Derrick Jones Jr.

Getty Images

Three Things to Know from All-Star weekend: The new format worked, the dunk judging did not

Leave a comment

CHICAGO — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, or, in this case, every weekend. Here are three things to know out of All-Star weekend. (After today, three things will be off this week until games return.)

1) Team LeBron got the All-Star Game victory, but the real winner was the new format. For the past few years (maybe going on a decade), the actual NBA All-Star Game was a bland product. A dud. Players wanted to avoid injury, and there was very little real effort or competition (maybe in the final minutes). It was unwatchable. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s office was looking for a way to change that dynamic.

The found it. The format changes experimented with this year — starting each quarter at 0-0 with money for charities on the line, then the target point ending — were the biggest winners of the 2020 All-Star Game.

“It was dope,” Jimmy Butler said. “Damn sure got to compete at the end. It’s still fun to go out there and be known as one of the best players in the world in this league. Hopefully, it stays like that.”

In the fourth quarter, the very best players in the world were going at each other hard. Joel Embiid tried to take a charge. Kyle Lowry did take a charge on Kawhi Leonard. Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry were barking at the officials over calls. Coaches were calling for reviews.

Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked LeBron. Twice.

And it was close. Under the new Elam system the final point target was 157, and this game was tied as late as 152-152. In the end, it became next basket wins — and Davis got that basket… a free throw. That was a little disappointing.

Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with 30 points, shooting 8-of-14 from three, walked off with the just-named Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award.

This was the best All-Star game in recent memory. You can bet the format will be back next year in Indianapolis.

2) Aaron Gordon got robbed at the dunk contest. Again. The last great dunk contest took place in 2016, when Gordon controversially lost in a dunk-off to Zach LaVine.

This Saturday was another epic contest, another dunk-off, — and Gordon lost again, this time despite dunking over 7’5″ Tacko Fall for the final dunk of the night.

“Jumping over somebody 7’5″ [note: without shoes] and dunking is no easy feat,” Gordon said, stating the obvious. “What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?”

That is correct, Gordon got a 47 out of 50 for that dunk and the crowd in the United Center was not happy with the judges. The judges, for their part, apparently were conspiring to send the dunk-off to a third round but screwed it up (Dwyane Wade favoring his Heat player?).

My thoughts on this Dunk Contest are a bit nuanced, and I don’t have an issue with Derrick Jones Jr. winning. If, after the four scheduled dunks, you asked me to pick a winner, I would have gone with Jones. Yes, I realize Gordon got four 50s on those dunks, a perfect score, but I think he got some of that on reputation and Jones was better.

However, there is no way the dunk over Fall was a 47. That should have broken the tie and given Gordon the win. He was robbed on that dunk.

At least we got a great show.

3) It was a weekend of Kobe Bryant tributes. Memories of Kobe and his legacy seemed to be everywhere all weekend. Players were talking about him, and pictures of him were everywhere around the city.

The biggest honor is that the All-Star Game MVP is now named after him.

Then at Sunday’s All-Star game, Magic Johnson with words and Jennifer Hudson in song gave a beautiful tribute to Kobe.

As it did with the new rules and everything all weekend long — except maybe the dunk contest judging — the NBA got it right.

Aaron Gordon dunks over 7’5″ Tacko Fall, somehow still robbed of Dunk Contest win

Leave a comment

CHICAGO — Aaron Gordon cannot catch a break in an All-Star Dunk Contest dunk-off.

In the best Dunk Contest since 2016 — when Gordon controversially lost in a dunk-off to Zach LaVine — Gordon lost another dunk-off, this time despite dunking over 7’5″ Tacko Fall for the final dunk of the night.

“Jumping over somebody 7’5″ [note: without shoes] and dunking is no easy feat,” Gordon said, stating the obvious. “What did I get, like a 47? Come on, man. What are we doing?”

Yes, Gordon got a 47 out of 50 for that dunk and the crowd in the United Center was not happy with the judges, but that was a theme for the night. The judges, for their part, apparently were conspiring to send the dunk-off to a third round but screwed it up.

 

Gordon, who now has lost three Dunk Contests, two in dunk-offs, leaves the peoples’ champ but he is not coming back.

“It’s a wrap, bro. It’s a wrap. I feel like I should have two trophies,” Gordon said when asked if he would do another Dunk Contest.

Gordon should have gotten a 50 and won on that last dunk, but make no mistake, Derrick Jones Jr. earned the win — most of the night his dunks were cleaner and, to my eyes, right there with Gordon’s.

Jones — who turned 23 on Saturday — started the final round by leaping over two people and taking the ball between the legs.

