When the NBA announced the participants in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and the rest of the All-Star Saturday events during Thursday's TNT doubleheader broadcast, most of us focused first on the fields for the respective events and which players we thought might stand the best chance of winning the individual competitions. As we watched, heard and read more, though, many fans began to realize that the events have been juggled and reconfigured a bit, with rule and format changes that will change the events as individual competitions and the overall presentation of the Saturday showcase.
Below, a (hopefully) helpful guide to what's different and what it means, so that you can make a more informed decision as to whether you like what's going on or you find change scary and awful. Without further ado:
How the Slam Dunk Contest is different:
I went over this a bit on Thursday, but it's worth revisiting.
How it worked last year: Six dunkers were split into three-man Eastern and Western Conference teams. Each individual dunker would get the ball from the referee and have 90 seconds to complete a dunk. You got as many chances as you needed to make one in those 90 seconds, but once you made it, it got judged.
In the first round, all three East dunkers went, followed by all three West dunkers, and then they switched, until all six competitors had completed two dunks. The scores from the two dunks were added up, with the high scorer from both the East and the West advanced to a head-to-head championship round. They dunked two more times, fans voted on which dunker they liked more, and the player with the highest percentage of combined votes was crowned champion.
How it works this year: The six dunkers compete in a "Freestyle Round," which will reportedly operate something like pre-game layup lines and feature the dunkers doing as many dunks as they want to in 90 seconds. After those 90 seconds, the panel of judges will choose which conference won the round by voting “East” or “West.” The Freestyle-winning conference will get to choose whether its dunkers will go first or second in Round 2, the "Battle Round."
The Battle Round will feature head-to-head matchups between one East dunker and one West dunker, with the judges choosing a winner for each battle. The first conference to win three battles wins the competition and gets crowned 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk champions, earning a $100,000 prize for their conference's charities; for the East, that's the American Heart Association and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, while for the West, it's Teach for America and the Wounded Warrior Project. After that, fans will get to vote for the player they think should win “Dunker of the Night.”
• It should move faster, because everybody will be dunking during the 90-second freestyle round rather than having their own individual 90-second round;
• That should mean fewer drama-draining missed dunks (shouts to Flight White and Gerald Green);
• We now get three head-to-head matchups instead of just one, which is neat;
• Those head-to-head matchups seem to matter less, because they're not determining The One True Champion;
• Emphasizing conference battles and downplaying individual ones seems kind of like insulating the contest so that nobody really "loses";
• There will probably be fewer prop dunks, since those take time to set up that dunkers probably won't have, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your stance on props.
How the Three-Point Contest is different:
How it worked last year: Three players from each conference shoot from five different stations around the 3-point arc. Each station has a rack with five basketballs — four orange and one multi-colored "money" ball. The orange balls are worth one point, the money balls are worth two, and you can only shoot the money ball after you've shot the other four. Shoot as many of the 25 balls as you can in a minute. The high scorers from each conference advance to the finals, where they go head-to-head to determine a champion.
How it works this year: Four players from each conference will shoot from five different stations around the 3-point arc. Four of the racks have four orange and one money ball; one rack will be all money balls, and each competitor gets to pick which spot on the floor he'd like this rack. (On the mixed racks, the "shoot all the orange before the money ball" rule remains in effect.) Shoot as many of the 25 balls as you can in a minute. The high scorers from each conference advance to the finals, where they go head-to-head to determine a champion.
• Two more guys means more shooting, which will make this a little longer (duh).
• More money balls means more points. Points are fun.
• I don't know if anyone was particularly mad at the prior contest format, but hey, more money balls!
How the Skills Challenge is different:
How it worked last year: Three players from each conference compete in a two-round timed competition where they have to make a layup/dunk, dribble around standing obstacles, pass a ball through two tire-style targets, make a top-of-the-key jumper, make another pass, dribble through some more obstacles and make another layup/dunk. The players from each conference who post the fastest times advance to the championship round, where another trip through the obstacle course determines the head-to-head winner.
How it works this year: Each conference fields two two-player teams to compete, turning the course into a sort of relay race, with the second player from a team unable to start until the first one finishes. The two East teams go first, followed by the two West teams. The team from each conference with the fastest time advances to a championship round, where they'll run through it again, and the fastest team will be crowned champion.
• There are eight guys involved this now instead of six, which will probably mean it lasts longer;
• The relay-race thing seems fun, introducing an additional bit of potential drama by making a blown layup, missed jumper or inaccurate pass by the first player seem like a bigger deal for delaying the next man;
• Again, this moves from "individual bragging rights" to "conference/team bragging rights," although I'm not sure anyone really brags about the Skills Challenge anyway.
How Shooting Stars is different:
How it worked last year: Two three-person teams representing each conference, consisting of one NBA player, one WNBA player and one former NBA player, compete in a two-round timed shooting competition. They shoot from six different spots on the floor of increasing difficulty — a 10-footer from the right side, a 15-footer from the left, a top-of-the-key 3, an 18-footer from the right baseline, a 3-pointer from the left wing and a half-court shot. All six shots must be hit in order, with the shooters alternating until they get to the half-court shot, where they rotate shooting until one goes down. Teams have up to two minutes to finish. The fastest-finishing teams from each conference move on to a championship round and go head-to-head, with the fastest time determining the winner.
How it works this year: Two teams from each conference shoot from four locations of increasing difficulty — a 10-footer from the right side, a 20-footer from the top of the key, a 3-pointer from the left wing and a half-court shot — in numeric order as fast as they can. Each team has up to 90 seconds to complete the course. The fastest team from each conference moves on the championship round, where they'll go head to head to determine a winner.
• Fewer places to shoot from + shorter time limit = let's get this over with as quickly as possible, OK? OK.
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