In addition to a Dunk competition and a three point shootout, the D-League held a much anticipated H.O.R.S.E. competition. As a league sometimes used for experimentation, the league office wasnt afraid to throw some new wrinkles into the often repetitive competitions. It resulted in a very entertaining night and as usual, DraftExpress was there to witness the events as they unfolded.
The Return of HORSE
The much anticipated return of Horse received mixed reviews Friday night as Idahos Lance Allred defeated Utahs Morris Almond in the final round H to HO. The contest showed its potential as a fan friendly once the kinks are worked out. The length of the matchups (Who would have guessed that 5 minutes would take so long) and lack of creative shots were the primary concerns.
Allred relied on an assortment of bank shots to defeat Fort Waynes Jeremy Richardson in the first round and Almond in the final. Allred credited his lack of creativity to a recent injury. I bruised my hand bone really bad last game so Ive been rehabbing my hand all week. I didnt get a chance to come in to the gym at all and work on any shots and thats why I was shooting boring bank shots, Said Allred.
The players all wore microphones so the audience could hear them call their shots. Allreds most creative shot was called The Sam Perkins a three-point set shot from straight away.
Unlike Allred, Almond had a chance to practice for the event. I prepared my first three shots. The sit down, the one over the backboard and the (back to the basket, shoot) over the head, but after that I kind of ran out of ideas and everything else I hadnt practiced, said Almond.
Almonds most creative attempt was a lay-up, through the legs and off the glass, but it rimmed out.
The creative shot of the night award went to Sioux Falls Kasib Powell who jumped and spun 360 degrees before attempting a three-pointer mid air. Powell also shot a couple of Horse classics the hook shot and the under-hand free throw.
Allred, who is 610, was expecting a different approach from his competition. I was expecting them to shoot more three pointers. Thats not my strength. They could have taken me out that way, but I went the safe way and I won. Safe and boring, said Allred. Although his safe and boring approach worked, the Horse competition needs to be anything but that for it to be successful in the future.
Three Point Shootout
The first D-League three point competition pitted four of the top shooters from the league against each other. Though based on the NBA three point competition, a few differences separated this contest from the one that takes place on Saturday night. In your typical three point contest, five racks with five balls each are spaced out on different areas of the floor, with the fifth money ball worth two points instead of one. For the D-League competition, they decided to use seven racks with three ball each, but the money ball concept remained at the status quo.
The contestants were headlined by Kaniel Dickens of Colorado and Adam Harrington of Tulsa, the two players regarded as the best in the league at converting the long ball. Harrington leads all players percentage-wise, coming in just under the 50% mark on the season from three, and Dickens leads the league in attempts (212) and makes (91). The field was rounded out by Keith Langford of the Austin Toros who has really improved his shooting this season (42%) , and Josh Gross of the Albuquerque Thunderbirds (39%).
Gross started the competition as the first shooter, and knocked down two points on each of his first three racks before finishing the round with nine points. Kaniel Dickens followed, starting off slow before a late surge to match Gross at the nine point mark. Langford failed to get into a rhythm and finished the first round on the outside looking in at the eight point mark. The only shooter to find a groove early, Harrington hit all 3 balls on his first rack on his way to a 17 point round.
The nine point tie between Gross and Dickens led to a 30 second shootout, which was won by Dickens after he notched 6 points.
Harrington shot first in the final round, and continued where he left off in the first round. The guard hit 2 of his first three shots on his way to a 19 point round that left him in a good position with just Dickens left with a chance to catch him. The veteran started his final round with a perfect rack of 4 points, but cooled down a little towards the end, coming up four points short of Harrington.
After the competition, Harrington implied that going last made him feel more confident about his chances when he finally took his turn in the first round.
When I saw those first couple scores, I kind of got comfortable. I knew I had to make more than that if youre just going by the percentages.
The additional racks certainly made an impact of the minds of the contestants. It gets a little nerve-racking out there. Theres seven racks instead of five. Theres less balls, but theres more movement to get to the racks, said Harrington.
