This upcoming weekend, the NBA spotlight hits New Orleans for a retooled All-Star Weekend. Some of the league's best players this season will be making the trip to The Big Easy as first time All-Stars. This group includes John Wall, Damian Lillard, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry.
All four of these young stars have a chance to make a splash during the weekend, either during the game itself Sunday or as competitors in the events Saturday night. As All-Star Weekend can often be a jumping-off point for "very good" players to become "superstars" (see: Blake Griffin, 2011 Slam Dunk Competition), let's look at how this group can do the same.
Wall will be competing in the Sprite Slam Dunk Competition on Saturday night, as well as coming off the bench in Sunday's clash of conferences. We have seen Wall throw down this year and as athletic as he is, he could put up some big scores. There is a very strong argument to be had that Wall should be starting for the East over Kyrie Irving, but it would not be surprising to see the fourth-year guard make an impact against the West.
There is an opportunity for Damian Lillard to put together one of the best All-Star Weekends for an individual ever. He plans to participate in five events over the course of the three days, which would make him the first player ever to do so.
Lillard's busy weekend has been the topic of much conversation. Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy took to comedy to illustrate the second-year guard's diversity of events.
Lillard could use a big weekend in New Orleans as a way to project himself onto the national stage, while leading a team with championship aspirations.
Davis isn't competing in any of the skills competitions, but he is the lone All-Star representative from the hometown Pelicans. Don't assume that his inclusion was a favor to the team, as "The Brow" deserved to be included. Davis is averaging a double-double this year (20.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG) and could cause some matchup problems against the East with his athleticism.
Even though Davis was a late addition to the roster as an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant, he is having one of the best seasons of any big man in the league thus far. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post argues that Davis' season is more impressive based on his team's situation.
Curry emerged as a star during last year's playoffs (and Davidson's run to the Elite Eight in 2008, one could argue), but he's back to compete in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and All-Star Game. Curry leads the league in made threes and has to be considered the favorite to bring home the trophy this year.
Out of the first-time All-Stars (six in total: Paul Millsap and DeMar DeRozan, as well as the four discussed here), it is likely that at least one of them will walk away with some sort of recognition this upcoming weekend. Lillard has five chances, Curry is one of the league's best shooters from deep, Wall can dunk as well as any guard and Davis is going to benefit from being the "hometown kid."
Looking forward, don't be surprised if this next legion of NBA stars use this weekend as a springboard to strong second halves. More so, fans of the league can most definitely get used to seeing this group as perennial All-Stars for the next decade.