CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard sat in his pod taking questions on All-Star Media Day he made an observation: “The NBA is a guard’s league.”
One look at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game rosters and it’s easy to see what Lillard sees.
Each roster has only three big men; Team LeBron doesn’t even have a traditional big man starting the game here in Charlotte, N.C. on Sunday night. Instead, that side of the All-Star tilt will start three guys that traditionally play small forward.
So while power forward/center Anthony Davis of New Orleans (for now) and Denver’s power forward/center Nikola Jokic are putting up video game numbers, they’ll be coming off the bench.
The crowded pack of All-Star caliber guards in the Western Conference continually leaves the Grizzlies’ mainstay point guard Mike Conley on the outside looking in, with this year more of the same.
The Grizzlies now are clearly tying their All-Star level hopes to the 7-foot 4-inch wingspan of Jaren Jackson Jr. The rookie Jackson isn’t a flashy passing guard like Atlanta rookie Trae Young, and he isn’t dribbling between the legs doing step-back three-pointers like Dallas’ point guard/small forward Luka Doncic.
Still, while he hasn’t netted the national-level media attention of Young and Doncic, plenty of NBA players have already grown to respect his game.
“He’s been good,” San Antonio’s All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge told me. “He’s an athletic, skilled guy that plays with that competitive edge. He’s definitely going to be good.”
On Friday night, Jackson participated in the Rising Stars Challenge. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
“Jaren’s been great all year,” the Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma said. “He’s probably going to be on one of theall-rookie teams.”
Jackson’s stats have him on a pace to merit all-rookie team selection.
Putting himself among the last of a dying breed when it comes to the traditional post players, Aldridge noted that big men now are shooting three’s and taking the ball to the rim off the dribble. Grizz fans already are aware of Jackson’s growing prowess in those two areas and more of the NBA is starting to get the picture.
“At the end of the day, if you produce, they’ll find you,” Minnesota’s center Karl Anthony-Towns said.”
Conley in the Skills Challenge
While many Memphians know Mike Conley as the overlooked player who should’ve been an All-star, others around the NBA share the same view. Conley, who was selected to participate in the All-Star weekend Skills Challenge, said several players have told him that they still can’t believe he’s never been an All-Star.
Conley’s Skills Challenge plan was to win with his smoothness on the court, and it looked masterful at the start. He glided through the obstacle course like a surfer on water, taking a commanding lead on Boston’s Jayson Tatum.
Down the stretch, however, Conley missed his three-point attempt, which allowed Tatum to catch him and get the victory. Tatum went on to win the entire skills competition.
For Conley and Jackson, the weekend wasn’t about getting. It was more about enjoying the unique experience that Charlotte offered.
“We are on break,” Jackson said. “This is a vacation game, but it’s competitive at the same time. We’re just having fun, but we are competing.”