Use the 3-Point Contest as a template
Unlike almost every other Saturday night event at All-Star Weekend, the 3-Point Contest never disappoints. And, when you really analyze the event, it becomes clear why it never falls flat.
When an NBA player competes in the three-point shooting competition, there is no way for him to not try. I mean, think about it. Is a player ever going to get up there and just chuck up lazy, apathetic shots? No. It seems silly to even imagine anyone – let alone a talented NBA shooter – doing that.
There’s also no injury risk when shooting open threes, which is pivotal. Players are (understandably) nervous about getting injured in a seemingly meaningless event that has no bearing on the success of their team, so they aren’t going to exert too much energy unless there is something else on the line. In the case of the 3-Point Contest, they exert the minimal effort required in shooting threes because there’s no injury downside.
Most importantly, though, players are prideful about who the best shooter is. In gyms across the world, players of all ages are having shooting competitions to determine the best shooter on the court, and NBA players are no different.
So, how do we make the rest of the night as engaging as that?
1) Replace the Skills Competition with a Passing Competition
Pretty simple. Line up a bunch of those passing targets that they use in the skills contest, and have players use different passing techniques to pass the ball through them.
They would work their way through the targets by doing different types of passes; strong hand passes, weak hand passes, bounce passes, chest passes, behind the back passes, no-look passes.
Then, set up a moving target and have the players throw an overhead/baseball (whatever they choose) outlet pass to it.
Why would this be fun?
The players have no incentive not to try in this competition. They would barely break a sweat by going through it, and they would probably be fairly competitive about who the most accurate passer is. There’s also no injury potential involved.
Imagine this event with guys like Nikola Jokic, Tyrese Haliburton, Lebron James, and, of course, Marcus Smart. It would be electric, and it would certainly be more riveting than the current skills contest (not that that’s saying much).
2) King of the Court Challenge (with a twist)
If you haven’t seen the viral videos of Team USA players playing one on one at the end of their practices, treat yourself.
Straightforward rules here. Player with the ball starts at the three-point line and has three dribbles to score. If he scores, he goes against the next defender in line. If he doesn’t score, the defensive player moves to offense and faces the next defender in line.
I think NBA players would be prideful enough in their 1v1 skills (and 1v1 defense) to try against their peers in a king of the court contest, much like they do at Team USA camp. However, there is definitely a world where some players wouldn’t exert full effort.
So, here’s the twist: add in 5 G-League stars.
A group of talented NBA scorers wouldn’t dare let Mac McClung or Scoot Henderson win a king of the court challenge. At the end of the day, they want to assert their dominance as NBA players.
And, conversely, the G Leaguers want to prove that they can hang with the best of the best, so they’ll certainly bring it. It might be fear of embarrassment that incentivizes NBA players to try in this contest. But, quite frankly, I’m okay with that, and you should be too.
Yes, there is clearly a level of potential concern regarding injury. However, it’s probably lower than you think. The majority of basketball injuries involve different circumstances than those that exist in a one-on-one setting. Fast breaks, help defense, full speed sprinting, and elevation at the rim are all characteristics of real games that will be diminished or completely eliminated in this contest.
3) Rebrand the Dunk Contest
The dunk contest is anticlimactic for a couple reasons. First of all, it doesn’t feature the best players (or dunkers) in the league. The best of the best simply don’t want to compete.
Additionally, too many of these dunks have already been done. It’s almost impossible to come up with a unique dunk at this point. And, if you haven’t perused YouTube, there are people you’ve never heard of that can pull off dunks that would deserve a 50+ at any NBA dunk contest.
Instead of the classic dunk contest, let’s make it a “Who can dunk on the highest rim” contest.
We all remember when Dwight Howard dunked on a 12-foot hoop during the 2013 dunk contest.
Well, let’s see who can dunk on the highest rim. There’s VERY minimal injury risk, and there’s also no reason not to try in this contest. Players would likely be prideful in who can essentially touch the highest point, too.
The rim starts at 10 feet and moves up by a foot once each player completes the dunk. How high might it get? I don’t know, but something tells me Rob Williams might want a say in that, along with many other players.
For more on this discussion, check out CelticsBlog’s Robbie Hodin on the Green with Envy podcast with Will Weir and Greg Maneikis where they’ll also discuss five things to look for heading into the unofficial second half of the regular season.