The NBA seems to have a fear of change. The calls to shorten the season and/or reconfigure the NBA Draft have been growing louder. Any reaction from the tall foreheads running the league? Crickets.
Change for an organization as big as the NBA is probably going to manifest itself in baby steps. Well, one NBA event desperately in need of a shakeup will take a few such steps this weekend.
I’m talking about NBA All-Star Saturday Night. Let’s take a look at the three premiere events of the evening (no need to discuss the one with retired and WNBA players), what has changed and, most importantly, what I think about it. I’ll even thrown in a pick just for fun.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
The Event: Six players compete against each other in a timed dribbling, shooting and passing obstacle course. The top three fastest times from the first round move on to the second and final round. Fastest time in final round wins the event.
The Change: The number of participants has been upped from six to eight and four teams of two have been formed, with each conference represented by two two-man teams. Players on each team run the course one after the other in a relay format, resulting in one total time per team. The top team from each conference faces each other in the second and final round.
What I think: If All-Star Saturday night was three siblings, this would be the one that everybody ignores. That being said, it can be an entertaining event and I like the change. Perhaps inspired by the Olympics, turning this into a team competition is a cool idea. There won’t be a whole lot of strategic planning except “Run as fast as you can” but I suppose there will be some thought put into who goes first. You’d probably want the faster player going second (or the one who has more of a “second gear”) in a bid to make up as much time as possible.
Random question(s): How will the first player tag his partner? Will there be a baton? Will there be fist bumps? Low-fives?
My pick: DeMar Derozan (Go Raps!) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Go impossible-to-pronounce names!)
Foot Locker Three-Point Contest
The Event: This is the second-most popular event of the night and maybe even the first for some fans. It is also the event that is least in need of a makeover. The premise is pretty simple. There are five racks with five balls each surrounding the three-point line. Every ball is worth one point except one multi-coloured ball per rack (i.e. the money ball). Each player has 60 seconds to shoot and sink as many of the 25 balls as possible. A little bit of quick math means that the highest score possible is 30.
The Change: The new wrinkle this year is that one of the racks is ONLY MONEY BALLS, changing the highest possible score from 30 to 34. Again, this event is more or less fine but letting each player decide where they want to place the rack will add a little intrigue.
Random Question(s): Will players choose rack position based on proficiency from that spot or wanting to be warmed up when they get to it? Will anybody break the record of 25? And if so, will people argue for an asterisk?
My pick: I’ll say Arron Afflalo just because Kendrick Lamar used to be jealous of him.
Sprite Slam Dunk (Sidenote: I suddenly want to drink a Sprite and eat a taco while wearing some fresh kicks)
The Event: Without a doubt, this is the marquee event of NBA All-Star Saturday night. Remember Vince? Remember Nate? Remember Blake? Yeah. I thought so. But for all the great ones, there have sadly been at least as many duds. The major reason why this event has gotten rather blah is a lack of star power. There haven’t been any LeBrons, Carmelos or Durants. Instead, we’ve had Gerald Green and Jeremy Evans. And somebody named Fred Jones won it in 2004. Anyway, the format has been tweaked a few times but for the most part, it’s been an individual competition with judges deciding the outcome.
The (Inadvertent) Change: I’m cautiously optimistic this year. We’ll get to the format change but let me first say that the field is made up of Paul George, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Terrence Ross, Ben McLemore and Harrison Barnes. Half of the participants this year are playing in the All-Star Game. Not too shabby. If 2014 is the year the dunk contest gets saved, it will happen because of the star power (and not the format change), although the latter could help.
The Change: OK, rule change. Similar to the other events, this one has become more conference-based. The first round (i.e. the freestyle round) will have the three dunkers from each conference do whatever they want for 90 seconds. Now, this could be pretty entertaining, depending on how creative the players get. Three high flyers given carte blanche to come up with a dunking routine? Could be very cool.
The freestyle round doesn’t make any real difference for the battle round (cool names by the way, NBA). In the battle round, East dunkers go head-to-head against West dunkers, with judges selecting the winners. The first conference to win three battles wins the competition. So we get a team win and then fans select the Dunker of the Night.
Now, this new system isn’t perfect but I respect the NBA for trying something new because this event was becoming pretty hard to watch. But it was always more about the lack of stars than it was about the format. Also, just the general idea that there aren’t a whole lot of ways to put a ball through a hoop.
Random Question(s): Will there be some crazy double-alley-oop, off the backboard routines in the freestyle round? Will a player dunk over both his teammates? Will the dunk contest be saved or, at the least, revived?
My pick: Eastern Conference and Paul George