NBA Slam Dunk Contest 2014: Making Sense of Competition's New Format

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2014

Team Chuck, Washington Wizards' John Wall dunks the ball during the NBA All Star BBVA Rising Stars Challenge basketball game in Orlando, Fla. Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Gary Bogdon, Pool)
Gary Bogdon/Associated Press

The NBA is banking on the fact that a new Slam Dunk Contest will make fans remember the old Slam Dunk Contest.

Each and every year when All-Star weekend rolls around, you read countless obituaries for the dunk contest. Sportswriters bemoan the fact that the competition isn't the same anymore and/or that it simply sucks.

Those who argue that point should realize that it's never gonna be as good as the late 1980s, when Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins made their purpose in life to beat one another in the dunk contest. That was a great time for the game, but it's never coming back.

CHICAGO - FEBRUARY 6: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls poses for a photo after winning the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest on February 6, 1988 at Chicago Stadium in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
Brian Drake/Getty Images

Just sit back and enjoy the fun without demanding that it reach some unattainable ideal.

Perhaps this year can be different, though. The league has opted for a completely different format from seasons past. You can read the new rule changes on

There are two rounds, both of which are team-based rather than head-to-head. The Eastern Conference has a three-man team, as does the Western Conference. Fans can vote on a "Dunker of the Night," which is pretty much the equivalent to actually winning the whole thing.

SB Nation's Mike Prada had a succinct summary of how Saturday night will play out:

Let's hope the 2014 dunk contest is nothing like the abomination of the 2002 edition with that godforsaken wheel.

For a more detailed explanation this year's new format, read on.


Freestyle Round

This is by far the more intriguing of the two rounds. The Freestyle Round is pretty much a layup line, only on steroids.

Each conference has 90 seconds to land as many dunks as possible. The only catch is that all three members have to connect with at least one dunk. Other than that, it's a free-for-all. The players can go in any order and help each other out in any way possible.

A panel of three judges will determine the winner. Rather than a score out of 50, which has become the norm for the event, the judges will simply choose between the East and West. The conference that has at least two votes wins the round.

This could go one of two ways. Either the Freestyle Round is a huge success where each dunk slowly builds to one massive dunk that involves the whole team or something, or it all becomes a bit monotonous to see three guys dunking for 90 seconds and the whole thing fizzles out.


Battle Round

AJ MAST/Associated Press

This is as close as 2014 gets to the old dunk contests.

The East dunkers will be going head-to-head with the West dunkers, and the judges will decide each battle by voting for one of the two conferences. Once a dunker loses in the Battle Round, he is eliminated from the competition. The conference that gets three Battle Round wins is crowned as slam dunk champion.

Strategy could come into play here. Matching up the right dunkers could mean the difference between winning and losing. Do you pair up similar guys, like Damian Lillard and John Wall? Do you combat somebody like Paul George with Ben McLemore, who's probably the West's best shot to steal the show?

The real drawback of the Battle Round is more to do with the breaking up of the team into conferences. As Ben Golliver of's Point Forward wrote, it limits some of the matchups you can see, which may take away from the spectacle:

The format does not allow for a potential “George vs. Ross” head-to-head match-up, as they are on the same team. If those two players — or any two players from the same conference — prove to be the contest’s best dunkers, the entire contest is at risk of being underwhelming without a final showdown.

Looking at each of the teams, though, there are enough possible pairings that will pique the fans' interest.

This is no doubt a risk by the league going away from what's been the usual standard for years now. With any luck, though, the experiment will be a success, and the Slam Dunk Contest can return to a similar standing that it had in its glory years.