The 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest brought many changes to Saturday's spectacle. The league must continue moving forward with some of them, but others should have been thrown out in the planning stages of this marquee event, which is trying to regain popularity.
A star-studded field of performers this year—including Paul George, Damian Lillard, Terrence Ross and "Dunker of the Night" John Wall—guaranteed 2014 to be a big event. Anticipation only grew at the announcement of an entirely new tournament format that put up three dunkers in the East against three in the West, along with a plethora of other changes.
While the event was successful in parts, other wrinkles had viewers taking to Twitter with their complaints and jokes over some of the revamped format's oddities.
Let's break down the best and worst from the new format.
Best: One-on-One Battles
Let's start with one of the positives, since there aren't many of them.
After the debauchery that was the freestyle round, one participant from the West got three opportunities to land his dunk, followed by another predetermined opponent from the East doing the same. At the end, the judges—Magic Johnson, Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins—determined via majority vote which dunk reigned supreme.
The round gave each player one chance, individually, to land his dunk of choice—something the preceding freestyle round ignored completely and is an aspect that is supposed to be the main format of a dunk contest.
However, despite the one-on-one battles determining a winner, there was no follow-up round. The three winners were simply picked after their individual rounds instead of each getting one last crack at it.
Even the shining positive of the new format has a glaring problem.
Worst: Freestyle Round
To open up this year's new-look Slam Dunk Contest format, the three players from each team competed in a joke of a round that determined something that could not have been more inconsequential.
What did you think of the 2014 edition?
Harrison Barnes, Lillard and Ben McLemore completed their rendition of a 90-second round that included collaborative dunks, but they mostly delivered individual performances of game-like dunks.
George, Ross and Wall followed it up with their performance, which included a nice dunk that incorporated each of them and a shot-clock lob bounce to a George dunk.
But other than that, the freestyle round was a huge failure.
What was meant to be a display of collaborative dunks ended up being just a warm-up round of highlight-reel slams that obviously weren't at the top of any of these dunkers' repertoires.
As New York Daily News' Frank Isola put best, an individual competition isn't the best place to display team play:
Of all the times to promote team basketball, the slam dunk contest isn't one of them.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) February 16, 2014
Toronto Raptors player Chuck Hayes wasn't too sure about it, either:
I don't know if I'm feeling that open/freestyle round in the dunk contest— chuck hayes (@c_hayes44) February 16, 2014
The East won the round and was able to pick which side would go first in the one-on-one round—as if that was a huge reward.
When NBA's executives are deciding how to improve the format for next year, the freestyle round should be the first thing that goes.
Worst: That Was It?
Anyone with a pulse and an understanding of normal-flowing tournaments such as these had to do a double-take when watching the 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
Freestyle contest? OK. One-on-one contests with three winners? Great.
Now all that is left is the final round between those three winners.
Wait, we're done here?
Even after a generally disappointing dunk contest, the public was still itching for one final dunk from Wall, George, Ross and a number of other stars.
As NBA players Nicolas Batum, Roy Hibbert and Rudy Gobert put, the event ended far too abruptly:
That's it?— Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) February 16, 2014
The end of this year's dunk contest was like the end of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire". Ur like huh.. Is that it? Shouldn't there be more— Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) February 16, 2014
A finale between the 3 east players would have been cold— rudy gobert (@rudygobert15) February 16, 2014
This year's dunk contest brought a lot of change, but the lack of a true championship round gave viewers an overall sour impression. While plenty of dunks were thrown down, and the one-on-one round offered a lot to digest, more was needed.
Best: Creative Props Didn't Lead to Ridiculous Outcome
That ridiculously overhyped feat was immediately followed by the crowning of Griffin and the proclaiming of it being one of the best dunks ever. It watered down an otherwise competitive contest between some top dunkers.
For reference, McLemore's dunk over Shaquille O'Neal, who was sitting in a massive throne, was more difficult in terms of aerial difficulty.
This year, the props were there. McLemore's use of Shaq was one. Ross taking the ball from Drake to jam it home was another.
But the eventual winning dunk from Wall included nothing but a Wizards mascot holding the ball over his head underneath the basket. All of the flair and wow factor from Wall's dunk was purely from his dunk and not from the prop he used.
And that is something that should be said of every dunk contest from here on out.