Since the NBA All-Star Dunk Contest has been introduced in 1984, there have been a total of 4 back-to-back dunk contest champions: Michael Jordan 1987-1988, Jason Richardson 2002-2003, and Nate Robinson 2009-2010. And 5 total players have won multiple titles (Dominique Wilkins, Harold Miner, in addition to the previous 3 mentioned).
Toronto Raptors’ Terrence Ross will be looking to join the list in New Orleans on Saturday as he looks to defend his 2013 slam dunk title. Ross will be facing not only stiff competition, the big name value of his competitors, AND an all-new revamped dunk contest format. The new rules for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest are detailed on NBA.com.
In brief, the new rules are to reinvent an otherwise dull and declining event that has seen its share of disappointments in the last few seasons. The dunk contest will now feature a more East vs West team vibe, which includes an opening round of “Freestyle” competition—pitting the 3 Eastern conference dunkers (Paul George, John Wall, Terrence Ross) against the 3 Western conference dunkers (Damian Lillard, Harrison Barnes, Ben McLemore) in a 90 second ‘freestyle’. This 90 second freestyle is nothing more than a showcase; before the real competition begins.
A “Battle Round” will follow—this is where the competition really gets started—in which each member of each team will be matched up with a dunker of the opposite conference. A head-to-head battle with the individual loser of each match up eliminated until there is only one team remaining. Therefore, this dunk contest could possibly end after 3 head-to-head matchups—if all members of the East were to eliminate the members of the West.
How will the dunk champion be decided you ask? Well once again—as it has been since 2008—the (now renamed) ‘Dunker of the Night’ will be decided based upon a fan vote through SMS, NBA.com, and the NBA GameTime app. As history dictates, fans are not the most reliable people to be voting on a contest of any sort.
This all leads to a near insurmountable odd for sophomore Terrence Ross to repeat as Slam Dunk Champion.
Let me explain.
1. 6 Participants.
Yes, Terrence Ross competed against 5 other participants last year as well, and will have the same 16.67% to win as last year. This is more about the odds of repeating, which of the three previously mentioned repeat champions, only Michael Jordan competed against a field of 6 total competitors twice—Robinson and Richardson both repeated against just 3 other competitors twice.
2. A) Name Value
John Wall, Damian Lillard, Paul George—all of them in the upper echelon of popularity when it comes to the NBA, all of them will be participating in the 62nd NBA All-Star Game. This marks the first time in 26 years (1988) that three All-Stars are competing in the Sprite Slam Dunk. Of course this is good for the NBA and viewership, because name recognition will only lead to more viewers.
While sophomore Terrence Ross wasn’t even invited to the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. And was left off the @NBA’s twitter mentions when announcing the ‘headlining’ participants of the dunk contest.
— NBA (@NBA) February 7, 2014
Name value wasn’t something that Ross had to deal with when he won in 2013, competing against the likes of Jeremy Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Kenneth Faried, Gerald Green, and James White. Other than arguably Gerald Green, none of the other names would stand out to the casual fan. Ross easily defeated Evans 58%-42% in the finals.
Why does this matter you ask? Because of fan voting.
B) Fan Voting
Paul George competed in the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest as a relatively unknown Sophomore, and narrowly lost the contest by 5% vote, to champion Jeremy Evans. Since then, George’s star status has catapulted in super-stardom along with his skills and increasing popularity in just two seasons—evidenced by the 1.2 million votes (3rd-most) cast for him to be a starting forward for the eastern conference in the all-star game.
If I were to predict, the odds on favourite to win the dunk contest will be the player named ‘Captain of the Eastern Conference team’, Paul George, just based on fan voting alone. And that doesn’t even begin to include John Wall and Damian Lillard, who will be competing in 5 total events this all-star weekend, and have his name and face plastered all over all-star weekend, so if you don’t know him from his rookie of the year award winning season, by now, you will when you watch.
Fan voting is as reliable as an NBA referee’s ability to make the correct call. Just as a quick example, take a look at who the fans voted as a starter for the 2014 all-star game, Kobe Bryant (played a total of 6 games), Blake Griffin and Kevin Love (over the much deserved LaMarcus Aldridge).
All this may only matter on whether or not Ross is able to survive till the end, which will be dependent on the panel of judges courtside, and we know those judges are never impartial. The ‘expert judges’ are all to happy to throw out scores of 10’s—resulting in a perfect 50 score—that you can never rely on the unpredictability. Those judges more times than not will favour a ‘big name’ player when deciding upon their score. Although, Ross had no problem with this last year, coming 1 point shy of a perfect 100 opening round.
The fan voting for “Dunker of the Night” will be open to all participants of the contest, or just those on the winning team. However the longer a player lasts in the competition, the more of a case he is able to make.
Terrence Ross may very well be the best dunker in the field, but the eventual results may not necessarily show that.
To end off on a positive note, Terrence Ross has been practicing his repertoire for Saturday, as the Raptors twitter account has posted a couple of his practice dunks.
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 7, 2014