NEW ORLEANS – (Staff Report by Digital Sports Desk from Official News Release) – NBA All-Star Game starter Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans and fellow All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings, Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz, Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics and John Wall of the Washington Wizards will compete in the 2017 Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 18 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
Joining the five 2017 All-Stars in the eight-player field are two members of the 2015-16 NBA All-Rookie First Team, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks, as well as three-time reigning Kia NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Taco Bell® Skills Challenge tips off State Farm® All-Star Saturday Night, which will be televised by TNT at 8 p.m. ET and will also be available on the Watch TNT App and on TNT Overtime. In addition, the competition will be broadcast on ESPN Radio, with audio also available on the ESPN app.
With Davis, Cousins, Embiid and Porzingis competing, this marks the second straight year that four big men will be showing off their versatility in the traditionally guard-heavy event. The three-round, obstacle-course competition, which tests dribbling, passing, agility and three-point-shooting skills, will feature a head-to-head, bracket-style tournament format for the third year in a row. The four big men will be on one side of the bracket and the remaining four players will be on the other side of the bracket. First-round matchups will be announced at a later date.
Davis, who will start the All-Star Game in his home arena, ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring (27.9 ppg), sixth in rebounding (12.3 rpg) and second in blocked shots (2.39 bpg). Cousins, an All-Star selection for the third straight season, is fourth in the league in scoring (28.2 ppg) to go with 10.5 rebounds and career highs of 4.4 assists and 84 three-pointers made.
Embiid leads all rookies in scoring (20.2 ppg), rebounding (7.8 rpg) and blocks (2.45 bpg), and the 7-footer has connected on 36-of-98 (36.7 percent) from three-point range. The 7-3 Porzingis has increased his scoring and improved his shooting in his second season, averaging 18.7 points while making 45.2 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three-point range.
Hayward and Booker will make their debuts in the Taco Bell® Skills Challenge. A first-time All-Star selection, Hayward (21.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) has raised his scoring average in every season of his seven-year career. Booker (20.8 ppg) has scored at least 20 points in each of his last 14 games. The 6-6 Phoenix guard will join Embiid and Porzingis as participants in the 2017 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 17 at Smoothie King Center.
Thomas and Wall will compete in the Taco Bell® Skills Challenge for the third time each. An All-Star for the second straight year, Thomas ranks second in the NBA in scoring (29.7 ppg) and is posting career highs in assists (6.4 apg), field goal percentage (46.8) and three-pointers made per game (3.2). Wall, an All-Star for the fourth year in a row, is second in the league in assists (10.3 apg) and steals (2.13 spg) to go with 22.7 points – career highs in all three categories.
The Taco Bell Skills Challenge format calls for two players to compete simultaneously on an identical course with the fastest finisher reaching the next round. In the first round, the eight players are paired to participate in four head-to-head competitions. The four winners advance to the second round, where two more head-to-head showdowns determine the two finalists