Boston Celtics' point-center, Al Horford, will be a participant in NBA All-Star Weekend's Skills Challenge. Horford was just selected to be an All-Star for the fifth time in his career, having been drafted by Steph Curry in the All-Star Game's first-ever draft.
He'll join seven other players in the skills competition. For the third year in a row, half of the players competing will be big-men.
Horford has never been one to seek out the spotlight, so to be honest, I was a bit surprised when I saw that he agreed to participate in this event. I wasn't even sure if he was going to play in the actual All-Star game. He just seems like a low-key guy who'd rather spend the break icing his knees and watching game film.
He seemed a bit unsure of the idea himself when it was first proposed to him. When asked about the challenge, Horford said, "I've never done it before, so I was like, 'Uhhhh.' But then I thought it would be exciting to get out there and have fun with it. I think my son is going to enjoy it more than I would have."
Al Horford on the Skills Challenge: "I'm just going to go out there and look good and hopefully win it."
Al certainly has a shot at winning this thing. The champs for the past two seasons have been upset victories, coming from center's Karl-Anthony Towns in 2016 and Kristaps Porzingis last year. The Celtics have been represented in the Skills Challenge for the past two seasons by Isaiah Thomas, and the team has technically had a player in the finals of the contest for the past two years.
In 2016, Isaiah Thomas made it to the final round, but lost to KAT.
This was a grade-A finals, because both players actually tried. You could see that Towns really wanted to win that trophy from the get-go. It was evident in the round prior as well, when KAT faced off against DeMarcus Cousins. KAT basically lapped Boogie in the round. Cousins was jogging through the course while Karl-Anthony sprinted.
Then last year, we saw an Isaiah versus Gordon Hayward semi-final. Hayward would drain the three before Isaiah, and move on to the championship round.
He would, however, fall short of glory to the Unicorn.
Big Money Al can for sure win this thing, because in the end, winning this contest comes down to two particular parts of the obstacle course: the pass and the three-pointer. Al will make the pass on his first try, without a doubt. He hits his target 60% of the time, every time. Clanking that pass gives the enemy a mile on you.
So the three-pointer will be the decider, and my only worry is Al's slow release. He really takes his time cocking the ball back and sticking his elbow at the perfect angle before he lets go. His competitor will get off double the shots that he does if this thing becomes a shootout, so he's got to be accurate. He's got to hit on his first or second shot.
I have a few pieces of strategical advice for Al. Firstly, on the fast-break/take it to the hoop, portion of the drill, jam that thing home. Get in the other guy's way, shake the rim around a little bit; anything to make it more difficult for the opponent. Then, when you're running to the three point shot, get in front of the other player and zig-zag back and forth so that he can't get a direct line to his spot. Slow him down.
Secondly, take your time with the three-pointer. You don't force shots during games, so don't force this one. Slow down, focus, and drain the jumper. Badabing badaboom. You'll be taking the trophy back to Boston.
The Skills Challenge will take place on the Saturday of All-Star Weekend, February 16th at 8:00pm EST. I can't wait to see Al perform. This is prime time TV. It's pretty spectacular that he's a center who will be participating in a ball handler's challenge, and is front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.