Then went off the side of the backboard, between the legs and threw it down.

Jones was ready for the extra dunks.

“I got a whole lot in my arsenal,” Jones said of the couple extra dunks. “I knew every dunk that I was going to do even if it went to overtime. I planned this.”

This was a great dunk contest because it wasn’t just the two finalists who were throwing down epic dunks.

One of the most entertaining dunks of the night came from the Bucks’ Pat Connaughton — the white guy in the contest leaned into it and went with the White Men Can’t Jump dunk. He did it over the Brewers Christian Yelich, but somehow only got a 45.

Connaughton won the crowd over again with his second dunk, taking the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo, tapping backboard, and then dunking. That got him a deserved 50.

Dwight Howard broke out the Superman dunk again, but this time as a tribute to Kobe.

The NBA history books will record this as a Derrick Jones Jr. win. But everyone who watched this contest knows who won.

Tacko Fall on Aaron Gordon dunk: ‘I was scared for my life’ (video)

Leave a comment

CHICAGO – Dunk-contest participants generally prepare four dunks – two for the first round and, if advancing, two for the second round. Aaron Gordon knows better. He lost to Zach LaVine in an epic dunk-off when they tied in the second round in 2016.

But Gordon ran out of even-somewhat-planned dunks in his dunk-off with eventual champion Derrick Jones Jr. on Saturday. So, the Magic forward went looking for someone to dunk over.

He found 7-foot-5 fan favorite Tacko Fall.

Gordon grabbed the ball off the back of Fall’s neck and slammed, though not cleanly clearing the Celtic rookie’s head.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

It showed.

Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins reflect on legendary 1988 dunk contest battle

Leave a comment

CHICAGO — Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins have never talked to one another about the 1988 dunk contest.

They might be the only ones.

It is still the dunk contest by which all other dunk contests are measured: Two stars, at the peak of their powers, the players who finished first and second in that season’s scoring standings, going head-to-head to decide a winner. Jordan left the old Chicago Stadium that night with the trophy. To this day, many believe Wilkins was the rightful winner. Either way, it was a never-to-be-forgotten show – and now, for the first time since that night 32 years ago, the dunk contest is returning to Chicago on Saturday night.

“I did have a homecourt advantage, yes,” Jordan said this week in an interview with The Associated Press.

“The fans got their money’s worth,” Wilkins said in a separate interview with AP.

This season’s dunk contest entrants – Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr., the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dwight Howard and Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton – will have quite a show to follow if what they do on Saturday is going to stand the test of time that the Jordan-Wilkins contest has.

To this day, Wilkins believes he should have won.

And to this day, he still tips his cap to what Jordan did that night.

“We were foes and we had some great battles, but he understood the moment,” Wilkins said. “He understood what we did, you know? So, for us, there’s no hard feelings. There’s no animosity. We love the fact that they still talk about it because we knew what we brought.”

None of this year’s four dunk contest participants are All-Stars. It was different 32 years ago, when the dunk contest was being held for only the fifth time. Jordan was the MVP in 1988, Wilkins was sixth in that season’s MVP voting, and they were the only players that season who averaged more than 30 points per game.

“It’s a little bit different today. And it’s probably much harder today because how many times can you do the same dunks over and over again?” Jordan said. “So, they are trying to create things that people haven’t seen and that means jumping over people and cars and stuff like that. We didn’t have to do that because we didn’t have anything preceding us.”

The 1988 field was stacked. Wilkins had won in 1985. Spud Webb won in 1986. Jordan won in 1987. They were all in the field, along with Greg Anderson, Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Otis Smith.

“My memories more so than anything was that I was representing Chicago,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to represent them well. I wanted to win, don’t get me wrong. But I also knew Dominique was an unbelievable dunker and very athletic and a human highlight film. So, I had to come up with certain things that are very special and unique.”

Of course, it came down to Wilkins vs. Jordan. Three dunks each to decide the title. Both got a perfect score – 50 – on their first dunk in the final round. Wilkins got another 50 in the second round, with Jordan getting only a 47. That meant Wilkins, who was first to dunk in each round of the finals, needed only a 48 to clinch the win over Jordan.

Wilkins went with a two-handed windmill for his final dunk. The judges’ score: 45. Drexler looked on in disbelief.

“I was surprised at his score,” Jordan said.

The door was open for Jordan. He tried a dunk from the foul line and missed, but the rules allowed two chances per attempt. The second effort is the one replayed about a billion times since: He took off from just inside the foul line, pulled the ball back a bit before finishing off the slam, and got the perfect score of 50.

Final score: Jordan 147, Wilkins 145.

