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What is the NBA Skills Challenge and why are there 7-footers in it?

Big guys get to play like little guys now in the NBA itself, so why not in this competition, too?

NBA: All Star Saturday Night Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Skills Challenge is one of NBA All-Star Weekend’s most magnificent and mystifying events. It focuses on fundamentals while dipping into whimsy. It marries the basic with the extravagant. Like the Three-Point Shootout, it measures the ability of an athlete to complete a discreet skill. But like the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest, there is allowance for pizzazz and individualism.

Do you have questions? Because we have answers.

What is the Skills Challenge?

See above. It’s wonderful.

In more exacting terms, the Skills Challenge is essentially an obstacle course in the vein of American Ninja Warrior, except that instead of feats of strength and balance, the competitors are tested on their ability to perform basketball skills. These skills include pinpoint chest and bounce passes, jump shots, slalom-style dribbling, and layups.

How does the competition work?

There are eight competitors. They face off head-to-head in the first round, racing on identical courses simultaneously at each end of the floor. The winners from those four first-round battles move on to the second round, where they are paired off and go head-to-head again. The winners of those two semifinal matches go head-to-head in the championship round. The winner gets a trophy, eternal glory, and a lifetime supply of mild sauce packets.

That is a lot of skills testing.

Each run takes less than a minute, but for the two finalists, it’s a lot of physical activity in the middle of All-Star Weekend. For this reason, you will often notice veteran players plod through it to ensure they do not advance.

Who will compete in 2018?

The eight competitors for 2017 are Spencer Dinwiddie, Jamal Murray, Lou Williams, Buddy Heild (replacing Donovan Mitchell, who is in the Slam Dunk Contest), Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Lauri Markkanen, and Andre Drummond (replacing DEFENDING CHAMPION Kristaps Porzingis, who is injured.

Wait, four of those guys are 7-footers or close to it?


Why are big men in the Skills Challenge? Shouldn’t this be a little man’s game?

How closed-minded of you. Big men — Karl-Anthony Towns in 2016 and Porzingis last year -- have won in each of the last two years, thank you very much. One of the lead narratives of the modern NBA is that big men can do anything now. Also, it is hilarious watching large humans attempt to be nimble.

Do we have the 2018 bracket yet?

It will not be unveiled until the event on Saturday night. Assuming the format retains the shape of the 2017 Challenge, the big men will all be on one side of the bracket and the smaller players will be on the other. That ensures a big-vs-small championship. (Porzingis defeated “small” Gordon Hayward last season.

Who is the favorite?

Who knows. Joel Embiid missed last year’s event due to injury, so it’ll be fun to see him actually compete this time. Jamal Murray strikes us as the best bet among the guards.

How happy should we be that Joel Embiid is in it this year?

Immeasurably so.

How can I watch this magical event?

The 2018 Taco Bell Skills Challenge is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday on TNT. It is the first event on the All-Star Saturday schedule.

This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated to reflect the 2018 competition.