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Why the 3-point-shootout field tops the dunk-contest field

Atlanta Hawks v Golden State Warriors

Atlanta Hawks v Golden State Warriors

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Imagine your ideal 3-point-shootout field.

It’d look an awful lot like the actual field: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, James Harden, Kyrie Irving , J.J. Redick, Wesley Matthews and and Marco Belinelli.

Now, imagine your ideal dunk-contest field.

It’d look nothing, or nearly nothing, like the actual field: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Victor Oladipo, Mason Plumlee and Zach LaVine.

Has the 3-pointer replaced the dunk as the premier shot in the NBA? Are 3-pointers now cooler than dunks?

Teams shoot 3-pointers more often than ever, relying on them to generate efficient points and space the floor. As the NBA has loosened defensive rules, the lane has become more packed, limiting dunking opportunities.

But 3-pointers cooler than dunks? No way. A jumper is not more exciting or fun or exhilarating than a slam.

So why don’t we get LeBron James, Blake Griffin and Russell Westbrook in the dunk contest like we do Curry, Thompson and Korver in the 3-point shootout?

The Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The NBA, as negotiated with the players’ union, can require anyone to participate in the 3-point shootout (or skills challenge or shooting stars contest) with two exceptions:

1. The player isn’t injured.

2. The player hasn’t competed in the event the previous two years (unless he’s the defending champ, in which case he can be required to return).

So, Curry and Irving, both of whom participated in the 3-point shootout the previous two years, were the only two exempt healthy players. Luckily for the NBA, Curry badly wants to win the event, and Irving will participate, too.

The dunk contest is explicitly excluded from these stipulations. In fact, the only players the league can require to compete in the dunk contest are Rising Stars Challenge participants.

Unsurprisingly, all four dunk-contest entrants this year are also in the Rising Stars Challenge.

The CBA calls for more money for the dunk-contest winner ($100,000) than the 3-point shootout winner ($50,000*), but that’s not enough to persuade top players to enter the dunk contest.

*Set before the league increase the participants from six to eight last year, so the figure might have been altered.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN wrote a good article on the changing nature of the NBA, and as he says, there is a buzz for this year’s 3-point shootout – more than the dunk contest. But I don’t see the NBA’s evolution and this year’s All-Star Saturday Night as closely linked as he does.

Elite players want a break more than that cash. Passing on the dunk contest is more about the contractually negotiated right to do so – a right much more limited for the 3-point shootout – than anything else.