The city of Charlotte, North Carolina, will roll out the red carpet for the NBA’s biggest and brightest stars over the next three days, but don’t be surprised if the fun, young Kings roll in to paint the town purple for All-Star Weekend.
The Kings will not have a representative in Sunday’s All-Star Game, but the first two days of the extravaganza could amount to a Sactown takeover with four players participating in three marquee events. The Rising Stars game Friday will feature De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Marvin Bagley III. On All-Star Saturday Night, Fox will take part in the Skills Challenge and Buddy Hield will compete against some of the league’s best shooters in the 3-Point Contest.
“It’s going to be fun,” Fox said.
The NBA is already buzzing about the surprising success of a Kings team that is in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race after being projected to win fewer than 30 games. Just imagine the narrative if Fox wins the skills contest, Hield wins the 3-point contest and one of the Kings’ young talents shines enough to win MVP in the Rising Stars game.
These possibilities are not so farfetched.
According to the Bovada online sportsbook, Fox is the odds-on favorite to win the Skills Challenge, a timed event that tests each contestant’s ball-handling, passing and shooting abilities. Fox is one of the fastest players in the league, so getting through the course quickly shouldn’t be a problem. If he buries the 3-pointer on his first attempt, he will be difficult to beat.
“He’s built for it,” Hield said. “With his quickness and his passing ability, all he has to do is make the shot and he’ll be fine.”
Hield has the second-best odds in the 3-Point Contest, trailing only Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Hield is fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 44.9 percent. He shot a sizzling 53.4 percent from beyond the arc over 15 games in January.
Hield made his intentions clear well before the NBA announced he had been added to the field.
It’s more difficult to project the recipient of the Rising Stars MVP award with 20 of the league’s best first- and second-year players, but just last year Bogdanovic and Hield stole the show, leading the World Team to a 155-124 victory over Team USA. Hield scored a team-high 29 points. Bogdanovic scored 26 points, making 7 of 13 from 3-point range, to edge Hield for the MVP award.
Bogdanovic will represent the World Team again. Fox and Bagley will represent Team USA. Any of the three could get hot to lead their teams to victory.
Fox, in particular, seems like a prime MVP candidate given his improved jumper, blow-by speed and the half-hearted defensive effort typically seen in these kinds of exhibitions. Bagley could be a sleeper candidate after averaging 16.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over the last 10 games, including a career-high 32 points against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Bagley said. “We were just talking about how crazy it is that we all were picked for it. ... We’re just going to try to enjoy it and see what happens.”
Sactown takeover or not, coach Dave Joerger is proud of the progress his young players have made to put the Kings in playoff contention after 12 losing seasons.
“I think it’s a credit to our organization and to those guys,” Joerger said. “They’re deserving of their talent being recognized, but also the hard work they’ve put in and all of the guys who support them, (including) our training staff and our coaching staff. Everybody’s working hard together to develop guys as much as possible going forward for future years, and to see them being recognized for that is terrific.”