Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Slam Dunk Competition isn't what it used to be.
I'm sorry to disappoint you, my friend. Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins aren't walking through that door (unless there's a bookie inside, then all bets are off). At the risk of sounding a little bit too much like Charles Barkley, them dunkers ain't stars no more.
Instead, you get a field of six competitors who have started a combined total of 75 games this season. 52 of those games were by Kenneth Faried alone. Not a single one of these dunkers actually made the All-Star team, and only Faried is in the Top 50 of our nERD rankings.
Of course, play on the court doesn't always correspond to dunking ability. Jeremy Evans taught us that last year. But it did get me thinking: in terms of sheer star power and actual basketball skill, is this the weakest Slam Dunk competition of All-Time?
According to the stats, it very well could be.
It's tough to determine an all-around method for how valuable a player is to their team, but a good place to start is a player's Win Shares.
The basics behind win shares, as determined by basketball-reference.com, are simple. Through your play, how much of your team's total wins can be attributed to your play on the court? Naturally, this favors players from high-win teams, even if a certain player only contributed a tiny amount. However, it remains a solid basis for establishing just how valuable a player was during a certain regular season.
For each player in the 2003-2012 Slam Dunk contests, I found their total win shares as well as their win shares per 48 minutes. For 2013, I had our Chief Analyst Keith Goldner run a regression analysis for each participant's projected win shares and win shares per 48 minutes based on their numberFire efficiency ratings. Then, I took the average of the data, determining the strength of the Slam Dunk participants as a whole.
You may notice that I took the average of the individual win shares per 48 minutes, rather than finding the total minutes played and the total win shares and finding the average that way. I wished to give each player an equal weight: for 2003 through 2012, each player represented 25 percent of the worth of the competition. In the case of last year, for instance, Jeremy Evans would have meant nothing otherwise. Because of this, the averages may be slightly skewed, but I still feel they provide an accurate enough assessment of the relative worth of each player, with a few outliers (Evans in 2012 being the most notable) because of a small sample size of playing time.
The Last Ten Years
First, let's take a look at the individual contestants from this year's Slam Dunk contest. And most of them have one thing in common: they're not contributing that much to their teams.
The expansion from four contestants to six contestants could actually hurt the Slam Dunk contest in this regard: there is more room for the fringe players to make the competition. There is no way of knowing whether Faried and Bledsoe would have been in or out given only four contestants, but having six dilutes their win shares even further.
Jeremy Evans has a high win share per 48 minutes average, given that he has only played 127 minutes total on the season. That skews the average WS/48 statistic slightly higher; without it, this group would be miles below even last year's group.
Evans' unusually high win shares per 48 skews this group's average as well, but their average win shares on the season remains just as low. Of course, Paul George is an All-Star this year, but last year, he added less total value to his team than Kenneth Faried. Chase Budinger and Derrick Williams aren't exactly stars, either: they have combined for 1.9 total shares of Minnesota's 19 wins so far this season.
These past two years are nothing in comparison to 2011 through 2008, however, where Blake Griffin, Gerald Wallace, and Dwight Howard held down the fort.
Thanks to the substantial boosts from the forwards, all of these particular years would see at least one major star in the Slam Dunk Competition. All except for 2008 would have a higher win shares per 48 average as well, meaning that these weren't just great players who were getting no playing time. That 2008 average is highly skewed as well by Gerald Green's absolutely miserable season, one of the very few in the past ten years that has actually seen a player contribute negatively to his team's win shares.
The cream of the crop came in 2009, the year where Nate Robinson beat Dwight Howard. All four participants were at 5.8 win shares or higher for their respective teams. This season, Faried is the only one in six who is not expected to pass that mark.
Digging Even Deeper
In fact, these particular totals are not an isolated trend. Dating back ten years, only one year prior to 2012 would see the Slam Dunk Competition have a lower average win shares than four. That year, 2006, would feature future stars in Nate Robinson, Andre Iguodala, and Josh Smith (and Hakim Warrick) who were slowly beginning increasing their roles on their respective teams. While that may be the case for Ross, Faried, and Bledsoe in this year's crop, you would be hard-pressed to make that case for the other three.
The other years had much more star power as well: only the 2012, 2006, and 2004 editions of the competition would see their top performer have fewer projected win shares than Kenneth Faried's 7.9. That 2004 competition, which saw Fred Jones beat out Jason Richardson, Chris Andersen, and Ricky Davis, is considered one of the weakest contests of all-time.
|Year||Average Win Shares||Average WS/48 Min|
As you can see, the 2013 Slam Dunk Competition does not fare well when compared to its peers. In fact, since 2002, only the 2012 and 2006 competitions could even be in the same league as this year's offering. That's no offense to Faried or Bledsoe (and only slight offense to James White), but this year, we have a bevy of players that aren't big contributors to their respective teams.
Once again, this doesn't mean that it won't be a great event. Some players can't do much else other than dunk. As a Jazz fan, I can assure you that's the case with Jeremy Evans. However, just don't expect the casual fan to respond with too much buzz about this performance. Unlike the Blakes and Dwights and Nates and Amares of the past, the NBA star power of this year's contest simply isn't there.