Photo By – USA TODAY Sports
The N(BA) Skills Challenge has taken a more diverse approach in recent years, pitting players of all shapes and sizes against each other in celebration of basketball’s continuing evolution towards position-less, uniform skill.
This year’s field is no different, with two guards, two forwards, a center, and a swingman all vying for the crown. We can also enjoy a cleaner competition, after blatant cheater Trae Young was shut out of the festivities (in his own city, no less).
(Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.)
Luka Doncic (+250)
Volume stats are generally of very little importance in this contest, but Luka is, statistically, arguably the N(BA)’s most well-rounded player. He can pass, score and weave through defenses with the best of them.
Doncic previously entered this contest as a rookie in 2019, eliminated by aforementioned rule-cheeser Young in the semis. While he’s not the quickest up and down the court, none of the players in this year’s field are speed demons, and Luka has the skill set to rightfully be considered a co-favorite.
Chris Paul (+250)
CP3 is back in the Skills Challenge for the first time since 2011, an anomalous absence since he’s fundamentally the most skilled point guard of his generation. Paul can ace every aspect of the obstacle course and is the steadiest hand of any competitor.
Julius Randle (+500)
He can get up and down the court quicker than people realize, has become a far more accurate playmaker, and is draining almost 41 percent of his threes on a career-high 4.6 attempts. The recent trend in this contest has swayed to bigs, with just one guard winning in the past five years, and Randle’s not a terrible choice at this price.
Domantas Sabonis (+500)
Sabonis may be a sleeper pick for lots of folks, given that he’s an uber-skilled big who finished runner-up to Bam Adebayo in last year’s iteration.
But Sabonis is the worst shooter in this field, a huge handicap in what can often become the “Who Can Hit the Last Three First?” Challenge. Most N(BA) players can hit an open transition three in a vacuum, but the odds of Sabonis besting last year’s performance aren’t amazing.
Nikola Vucevic (+500)
Vucevic could also be considered a trendy pick, given that a center has won this contest three of the past five years. He’s also having the most accurate shooting season of the contestants, nailing threes at a .412 clip.
But his 2019 Skills Challenge performance laid bare some leaks. Vooch was sluggish, openly jogging the court lengths, taking an opening-round L to Nikola Jokic on a rookie Bump/Knockout mistake – pausing to let his opponent shoot in rhythm.
Robert Covington (+600)
While Covington has many niche N(BA) skills, they don’t translate entirely well to this format. He handles the ball by far the least of the competitors, isn’t known as a dead-eye passer, and shoots the vast majority of his threes off the catch as opposed to dribbling.
Julius Randle (+500)
As mentioned, Paul is the safest bet, but Randle’s price here is fairly appealing. On paper, he’s the best-suited of the big men for the Skills Challenge layout, and could have bonus motivation to add some extra bragging rights to his All-Star debut.
Randle is few things if not relentless, and we expect him to fully compete in a contest that Paul and Doncic – both likely headed for All-N(BA) teams – may not care as much about. Julius would definitely be an upset winner given his opponents’ pedigrees, but the price is right, and this N(BA) season’s been all about surprises.