“The dunk contest, Nique got robbed,” said Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach who that year was an All-Star representing Atlanta – Wilkins’ team as well – in his hometown of Chicago. “But other than that, it was a perfect weekend.”

The dunk contest has had its ups and downs since.

It went away for a couple of years. Fred Jones, a journeyman who played for five teams in seven seasons, was the 2004 champion. Jeremy Evans – he averaged 3.5 points per game in his career – won in 2012. The NBA tried a team concept with three guys representing each conference in 2014; it wasn’t well received. Only the most ardent fan probably remembers that last year’s winner was Hamidou Diallo.

There have been some stars: Kobe Bryant won in 1997 and Vince Carter prevailed in 2000, a win that still draws raves from Jordan.

The highest compliment, in fact.

“The most amazing dunk I have ever seen is probably Vince Carter when he hung his elbow in the rim,” Jordan said. “To me that was, without question, just unbelievable.”

But most of the biggest names – and many considered among the best dunkers of their generation – have taken a pass on the dunk contest. LeBron James has never entered one, nor has Russell Westbrook, and Dwyane Wade didn’t either.

“I’d have loved to have seen LeBron,” Wilkins said.

Jordan agreed, saying he knows fans are clamoring to have seen James try it at least once.

“What we did in the game and excitement that we created when we did dunk,” Jordan said. “People wanted to see that. Is it the same today? Maybe not.”

Pat Riley says Andre Iguodala is still ‘elite’

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MIAMI — In deciding whether to pursue a trade for Andre Iguodala, the Miami Heat went all-in on research. They talked to people who knew Iguodala. They watched what he did last season. They took a deep dive into the analytics.

And they came to a determination.

“He’s elite,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Simple as that. That’s why Iguodala is now in Heat colors, and a team that wasn’t even good enough to make the playoffs last season is thinking big as it gears up for a run at the 2020 postseason. Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill all joined the team for a game-day shootaround practice in Sacramento on Friday to get their first taste of what life with the Heat is like.

“He’s an elite defender, an elite team defender, elite assist-to-turnover percentage, he ranks up into the top of those areas that are real tangible,” Riley said. “You don’t lose that in seven months. And probably it was a blessing in disguise that he didn’t play for seven months.

Iguodala last played an NBA game in June, when he scored 22 points in the last game of last season’s NBA Finals. He was traded by Golden State to Memphis in early July, and never played for the Grizzlies while waiting to be moved elsewhere – that start of what became a seven-month process.

“I still like I feel like I still have a lot of time left,” the 36-year-old Iguodala told reporters in Sacramento after the shootaround. “I surprised myself just taking the time off and seeing how bouncy my legs got to be. Once the body started recovering a little bit better. Now it’s just about finding NBA game shape. It’s hard to really practice that. It shouldn’t take too much time.”

Iguodala was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP and went to each of the last five title series as part of the Golden State Warriors. The Heat haven’t been to the finals since 2014, missed the playoffs in three of the last five years and went into this past offseason without a retired Dwyane Wade and with no cap space to sign free agents.

That didn’t stop them. They landed Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with Philadelphia, hit on their assessments of rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, watched Bam Adebayo develop into an All-Star, are getting Sixth Man of the Year-level contributions from Goran Dragic in his new off-the-bench role, and saw immense improvement from Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson – beneficiaries of the team’s constant commitment to development.

And now they add Iguodala to a team that’s already off to a 34-16 start, firmly in the race for home-court in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think what it says is that we really feel that this group has earned the right to really make this all about now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re bringing in three veteran players that have a lot of experience. Andre obviously bringing championship pedigree, somebody who has played in so many big moments … that championship experience is invaluable. You can’t put a price on it.”

Crowder said he noticed how the Heat were playing on opening night, when Memphis lost to Miami. He didn’t like the outcome so much, though liked what he saw.

“It just feels like they’re having fun with it,” Crowder said in Sacramento. “They’re playing very hard, a very competitive group. I just want to add on to that. I’m a competitor. I like to win. I like to do whatever it takes to win. I’m here to have fun and get some wins.”

Hill said it’s no secret what the Heat are shooting at.

“They have championship inspirations,” Hill said. “You’re talking about a prestigious franchise that has done it. And the leadership of this ship has done it multiple times.”

The leader of that ship is Riley, a nine-time champion overall and a three-time titlist with the Heat. He makes no secret about it: the trade was done with eyes on getting closer to contending for yet another ring. The Heat got some cap room in this trade as well, which opens up the buyout market this season. They’ll have more money than expected this coming summer, then enough to add a max player to the mix in 2021.

They are trending the right way again.

“A lot of good things have happened,” Riley said. “And we hope they continue to happen.”