celebrity All-Star game, a Rising Stars game for younger NBA players that display exceptional skills, a Dunk Contest, and the coveted NBA All-Star game. On Feb. 18, 2018, the NBA All-Star game will switch from its traditional East vs. West format to something like a pick-up game. The captains of each team will be the Top 2 players that receive the most amount of votes to participate in the All-Star game from fans. From there, the captains will pick their teams from the list of players that make the cut from fan votes to be in the All-Star game. This season, All-Star Weekend will be held in Los Angeles from Feb. 16 – 18.
Since the celebrity game doesn’t apply to any NBA players, we will start with the possibilities for a unique Pacers player to be in the Rising Stars Challenge. The Rising Stars Challenge is a basketball game comprised of two NBA teams, one with all rookies and one with second year, or ‘sophomore’, players. The Pacers squad has a few rookies and sophomores, but no one is sticking out right now like Domantas Sabonis. Since he has come to Indianapolis, Sabonis has had six double-doubles with points and rebounds. He is currently averaging 12 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season, and these numbers are a huge boost from his rookie season. Sabonis is leading the team in rebounds per game and he is doing that while coming off of the bench. On the depth chart, Sabonis is behind starting big men Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner, but he is a great replacement for either big man off the bench. If Sabonis can carry these trends all regular-season long, he will make a great case for the Sixth Man of the Year Award at the end of the season. I can see Sabonis playing in the Rising Stars Challenge in February for the sophomore team.
The next crucial part for NBA players of the All-Star Weekend, apart from the Rising Stars Challenge, is the Skills Challenge. The Skills Challenge is a basketball obstacle course that consists of dribbling, passing, and shooting. Players must knock down shots and layups as well as go through the obstacle course that consists of completing passes through nets and dribbling through the course. I feel the most qualified person from the Pacers’ squad for the Skills Challenge is PG Darren Collison. Collison is on his ninth season in the NBA and he knows his way around the NBA style of play. Darren would be a great fit for the Skills Challenge because he demonstrates exceptional three-point shooting (38% so far this season), highlight reel ball-handling skills, and he is averaging 6.2 assists so far this season (which is better than his career average of 4.9 assists). Collison has had five double-doubles this season with points and assists and he even put on a 16-assist performance this season against the reformed Minnesota Timberwolves. Collison displays his basketball knowledge every time he takes the court, and I feel he is a great candidate for the Skills Challenge from the Pacers’ roster.
Finally, we have come to who could be in the NBA All-Star game, and Victor Oladipo has solidified a spot on his new Indiana Pacers team so far this season. He is leading the squad in points per game with 24.3 points. Along with the scoring title, Oladipo has had some impactful and dominating games. This season, Oladipo notched a career-high in points against the Denver Nuggets. He accumulated 47 points in that game as well as six assists and seven rebounds. He also hit a huge game winning three-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs on his home court. Oladipo is also leading the squad in a few other categories including three-pointers made per game (2.7), free-throws attempted per game (5.2), free-throws made per game (4), and the most amount of two-point field goals made per game with 6.1. The All-Star Weekend marks the halfway point of the NBA season, and Oladipo has made an outstanding case so far to be a part of this year’s All-Star game. In his fifth NBA season, Victor has made huge offensive and defensive improvements and is making a lot of big plays. I feel he is the most qualified Pacer for the All-Star game this year.
Here is another interesting fact, Oladipo’s most dunks made in a season is 45. He is currently past the halfway threshold with 27 dunks made already, and we aren’t even halfway into the season! The insane athleticism that he is displaying this season could earn him another ticket to the Dunk Contest during the All-Star Weekend. The last time he participated in the Dunk Contest, Oladipo was a part of the Orlando Magic. Since then, I feel Oladipo has improved and from his past Dunk Contest experience. If he is selected again this season, he will need to add more creativity to his moves than when he was in the Dunk Contest for the Magic.
It would be a real treat for Pacers fans to see Oladipo, Sabonis, and Collison all in competitions during the All-Star Weekend. These players are a huge reason why the Pacers are above .500 currently, and their contributions to the team have not gone unnoticed. Collison leads the team in assists per game, Sabonis leads the team in rebounds per game, and Oladipo is leading the way for the team in scoring. Oladipo has become a fan-favorite in the town of Indianapolis, and the Indiana Pacers are starting to look like they got the better end of the stick in the Paul George trade. I look forward to watching these players play through the rest of December and I hope to see them continue playing well through January and into the All-Star Weekend.
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