To hear Kobe Bryant tell it, there are two kinds of NBA players: those who care enough to be All-Stars, and those who care enough to be All-Star MVPs.
.@kobebryant explains the difference between All-Stars who play to put on a show, and those who play to dominate their competition ... Mamba mentality. ( ⬆️)— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 14, 2018
Catch the full clip on NBA Countdown at 7 ET. pic.twitter.com/El2JT2hEo3
This is some peak #musecage content that I can’t quite take seriously because Kobe’s overly dramatic voice-over is more compelling than the message itself, but it did make me wonder: Is winning the All-Star Game MVP more meaningful than winning the game? We’re talking degrees of meaninglessness here, to be clear, because I don’t think there’s a less meaningful award out there than this one. But this has always been the type of contest in which individual performances have more longevity than the game’s result.
With that in mind, let’s handicap who could make Kobe proud at Staples Center on Sunday and what their motivation to go for All-Star Game MVP may be.
The Been There, Done That Tier
Westbrook’s role in this game would be about 100 times more intriguing if he were playing opposite Kevin Durant, because, well, it isn’t like the story about their falling out hasn’t been beaten into the ground. Regardless, Westbrook has already won this award twice (in 2015 and 2016), which tells you all you need to know about how much he cares about … everything. Just give him a ball, put a hoop near him, and watch him barrel through everyone in his path. It doesn’t matter if it’s the playoffs, the All-Star Game, or an adult rec league. My only request is that if he is one rebound or assist shy of a triple-double, he can’t win it.
Kyrie will be playing alongside LeBron, which tempers his chances of even getting a shot up, but like Westbrook, he’s already won this award (in 2014), and his style is perfectly suited for the way this game works. That is, with a lot of pirouette-like shots and absolutely no defense.
The Hometown Tier
Just picture it: George pours in 30 points in his hometown of Los Angeles with a couple of perfect assists from LeBron, leading Lakers fans to Photoshop them into purple-and-gold kits before the game even ends. Then, when George gets the trophy, he says, “It’s good to do this back home. I love this place,” before walking offstage and telling the assembled media how great playing for OKC has been. It’s what would happen if Basketball Twitter and reality TV executives were to cowrite a script.
This is not going to happen unless DeRozan drains 10 3s and has two highlight dunks, but DeRozan is from L.A. and went to USC, which is enough for me to include him here.
The most likely and fitting scenario here would be Harden, an L.A. native, torching everyone, effectively using the stage to further an MVP case two seasons in the making.
The Make-a-Statement Tier
The inevitable LeBron-in-L.A. narrative couldn’t have come during a more perfect year. Part of me thinks LeBron will just go about his business, get his shots when he can, and try to slink into the shadow of whoever wins the night. But the realist in me remembers that we got a sourced LeBron-to-the-Warriors rumor this season, and that he will do anything to make his point and intended narrative clear if need be. If LeBron wants to make a statement in L.A. this weekend, he will make a statement in L.A. this weekend.
You’re telling me you wouldn’t be up for a 40-point Durant All-Star performance sparking countless “Is Kevin Durant Taking the Torch From LeBron?” debates?
I contend there’s nothing more fun in the NBA than watching an engaged Steph, unable to miss from any location on the court, pulling up on fast breaks and chucking from near half court. If we’re lucky enough to see this, the award will end up in his hands by the end of the night. The Warriors will proceed to go 23–1 after the break.
The Coming-of-Age Tier
It’s time for Giannis to take the national stage and show off his endless limbs and giant Eurosteps to casual basketball fans everywhere. I don’t gamble, but if there’s a prop for highlights by Giannis that will be clipped and looped all over Twitter, I would take the over. Just don’t ask him about his Instagram Live video. He needs to get social media training from Joel Embiid. Speaking of whom …
A public service announcement: Set tweet alerts for Joel Embiid this weekend. And while you’re at it, follow him on Instagram, too. Embiid will definitely win the off-the-court content battle at All-Star, but watching him dominate his elders on the floor Sunday night could be the perfect cherry on top to his All-Star season. Think of the postgame speech, the reactions, and, of course, the social media when he posts a picture of himself dunking on Russ.