Slam dunk contest scoring methods could still be improved, a dunkologist explains

Picture captured from the NBATV broadcast of 1987 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Credit score: NBA

I grew up watching among the best slam dunk artists on this planet.

Shawn Kemp was certainly one of my favorites as a result of he was freaky athletic and dunked so powerfully. Plus, he appeared so nonchalant about every thing. It made his dunks look easy.

Dominique Wilkins simply jumped so excessive on each dunk. His limbs are lengthy and he would windmill the ball to date round after which dunk exhausting on the rim like a sledgehammer.

Kenny “Sky” Walker was my greatest inspiration, as a result of I felt as if we jumped alike, and he did loads of 360s. He swung and whirled the ball about, kicking his legs and dunking aggressively. That is why I preferred doing these 360s on a 6-foot-high rim again within the Nineteen Nineties once I was in elementary college.

I additionally drew inspiration from my dad. Sooner or later my dad and I had been capturing baskets with a volleyball. I begged him to dunk it. Despite the fact that he was exhausted from a day of building work, he dunked it exhausting, all his limbs outstretched. The impression ripped open his finger and he started to bleed. Regardless of the damage, I used to be simply in awe that he had dunked the ball. I believed the entire thing was so cool.

Immediately, my fondness for dunking stays, however on a a lot increased aircraft. I research dunks, in order that makes me a dunk scientist. Otherwise you may say I am a dunkologist.

So each time I watch the NBA’s annual slam dunk contest—just like the one which Philadelphia 76ers’ Mac McClung gained with a turnaround slam on Feb. 18, 2023—I do not watch simply to be entertained. As chairman of the technical committee for the World Dunk Affiliation—a bunch shaped in 2020 to construct extra appreciation for the slam dunk—I additionally look to enhance upon a brand new system now we have developed providing a extra scientific method towards how judges rating slam dunks.

Rising up, I bear in mind seeing “fashion, athleticism and creativity” talked about throughout NBA broadcasts as elements for slam dunk judges to contemplate. But it surely wasn’t till I embarked upon my journey to change into a researcher that I started to marvel if the slam dunk judges may be utilizing extra subtle standards.

A basketball participant breaks down the science of how he does a slam dunk.

As my colleague Evan Rollins and I wrote in a peer-reviewed paper printed in 2019 within the Journal of Sports activities Analytics, dunk scores—now given on a scale of 6 to 10—will not be at all times awarded as pretty and persistently as you may hope or anticipate.

How dunks get scored

I created a database to seize information from each dunk I may discover for contests going all the best way again to 1984. As of February 2022, the database comprises data on greater than 700 dunks.

Solely about 45% of a participant’s dunk rating relies on what they do with their physique or the ball, our evaluation discovered. We discovered about 28% of a dunker’s rating relies on elements that don’t have anything to do with the precise dunk, similar to whether or not or not the competition passed off within the hometown of the dunker or the dunker’s crew. When a dunker’s crew or hometown hosted the competition, their dunks had been typically scored increased than they might have been if the competition had been held some other place.

Different elements included the participant’s reputation—as measured by the variety of mentions within the media. However a participant’s reputation is commonly primarily based on the participant’s ability, so we do not know if participant reputation is a reason for—or just correlated with—scoring excessive on a slam dunk.

The affect of non-dunk-related elements made me wish to uncover new strategies to guage and rating slam dunks. My pursuit led me to the World Dunk Affiliation, which was began in 2020 by Kadour Ziani, a retired skilled dunker, and Damian Le Nouaille-Diez, a software program engineer, creator and entrepreneur. Seems Kadour and Damian had devised a system to categorise dunks that was very very similar to the one Evans and I printed in 2019.

As our affiliation continues to work on new and higher methods to allow judges—and most of the people—to attain dunks, listed here are 5 issues to bear in mind everytime you watch a slam dunk contest.

Vince Carter performing a robust 360 windmill dunk within the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

1. Disregard issues that aren’t half of the particular dunk

Watch out of theatrics similar to singing choirs, intelligent passes from a teammate, altering jerseys and different options that don’t meaningfully alter how the dunker executes ball actions and physique actions.

Leaping over a star isn’t any completely different from leaping over an peculiar individual of the identical top. All these actions are thrilling and entertaining, however they don’t mirror what the dunker really does.

2. Flight: Elevation, distance and obstacles

Flight includes how excessive the dunker jumps, how far they soar and—in the event that they soar over one thing—the scale of an impediment they soar over.

A easy method to examine how excessive the dunker jumps is by on the lookout for the very best level of their head relative to the underside of the web and basket. That is simpler than checking distance between the hips and the ground, as a result of the dunk occurs so shortly and jerseys could make it exhausting to visually find the hip.

Distance is just how far the purpose of takeoff is from the basket.

Leaping over obstacles is spectacular as a result of it makes all different elements of the dunk harder. Nonetheless, at all times examine whether or not the dunker pushes off the impediment whereas leaping over it as a result of pushing up will increase the upward drive and, when accomplished correctly, will permit them to raise increased than they’re actually capable of soar.

3. Model: Watching what is finished within the air

As soon as airborne, dunkers carry out methods with the ball and gymnastics with their our bodies.

Look ahead to whether or not their total bodily actions are easy and prolonged or jerky and abbreviated. Totally outstretching arms and prolonged, smoother actions demand higher power and adaptability to take care of management of the ball and physique whereas airborne. If a dunker has hassle sustaining management of the ball and their physique within the air, the legs and arms can be much less prolonged and actions can be abbreviated.

4. Energy: Watching the end

Look ahead to a robust and clear end through which the ball is dunked at a excessive velocity with out bumping the rim. On extra highly effective dunks there may even be higher motion of the web aspect to aspect or upward out of the basket.

5. Innovation: Get pleasure from it

Dunkers can invent new ball actions and introduce never-before-seen variations. Generally they dream up entertaining methods to showcase their skills, similar to slapping a sticker excessive on the backboard, grabbing a stuffed animal hanging from the rim with their mouth or blowing out a lit birthday candle that’s on the rim as a part of the dunk.

Whereas the 2022 slam dunk contest has been referred to as “the weakest ever,” some, similar to Shaquille O’Neal, are saying that Mac McClung could have “saved the competition” in 2023.

Certainly, McClung dazzled—however he was not alone. The opposite contestants—Trey Murphy III, Jericho Sims and Kenyon Martin Jr.—placed on a present as properly, performing athletically demanding dunks. Notably, 10 of the 12 whole dunks in 2023 had been made on the primary attempt, far higher than 4 of 12 in 2022. Though McClung gained with an array of fantastic dunks, Murphy’s 180 two-handed tomahawk-to-windmill with a reverse end shouldn’t be missed.

My favourite dunks are those—identical to those I used to observe as a child—that encourage me to go to the court docket and create my very own.

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Slam dunk contest scoring strategies may nonetheless be improved, a dunkologist explains (2023, February 24)
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