The Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and three other ways the Bucks could participate in the All-Star Game
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More than halfway into the 2012-13 season, the Milwaukee Bucks are showing an uncharacteristic amount of promise. If the season were to end today, Milwaukee would be playoff bound for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign, and would be entering the postseason among the hottest teams in the association—winning 10 of its last 15 games heading into this week. Making the Bucks’ current level of play ever-more impressive is the fact that Milwaukee has managed a winning record after its coach left, and it has evidently done so without the services of a single player deserving to be involved in the NBA’s upcoming All-Star Game festivities.
Though the Bucks’ brand of fundamentally sound, defensive-first basketball executed by a rotating cast of homegrown youngsters and veteran castoffs in the NBA’s smallest market isn’t exactly taking the league by storm, Milwaukee deserves some representation in Houston next weekend. While the roster for the game itself has already been announced (and Michael Redd’s involvement in the 2003-04 contest will remain the most recent Bucks All-Star Game appearance), there are four other All-Star festivities that the Bucks could (or won’t, but should) horn in on.
1. All-Star Game: Larry Sanders
Even though starting lineups are already voted on, reserves are already selected, and Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez was already named the replacement for the injured Rajon Rondo on the Eastern Conference roster, The Larry Sanders Show deserves to be aired in a larger market. Sanders began the year near the end of the Bucks’ bench with many fans prepared to chalk the former No. 15 pick as just another Brew City bust, but quickly earned more playing time and the awesome “Dr. Blocktopus” nickname one swat at a time.
Through 44 games, Sanders’ NBA-leading 137 blocks almost equal his career total (148) in his previous two seasons (112 games). Not only does Sanders lead the NBA in blocks, he leads the league in blocks per game (only player over three), blocks per 48 minutes (only player over five), and currently owns the longest streak of consecutive games with a block (32 games through Saturday). Only one player in the top-10 blocks leader board averages fewer minutes per game than Sanders’ paltry 25.5. Basically, he’s a good guy at doing the blocking.
2. Taco Bell Skills Challenge: Brandon Jennings
Unlike Sanders, Milwaukee’s default star doesn’t lead any NBA statistical category. However, BJ3 might be on the short list of the league’s most well-rounded players. Through last weekend, Jennings is in the top 15 in steals (8th), three-pointers (12th), points per game (14th), scoring (15th), and assists (15th). If the All-Star Game itself isn’t in the cards, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge should be. No, this has nothing to do with the other Taco Bell Challenge of consuming a Cheesy Gordita Crunch. Rather, this competition is an obstacle course that consists of dribbling, passing, and shooting stations. Jennings’ prowess in dribbling, passing, and shooting, combined with his knack for performing better when he has something to prove, make him a shoo-in for the Golden Chalupa (or whatever the actual trophy is).
3. Foot Locker Three-Point Contest: Mike Dunleavy Jr.
Don’t let the fact that Dunleavy doesn’t even have the most threes on his own team deceive you—he can stroke it from beyond the arc. Hampered statistically due to his reserve status, the sharp-shooting son of the former Bucks head coach is making the most of his 26.3 minutes per game, nailing 74 triples (34th most in league through Sunday) and hitting close-to 45 percent of his three-point attempts, which is good for the team lead and the second-best percentage in the entire NBA. If Dun-three-vy doesn’t get the nod, it won’t be because he doesn’t deserve it. More likely, it’ll be the result of the power forgetting he exists.
4. Sprite Slam Dunk Contest: Ersan Ilyasova
More than any other part of the NBA’s All-Star weekend, the slam dunk contest has the ability to vault a player from obscurity into the national sports lexicon. Here, the combination of stuffing a ball aggressively into a hoop while doing things like jumping over a Kia, wearing a cape, being short, being white with a bowl cut, jumping from the free-throw line, blowing out a candle on a cupcake, or leaping over another very tall human can land a player’s name on a list that includes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Dominique Wilkins. Since Ilyasova is one of the only Bucks who dunks with semi-regularity, he should get a chance to join this varied cast of dunking immortals.
After all, what better way for this difficult Turkish name to become a household one than by slamming one home while blindfolded and singing the high notes of A-ha’s “Take On Me,” having just leapt from the back of a suped-up Power Wheels driven by the guy who played Waldo on Family Matters?