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Taco Bell Skills Challenge Preview and Odds

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It wasn’t long ago in the NBA that seven-foot big men stayed anchored in the post, getting plenty of slam dunks and rebounds. But times have changed and it’s not unusual in today’s game to see seven-footers running the floor and launching threes at an alarming rate. For the second straight year, four such players will be on display, showcasing their unique skill set in what has traditionally been an event geared toward guard play. That myth was trashed last season when Karl-Anthony Towns toppled the field. There will be a new champ as Towns elected not to defend his title.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge
Date and Time: Saturday, February 18, 2017, 8 p.m. ET (first event)
Location: Smoothie King Arena
NBA Odds at BookMaker.eu:
Taco Bell Skills Challenge TV Coverage: TNT

All-Star weekend kicks of Saturday night with the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, a three-round obstacle course style event that tests a player’s ball-handling, shooting and passing ability. A new twist to this year’s event is the Bigs Bracket vs. the Smalls Bracket, guaranteeing a big man will compete against a backcourt player in the final of a competition that has them dribbling through obstacles, tossing a pass into a net and then making a layup followed by a three-point shot. The first player to complete the challenge is the winner and advances to the next round.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge Participants and Odds

Devin Booker, G (Suns) +380

DeMarcus Cousins, F (Kings) +1200

Anthony Davis, F (Pelicans) +950

Gordon Hayward, F (Jazz) +800

Nikola Jokic, C (Nuggets)*

Kristaps Porzingis, F (Knicks) +975

Isaiah Thomas, G (Celtics) +220

John Wall, G (Wizards) +285

* - Injury replacement

The head-to-head, bracket-style tournament format will be used for the third year in a row with matchups to be determined at a later date. One thing we know is that there will be a frontcourt player going against a backcourt player in the final round and a new champion will be crowned.

Towns popped the seal on big men winning the competition last season, becoming the first non-guard to capture the title in the event’s 14-year history, but he elected to not defend his title. But the bigs in this year’s event are solid and have a good chance of coming out victorious.

DeMarcus Cousins and hometown favorite Anthony Davis both competed in the event last year and likely have an advantage over first-timers Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic in the Bigs Bracket. Davis will have the New Orleans crowd behind him, but his ball-handling and passing skills aren’t nearly as deft as those of Cousins. Boogie scores 28 points per game and has already made more three-pointers this season than he did in his first six seasons combined.

The one major concern regarding all big men is their ability to handle the basketball. While not as fluid as John Wall or Isaiah Thomas, Cousins and Davis have fewer steps to take in the obstacle course, which could help in their timing.

Thomas is the favorite to win the event at +220 at BookMaker.eu and he certainly has the skills to pull it off. Thomas has done it all for the Boston Celtics so far this season and is enjoying a MVP-type campaign. He’s also competing for the third time in this event and was the runner-up last season, falling to Towns. So motivation could be a huge factory for him.

Oddsmakers still prefer guard play in this event, and rightfully so. Wall is also a favorite at +285, but he isn’t the most accurate three-point shooter. That could affect his time. Devin Booker makes his debut in the event and is +380 to win the competition.

Utah’s Gordon Hayward is the “tweener” in this event. He’s a shooting forward but also plays the entire court and has run the Jazz offense. He’s a knock down shooter and has the passing ability to be a lonshot winner. He’s coming off at +800 and isn’t a bad pick with a good payout. But he will be competing in the Smalls Bracket, which puts him at a big disadvantage against the likes of Thomas and Wall.

The safe play is obviously the favorites. Wall and Thomas are both competing for a third time and will likely square off in the semifinal round. Whoever escapes that round should cruise to a victory. Davis will use the home crowd as motivation and capture the Bigs Bracket, but he will fall to Thomas in the final round.

Checkout the latest NBA odds at BookMaker.eu

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