The NBA held its 70th All-Star game in Atlanta on Sunday night. It was a one-night-only deal the NBA threw together to throw TNT a financial bone while drumming up some excitement during a tough season.
In a lot of ways, this night was a microcosm of the season. It had some really fun moments but it was a lot crammed into a short amount of time. They took two nights worth of contests and pageantry and stuffed it into about six hours.
Here are eight thoughts from All-Star night.
1. How the hell do we fix the skills competition?
The competition hasn’t changed much since its inception 18 years ago. Yeah, they’ve included big men and they’ve made it a race instead of a timed event, but the basic skills are the same: dribble around some logo pylons, make some passes, hit some shots and move on.
Domantas Sabonis won it this year, which is another win for the bigs. It does show how skilled big men are nowadays (let’s see Robert Parish try this course), but it also barely shows off the best of everyone’s skills.
What’s the answer here? How does the NBA truly showcase the absolute skills of these guys?
Here’s my suggestion:
You make it a pre-produced, pre-taped event where guys can be tested on their true skills. Under normal circumstances, the players would all gather on Friday for a dribbling, passing, and shooting competition to truly test their abilities. The dribbling isn’t just dribbling around pylons, it adds required dribble moves at each one.
For example, instead of just going left to right, each player would have to do a spin move at the first pylon, a crossover at the second, and an inside-out at the third. For added fun, the fourth pylon would require the Shammgod move. This would be a timed drill.
Maybe someday we can really incorporate technology and create a sort of “Dance Dance Revolution” game for the dribbling, but we’ll start slow.
For passing, each player would stand at halfcourt behind a curtain. On the other side, there are three versions of these NFL tackling dummy robots moving in 3 straight paths. The furthest one would be worth the most points, the closest worth the least. The player gets five balls on a rack, and has to hit the three players in stride. Hit them all, get all the points. They get a set amount of time (five seconds? Six? Seven?). His score is multiplied by how much time is left on the clock, so the more accurate passers who use less time get a bigger multiplier.
For shooting, it would be a full-court exercise where the shots are a layup, a floater, a mid-range jumper, and 3-pointer, and a half-court shot. Two shots at each basket, one attempt at each, sprints in between so the jumpers are taken on more tired legs. Each shot is worth an increasing number of points. The half-court shot will carry extra weight.
All of that can be done on Friday, edited for television, and aired as the first event on Saturday night. Fans in the arena will watch it on the jumbotron, which is fine because the end product will be worlds better and, frankly, the scoreboards are easier to watch.
Doing the skills live limits everything. There’s no reason to have to do that when the 3-point shootout and dunk contest will happen live. Let’s really showcase these guys and do it right.
2. The 3-point shootout is more nerve-wracking than we realize.
Jaylen Brown admitted to having some jitters heading into the 3-point contest.
“A little bit, for sure,” he said. “I didn’t get the start I wanted in the 3-Point Contest. I didn’t hear them say ‘go’.”
The entire run was a little rocky for Brown, who scored 17 points and was fouled by one of the racks. He was eliminated but Jayson Tatum did better, putting up 25 points in the first round. However, Tatum bowed out in the second round with a 17 point clunker of his own.
Steph Curry won it, because of course he did. He made it interesting, needed to hit his final shot to do it, but Curry is a shooting God. There was never really much doubt that he’d win.
3. There are fixes for the 3-point shootout too!
Get rid of racks! Get passers in there so these guys can catch and shoot. At the very least, create racks that are in front of the player that are slightly tilted down so he can reach forward and pick up the ball to shoot rather than off to his side.
If they can do it for pop-a-shot, then they can figure it out for the freakin’ NBA 3-point shootout. No player reaches out to his side to shoot.
Fix this, NBA.
4. Are there fixes for the dunk contest?
The dunk contest was held at halftime and, frankly, we might be stuck with this one.
Part of the problem is that the stars don’t participate.
Think of the all-time classic dunk contests. What comes to mind? Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins? Vince Carter? Julius Erving?
There have been a couple of recent classics involving Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine, and you can argue that the contests have raised the profile of each player. But casual fans aren’t exactly jumping off their seats for Obi Toppin versus Anfernee Simons.
It’s not worth the risk for big stars to compete in this contest. LeBron James teased us in the past but his body of work shows us that he doesn’t have dunk contest material stuff. His legacy is pretty secure but also, what if he had a bad dunk contest or two on his resume?
Are you telling me that wouldn’t color his legacy at least a little?
Frankly, we’ve seen it all. Jordan and ‘Nique won on dunks that would draw a “meh” today. If we’re lacking star power (understandable, considering the money they make and that would be at risk if they got hurt) and originality (there’s only so much the human body can do), then what are we doing here?
Everyone can dunk. We’re not impressed anymore. Stop treating it like the marquee event. It’s a 3-point league, so let’s add more difficulty to the 3-point shootout and make that the capper. Add logo shots. Add half-court shots. Add an artificial line for the contest. Add another rack.
If the product is emphasizing 3-point shooting, then 3-point shooting should be the emphasis.
5. Jaylen Brown did NOT go to Atlanta to pass the ball.