Vegas Summer League: Zabian Dowdell trying to prove he belongs

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One thing you can say about Phoenix Summer League invite Zabian Dowdell: he has waited his turn. Dowdell played four years at Virginia Tech, and averaged 17.4 points during his senior year. Dowdell hoped to get picked in the 2007 NBA Draft, but he ended up going undrafted.

Instead of pouting and letting himself fade away, Dowdell went to Europe and devoted himself to improving his game: Dowdell said that the night he didn’t get drafted, he knew right away that he would make it to the NBA another way, and didn’t waste any time in trying to get there. Over the course of his first three seasons in Europe, Dowdell raised his scoring average from 9.4 to 11.2 to 19.5 points per game. After one more year spent with the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers and Spain’s Unicaja Malago, Dowdell was invited back to the Vegas by the Phoenix Suns, ready to prove that he’s finally ready to test his skills at the NBA level. 
On Friday afternoon, Dowdell took a big step towards making an NBA roster next season. Even though the Suns lost to the Rockets’ squad, it was apparent that Dowdell was in complete control whenever he had the ball in his hands. He was patient in the half-court, and got the Suns into their offense smoothly. 
When the Rockets backed off of Dowdell, he calmly pulled up and drained a smooth lefty jumper — after the game, Dowdell explained that he feels “insulted” whenever teams back off of him on the perimeter, and on Saturday he made the Rockets pay for their disrespect. When Dowdell had room to work in the open court, he used a smooth change-of-pace dribble to get by his man and get into the lane for a basket to dish off to a teammate. 
What’s impressive about Dowdell isn’t his ability to make spectacular plays, but the fact he almost never takes a better play off the table. If the right play is to take a pull-up, he takes a pull-up. If the right play is to drive, he drives. If the shot isn’t there, he knows to get the ball to a teammate or re-set the offense. When contrasting Dowdell’s play with the out-of-control drives and quick-trigger jumpers that most Summer League guards seem to favor, Dowdell looks like a man among boys. 
With Steve Nash another year older and Leandro Barbosa possibly on the trading block in Phoenix, the Suns could use another guard on their bench who can be counted on to give the Suns good minutes and keep the second unit under control. On Saturday, Dowdell showed that he can be that player. If Dowdell keeps this up for the rest of his Summer League stay, his long wait to make an NBA roster may finally come to an end. 

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect. Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.