Some of the best guards in the NBA will be dribbling, passing, and shooting their way to glory in Saturday’s Skills Challenge. Can we figure out which of the eight participants makes the best basketball pick?
Jason’s record as of Feb. 13: 35-29-4 ATS, 2-4 Totals
Welcome to the Year of the Point Guard. As we head into this weekend’s All-Star festivities in New York, six of the NBA’s Top 10 players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are point guards, including this year’s top MVP candidate at No. 1, Stephen Curry (11.61 WAR). Too bad Curry won’t be participating in Saturday’s Skills Challenge, which he won back in 2011 in his only appearance. But we’ve got eight other quality guards on the launching pad.
So which of these eight guards should be our preferred NBA pick this Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT)? First, let’s get a handle on the format. After last year’s failed attempt at a “relay” using four teams of two guards apiece, it’s back to man-on-man competition. But instead of the old “time trial” system, the eight players will compete tournament-style to determine the winner. Let’s use that as our handicapping base; all NBA odds listed are from Bovada at press time.
Isaiah Thomas (9-2) vs. Patrick Beverley (13-2)
Beverley is a late replacement for John Wall, so he won’t have had as much time to prepare for this event. He’s also known more for his defensive hustle than for his handle. Likewise, Thomas is more of a gunner than a playmaker. We can see Thomas winning this round, then falling to whomever comes out victorious in the next bracket on our list.
Michael Carter-Williams (15-2) vs. Jeff Teague (4-1)
This is the second go-around at the Skills Challenge for both players, although Carter-Williams was involved in last year’s relay format. This has been a breakout season for Teague; he’ll be in the All-Star Game itself on Sunday, having made big strides in his playmaking. Carter-Williams has regressed in his sophomore campaign and is currently bothered by a sore right foot. We’ll take Teague to go through to the finals.
Trey Burke (9-2) vs. Brandon Knight (5-1)
Again, both Burke and Knight have been here before – Burke won last year’s competition in tandem with Damian Lillard, who himself had beaten Knight and Teague in 2013 under the old format. No riding on anyone’s coattails for Burke this year. He’s having a tough season in Utah, and he doesn’t have the same hops as Knight, who has improved his playmaking. Once again, the winner of this bracket looks like cannon fodder for our next duo.
Jimmy Butler (7-1) vs. Kyle Lowry (4-1)
As we go to press, Butler is still scheduled to perform at the Skills Challenge – wait, scratch that. Breaking news: Butler is out with a strained right shoulder. This opens the door for Lowry, who figures to take this event seriously after getting snubbed for last year’s All-Star Game. As with Beverley, whomever replaces Butler will have had little time to prepare for Saturday. There’s a chance it could be someone with previous Challenge experience, but we’ll ride with Lowry anyway. Which sets up our epic final battle…
Jeff Teague vs. Kyle Lowry
Really, it’s anyone game at this point. Lowry’s competiveness might be the determining factor here. But if we look at the past winners of this event, for the most part, the cream has risen to the top. Steve Nash was a two-time winner. So were Lillard and Dwyane Wade. Curry, Derrick Rose and Jason Kidd have all won the Skills Challenge. If we had our choice between Teague (plus-2.38 ORPM) and Lowry (plus-4.76 ORPM) in a normal game situation, we’d still take Lowry, even though Teague appears to be the better defender. Whichever of these eight gentlemen you put in your NBA picks for All-Star Weekend, just remember that the field is wide open. Size your bets accordingly.
Free NBA Pick: Take Lowry (4-1)