Both finalists are the type of shooters who could potentially fill a role with an NBA team looking for a specialist. Dickens has previous NBA experience, and Harrington has the type of shooting stroke that could potentially gain him a look from the next level this season.
Slam Dunk Contest
The highlight of the night, and the most anticipated event by both fans and personnel alike, was the Slam Dunk Contest. Doug Thomas of the Iowa Energy, Eric Smith of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, and Brent Petway and Mike Taylor of the Idaho Stampede, all came to compete and show that there is nothing minor league about their athleticism.
The format of the contest was a little different than in the NBA; the players were each paired with a young fan to sit with them and once it was their turn they would propose two dunks to the fan and they would choose which one they would like to see. After all four players had completed their first dunks they would then do the other dunk and then take the combined score to see who would move on to the finals.
Judges, and former NBA players, Norm Nixon, Tracy Murray, and The Junk Yard Dog (Jerome Williams), were teamed with Bill Simmons of ESPN and a young fan who won the earlier Hot Shot competition. The judges on a whole did a good job playing to the crowd and showing their support of some of the amazing dunks on display.
Doug Thomas is a power dunker who gets up and slams the ball with unabashed authority. While his dunks werent very technical, they showed his strength and leaping ability. Before the game Doug mentioned to Mike Schmidt that the league denied his request to raise the rim to 13 one foot higher than Dwight Howard requested for the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. At first this might seem like boasting, but in college at Iowa he set a world record by hitting 13 on a vertical reach test, so he certainly had the walk to back up his talk, and if the league had allowed the height change it would have no doubt been a sight to see. Despite that his top dunk was an athletic attempt from the free-throw line that might have sent him to the finals, but he jumped half a step inside of the line which hurt his score.
Eric Smith threw down a pretty windmill for his first dunk, and then for his second dunk he did a 360 and then double-clutched for the slam. The second dunk was very solid, but the combined score of the two wasnt enough to move on.
Brent Petway informed the crowd that he gave his dunks names: the À la Carter and the Dominique Special. First up was his ode to Dominique Wilkins where he caught the ball on the bounce mid-air and then gave a monstrous windmill slam. In his homage to Vince Carter he got extremely high in the air and then hung from the rim by his elbow for several seconds before pulling himself up and slapping the backboard. Both the crowd and judges went crazy for this and it allowed him to advance to the next round.
Last, but not least, was Mike Taylor. Standing only 62 your first thought is hes the D-League equivalent of Spud Webb or Nate Robinson, but this really couldnt be further from the truth. He got up very high on his first dunk as he did a 360 before slamming it home, and the in his second dunk he threw the ball, ran down the baseline, leaped and caught the ball in the air so far away from the basket most of us didnt give him much of a chance to dunk, especially since his momentum was carrying him away from the basket, but he reached back and then whipped it over his head and slammed it home allowing him to meet fellow Idaho Stampede teammate Brent Petway for the championship round.
In the finals Taylor did a reverse dunk off of the bounce where he once again got up very high. Petway then set the ball on the ground directly underneath the basket and did a squat jump where he grabbed the ball off the ground, leaped, and then windmill-slammed it through the hoop all in one motion. This isnt a dunk that impresses the crowd, but the high basketball IQ people on the sideline seemed to understand the extreme athleticism required to pull that off. For his last dunk Petway caught the ball in the air, went through the legs and slammed it home. Finally, Mike Taylor had a chance to win it: a 49 would tie, but a 50 would secure him the trophy. He bailed out of the first two attempts, and in the third one he tried to catch it mid-air while running baseline and then pass it through his legs and slam home a reverse dunk. Unfortunately he missed on his final attempt, securing the victory for Brent Petway.
After the game Petway said about winning the 2008 D-League All-Star Slam Dunk Contest that, it feels great. I didnt get a chance to win the college one, but I got the chance to win the professional one, and thats even better. In regards to repeating the feat next year he said that, since we only did four dunks Ive got plenty more that I can show and that he would hopefully show them off at the 2009 D-League All-Star game.