NBA announces participants for 2017 Taco Bell Skills Challenge

The NBA announced its eight participants — four backcourt players and four frontcourt players — for the 2017 Taco Bell Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend.

On its Thursday pregame segment, TNT’s Inside The NBA announced the eight participants for the 2017 Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

Just like last year’s field divided the eight into four guards and four frontcourt players, this year’s contestants will include Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Devin Booker and Gordon Hayward for the backcourt, while Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, Joel Embiid and DeMarcus Cousins will take the frontcourt spots.

Isaiah Thomas, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis all participated in last year’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, though the winner of last year’s contest — Karl-Anthony Towns — will not be returning to defend his crown.

Thomas is having an MVP-caliber season with the Boston Celtics, averaging 29.7 points and 6.4 assists per game for the second-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. John Wall has helped lead a midseason turnaround for the Washington Wizards, averaging 22.7 points, 10.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game.

Devin Booker finished third in the 3-Point Shootout behind Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry last year, and will switch gears this year to try and demonstrate some of his other skills. The 20-year-old is averaging 20.8 points per game for the Phoenix Suns.

Gordon Hayward has earned his first NBA All-Star appearance and is averaging 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for a promising Utah Jazz squad.

As for the frontcourt, there are unicorns all over the place. Anthony Davis would be an MVP candidate if his New Orleans Pelicans were better, averaging 27.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.

Kristaps Porzingis, another promising second-year player alongside Booker, is a seven-footer with a masterful skill set. This season, he’s averaging 18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game while shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range.

Joel Embiid is the only name that matters in this year’s Rookie of the Year conversation, averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game for a Philadelphia 76ers team that’s suddenly on the rise.

Finally there’s DeMarcus Cousins, quite possibly the best center in the NBA right now. Though his Sacramento Kings are slowly falling out of the playoff picture, Boogie is averaging 28.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range.

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