The 2021 NBA All-Star Game is officially in the books. After months of debate surrounding the decision to host one during a pandemic, the league was thankfully able to hold a (mostly) incident-free event on Sunday. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were held out due to contact tracing, but they did not make close contact with any of the other All-Stars, and the 22 remaining players duked it out with Team LeBron defeating Team Durant, 170-150.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the game's MVP, led the way with 35 points on 16-of-16 shooting, but the enduring memory from the game will be the shooting of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard. The two posted identical 8-of-16 shooting lines from behind the arc, and both hit several shots from half-court range. Bradley Beal and Kyrie Irving combined for 50 points to lead Team Durant, but that just wasn't enough to compete with what Curry, Lillard and Antetokounmpo did for Team LeBron in the victory.
As for the events, the Skills Challenge took place first with Nikola Vucevic and Domantas Sabonis upsetting Chris Paul and Luka Doncic to advance to the finals before the Pacers big man ultimately took the crown as Skills Challenge champion. Next, the 3-Point Contest was held with Stephen Curry, Mike Conley and Jayson Tatum advancing out of the first round before the Warriors star recorded a score of 28 in the finals to bring home the hardware for the second time in his career. Finally, it was Obi Toppin and Anfernee Simons who advanced to the finals of the Dunk Contest with the Trail Blazers guard edging out the Knicks rookie in the final round to take the title. With those events behind us, the NBA will resume its regular-season schedule on Wednesday. First, though, here are a few takeaways from All-Star Sunday night.
Never doubt the powers of GM LeBron
The internet has been making jokes about LeBron James as the puppet general manager of his teams for going on a decade now, but the guy has an undeniable track record. If he really is pulling the strings, the fact that literally every franchise he has ever played for has won a championship with him suggests that those franchises are more than happy to cede power to him. His All-Star teammates certainly seem happy with the arrangement.
For the past four years, the NBA has given GM LeBron an excuse to come out of the shadows once a year and serve as a captain for one of the two All-Star teams. The result have literally been perfect. James-captained teams are now 4-0 in the All-Star Game, creating a nice symmetry with his four NBA championships. He's played for three different teams, and now, he's beaten three different opposing captains in the All-Star Game: Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Stephen Curry.
Now, it would be a bit premature to suggest that any of this will one day make LeBron a great executive after his retirement, but he has made it clear that he wants to buy a team one day. We shouldn't read too much into this All-Star success, but hey, at least it's not an actively negative sign. James is the best player-GM in basketball right now, which should set him up nicely if he winds up taking an active role in some team's basketball operations down the line.
We should've seen Giannis coming
In hindsight, Giannis Antetokounmpo as the All-Star Game MVP should've been one of the easiest bets on the board. Shooters are subject to randomness even when they're wide open. Curry missed half of his 3s because, well, making more than half of your 3s is extremely difficult. The same held true for Lillard. But in a game with no defense, dunking reigns supreme. Who's going to do more of it than the 7-footer with the unparalleled combination of athleticism, length and ball-handling skill?
We couldn't have predicted Giannis shooting 100 percent from the field. He took and made three 3-pointers, after all. But the idea that he would be able to do whatever he wanted inside should've been a no-brainer. It's not as if he hasn't come close to doing this before, either. Giannis shot 15 of 19 on 2-pointers in the 2019 All-Star Game. He is virtually guaranteed elite efficiency in this exhibition setting.
For that reason, Antetokounmpo should be the perpetual All-Star MVP favorite moving forward. Even if you doubt his utility at the end of close games, remember, his All-Star teammates are significantly more talented than those he shares the court with in Milwaukee. Opponents won't be able to easily build walls against him if he's sharing the floor with Curry and Lillard.
It's time to incorporate four-point shots
The NBA has been remarkably open-minded about tinkering with the All-Star format in recent years. We got the draft four years and the Elam Ending last season. Here's an idea: Why not add a four-point shot? Call me crazy, but shots like this shouldn't be worth the same amount as ones from the corners.
The All-Star Game is about showmanship, and the scoreboard should reflect that. If Curry and Lillard are willing to take circus shots, they should be rewarded for the highlights those shots create with an extra point. The idea isn't completely unprecedented. The BIG3 uses designated spots on the floor for four-point shots. Even if the NBA has no interest in adopting the idea for regulation games, doing so in the All-Star format will only encourage more players to try these entertaining shots. If this game truly is for the fans, the league should do everything in its power to incentivize exciting plays like these.