Here's the honest truth: if the dunk contest scoring system doesn't cap out at 50, Aaron Gordon would have won. Bottom line honesty here, people.
That said, it's not like Zach didn't deserve to win. If anything, saw the damn trophy in half.
But first up, how good is Karl-Anthony Towns? Unlike the Dunk Contest, which is pure showmanship, the Skills Challenge is a test of things that actually matter in real NBA game. Shooting, handling, passing. Traditionally this has been guards' domain, but this year, the decision was made to add big men into the mix. The NBA is by far the most self-aware of the four major pro leagues. It knows its game is changing.
Karl-Anthony's guard-esque skillset is no secret to us in 'Sota. We hailed it before the draft as the reason he needed to be the #1 pick, and we've lauded it ever since to anyone that would listen. Unfortunately, not many are listening to a team with 17 wins.
Nor did KAT's prodigious skills mean he had an easy path to the trophy. Even ignoring the guard he'd have to face in the finals, he was up against four supremely skilled bigs in their own rights. DeMarcus Cousins has one of the most complete games of anyone in the NBA at any position, including a three-ball he's been shooting lately. Anthony Davis is the prototype new-age big who began NBA life as a point guard and still has all those skills. And Draymond Green has literally re-wrote the book on being an NBA power forward the last 18 months or so.
Big competition. Yet, no problem. Towns battled past Dray, albeit on a technicality where he didn't need to actually complete the pass (only try it three times). He then silenced the skeptics by nailing the pass on the first try in the second round, en route to smoking Cousins.
Then, it was Isaiah Tomas.
Look, I love IT. He's gotten a raw deal his whole career, and I'm elated he's finally getting his due starting for a very good Celtics team.
But he got beat.
And as you can see, when you're a big man in the NBA, a win for one is a win for all.
(Look at how much fun Cousins is. For the love of basketball, someone rescue that man from the Kings)
Next up, Klay Thompson put on an unbelievable show in the three point contest, beating teammate and universally acclaimed best shooter in the history of ever Steph Curry in the final round. And with 'elan, no less.
Then, the Dunk Contest.
I, and just about everyone else, assumed Zach was going to brick the competition again this year. Holy hell, was I wrong. Aaron Gordon came to play.
I've watched Aaron Gordon for a long, long time. Since he was still in high school. I've seen him compete in more than one dunk contest, and let me tell you, I did not see tonight coming at all. This Aaron Gordon was on Space Jam water.
You can watch all of AG's dunks here, but we'd be insulting him and ourselves if we didn't spam this one here.
That. Is. Freaking. Unbelieveable. The single best dunk of the night by a mile. Gordon is literally sitting on the ball something like 8 feet up in the air.
If the judges could have given this dunk more than a 50, this dunk would have won it. Gordon would have been your new dunk champ.
But, he's not.
To say Aaron Gordon was spectacular is taking nothing away from LaVine. Zach was equally spectacular and then some, upping the ante on last year's behind-the-back jaw dropper, then dunking from the free throw line not once, not twice, but three times.
Alley-oop from the free throw line— Key Sang (@Phantele_) February 14, 2016
Windmill from the free throw line
Between the legs from the free throw line pic.twitter.com/KJsy4jEgtR
You can check out all of Zach's dunks here. But let's talk about his last one. The one that won it all.
First of all, the legs it takes this dude to be jumping from the free throw line for the third time in a half hour is incredible. I remember when Nate Robinson got into an overtime dunk-off with Andre iguodala way back in 2006, and all the announcers were talking about was how they both looked like they had tired legs. No such issue with Zach.
But here's the thing: after the contest....
Zach just said he had never tried the free throw line between the legs before. And he won the whole damn thing with it— Key Sang (@Phantele_) February 14, 2016
You read that right. He had never tried that dunk before. Ever. Apparently it was a suggestion from fellow contestant Will Barton 30 seconds before he did it.
That is unreal. I mean, Gordon's been rocking the rim all night and finally made a small mistake, so Zach has to go for broke and put it away. But between the legs from the free throw line? 99.9% of the NBA can't even jump from the free throw line, and he's LaVine, putting an absurd twist on a free throw line dunk he's never attempted before with the entire world watching.
That dunk deserved to win it. Aaron Gordon, as gracious as ever, knew it along with everyone else.
"[LaVine] went through the legs from the free throw line. That's insane. ... That's why the trophy is with him and not with me." Gordon— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) February 14, 2016
And if you need any other proof of how stunning that dunk was, just look at the sideline reactions. It's an entire lineup of the best players in the NBA in complete disbelief of what they're seeing.
Well done here... pic.twitter.com/Q26qzPkRdy— Chris Long (@ChrisLongKSTP) February 14, 2016
If you want to go at it on technicalities, then consider that LaVine beat out Gordon in total score 299 to 291. In fact, LaVine was one single point shy of an absolute perfect score of 300. His only mark came from Shaq, who docked him a point for not completing the free throw line alley-oop on the first try.
This win unquestionably puts LaVine in that rare pantheon of 'best dunkers ever". He will legitimately be remembered as a guy who dunked with the likes of Michael Jordan and Vince Carter. Which is pretty damn awe-inspiring. Yes, he has a long ways to go as a complete player.But never, ever let anyone question the guy's showmanship. He leaps with the best ever.
Both Gordon and LaVine seemed acutely aware they had just participated...even perpetrated....something very special. The dunk contest has seen a drastic fall in prestige of late, with the NBA trying all sorts of scoring changes and gimmicks to liven it back up. Zach brought it back last year with traditional, no-frills jaw dropping dunks, but he had no competition. It was less a contest than an exhibition.
This year, Aaron Gordon brought the pain, and that resulted in what I believe will be looked back at as the best dunk contest in NBA history. The only reason '88 might be considered better is it was, of course Jordan and 'Nique. But at the risk of blasphaming His Airness, both Zach and Aaron did better dunks this year than any Mike did then. This was the show. Period. The end.
So, to Aaron Gordon: you proved us all wrong. Go back next year and get that trophy, man.
And to Zach LaVine: we knew you'd win all along, champ.