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MASSGA: Make NBA All-Star Saturday Great Again

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Commissioner Adam Silver definitely reads this blog, so maybe we’ll get lucky and see one of these come true?

NBA: All Star Saturday Night
Bay area native Aaron Gordon attempts an innovative “drone strike dunk.”
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, we floated ideas on improving how the NBA calls fouls, as well as some alternatives to moving the three point line. This year, it’s All-Star weekend’s turn for a tune-up. As always, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is almost certainly capable of reading these suggestions and incorporating them into the next collective bargaining agreement.

The big man three point contest

The original three point competition is widely considered the highlight of All-Star weekend. Why not make it bigger than ever by adding some positive comic relief to the proceedings?

Take four big men who don’t shoot threes, get them in a four-man tourney, and let the best shooter win. There are a number of bigs around the league who are literally not allowed to shoot threes throughout their career, and many would jump for joy to have a chance to show off (looking at DeAndre Jordan, who took a pull-up Stephortless three in Sunday’s All-Star game). Sure, some would decline the offer — but like any All-Star event there has to be some incentive. How about a charitable donation?

Sure. Maybe there’s a bit too much comic relief on All-Star Saturday without big men chucking threes. That’s largely due to the dunk contest, which has become as much about showmanship as athleticism. That brings us to the next recommendation...

Dunk contest: 1 + 1 + 1

Young guys want to be in the dunk contest. So why are we limiting it to four dunkers of unknown quality, and offering them twelve total dunks? We should broaden the field and reduce their number of attempts in order to limit them to their very best dunks.

Expand the field to eight participants. And reduce their attempts to one each in the first round, one each in the second round, and one more in the finals. Show eight dunks, with the top four advancing to receive a second. The best two get one more shot.

With only one guaranteed dunk per player, no one will show up with fluff. During Saturday’s contest, there were two instances where a player performed a “routine” dunk to guarantee passage to the finals (because Jordan and Gordon’s scores were so low). With only one dunk, and eight competitors, there is no fluff. You need to advance by any means necessary. You can prevent fluff in the second round, too, by using the best combined two dunk score to determine the finalists.

A larger field makes things more surprising, more competitive and more random. Reducing the maximum number of dunks from four to three keeps players a bit more creative and reduces the pressure to invent new gimmicks and props. And things will appear to move faster because a new player is always stepping on the court, despite the fact that the contest will feature two additional dunks in total. And it lets the NBA promote an extra four up-and-comers each year, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Rising Stars tournament

Many years ago, Bill Simmons had an idea for an “entertaining as hell” mid-season tournament to determine the draft lottery winner. This is a throwback to that thought. Split the rookie and sophomore teams into eastern and western conference squads, and put them in a plus-one tournament. Play two on Friday, and the final on Saturday after the D-League All-Star game and before the NBA’s prime time coverage.

The league could keep it fresh by changing up the teams occasionally, too. The USA versus world format is cool — how about a north versus south game? Or team captains? The key is not messing with the All-Star game itself, which is historic and traditional. The peripheral events like the rookie-sophomore game are screaming out for experimentation and innovation, and this should be the way to do it.

Bonus: How to make the All-Star game more competitive

You can’t — not as is. Veteran superstar players aren’t going to bust their butts for nothing, and even if owners started offering contractual incentives to play harder (they wouldn’t because the All-Star game isn’t financially valuable to owners in the first place), veteran superstars still wouldn’t because they don’t need the money.

But there is a class of player who would play harder for money, or just in general. Young rising stars and non-superstars. Unfortunately, the best way to get All-Stars to play hard, competitive games is to start excusing the players who obviously won’t care (Carmelo Anthony is a prime example: just give him the option of sitting out while retaining his All-Star nomination). But that won’t happen so enhancing All-Star Saturday (and Friday) is likely our best bet.

Got any suggestions of your own? Hit the comments. I personally guarantee that Adam Silver might read this one day and act on it.