Posts Tagged ‘Shaquille O’Neal’

Analytics Art: Breaking down LeBron’s Finals MVP performance

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit to win a championship. James was the unanimous choice for Finals MVP after fueling this comeback and became just the third player ever to notch a triple-double in a Game 7 of The Finals (something only James Worthy and Jerry West did).

Staring down a seemingly insurmountable deficit against the best regular-season team in NBA lore — previous teams in The Finals were 0-32 all time after falling down 3-1 — James responded with back-to-back 41-point outbursts in Games 5 and 6 before his Game 7 triple-double.

As if his individual performances were not impressive enough, James also led The Finals in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s the first player to ever lead a playoff series in five stats categories.

It ultimately didn’t matter, but James’ efficiency throughout the Game 7 triple-double performance was grim. James shot 9-for-24 (37.5 percent) and made 1 of 5 3-pointers. His performances in Games 5 and 6, however, were tremendous.

In terms of Game Score — a statistic developed by John Hollinger to provide a rough measure of a player’s individual performance in a given game — those 41-point explosions were by far the best games James had played all season.

A Game Score of 40 is considered an amazing while a 10 is average. LeBron’s Game 5 Game Score was 39.2 and his Game 6 netted a 42.5.

All told, James’ Game Score average in The Finals was a 26.5. That’s remarkably impressive, but where does it rank among past Finals MVPs?

The PointAfter team found the Game Score of each Finals MVP dating back to 1985. In those 30-plus years, James’ Finals performance ranks in the top eight all-time.

Only Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson trump James in this context, but the list also shows just how phenomenal those players were in their prime.

O’Neal averaged 38.0 points, 16.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.7 blocks while shooting 61.1 percent in The 2000 Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

In The 1991 NBA Finals, Jordan averaged 31.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 11.4 assists, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks and shot 55.8 percent in a five-game series win against the Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers.

In 1987, Johnson nearly averaged a triple-double for the series (26.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 13.0 assists) while collecting 2.3 steals per game. He also shot 54.1 percent overall and 96 percent on his free throws as the Lakers topped the Boston Celtics.

In this year’s Finals, James proved once again how elite he is in the scope of the NBA annals. He orchestrated the most impressive Finals series comeback ever against arguably the best team in ages, added a third championship ring to his résumé and brought Cleveland its first NBA title.

Nevertheless, even for as flat-out good as LeBron was throughout the series (sustaining a high level through seven games), the numbers other guys posted somehow make James’ look human.

Even the most devoted LeBron doubters should, logically speaking, acknowledge his status as an all-time great. That being said, several former NBA superstars somehow were even more dominant than James was The Finals’ stage in 2016.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Analytics Art: Breaking down Towns’ rookie season in historic terms

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 — a 12-season postseason drought that’s the longest active streak in the NBA. And yet, they’re one of the league’s most intriguing young teams.

They aren’t intriguing because of their 29-win campaign in 2015-16. And the intrigue isn’t due to slashing scorer Andrew Wiggins, nor because Tom Thibodeau was recently hired as the Wolves’ next coach and president of basketball operations. The key source of excitement in Minnesota lies in Kia Rookie of the Year winner Karl-Anthony Towns.

In a landscape where NBA bigs tend to adapt gradually to the pros — in order to put on weight, develop and hone their post moves, etc. — Towns hit the ground running. He started all 82 games as a 20-year-old, averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and 1.7 blocks, all while shooting 54.2 percent and making 34.1 percent of his 3-pointers.

Despite his lack of experience, Towns was masterfully efficient from the field. His ability to knock down mid-range shots was particularly impressive. He shot 48.2 percent on shots around the free throw line and elbows — nearly 10 percent better than league average from that zone. He shot above 47 percent from each baseline spot as well, which was also superior to the league average.

So, how did Towns compare to his fellow rookies?

By a raw numbers perspective (average points, rebounds and assists), Towns finished comfortably ahead of the pack. Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor, who was second by those combined stats, only played 53 games due to injury. Towns’ ability to stuff box scores was illustrated by his massive advantage in double-doubles over his fellow rookies.

Towns’ 51 double-doubles not only lapped the rookie field, but put him third in the league behind All-Stars Andre Drummond (66) and Russell Westbrook (54).

Towns exceeded lofty expectations as a scorer, rebounder, shot blocker and even as a passer. There’s clout to the argument that the youngster should make All-NBA Third Team at center as the workload Towns took on (and the stability he brought to the Timberwolves) put him clearly ahead in the eyes of voters.

All that said, how does Towns’ season compare to other legendary big men who were also ROY winners?

On a per-game basis, Towns’ numbers are closest to Derrick Coleman, the former top pick of the New Jersey Nets. A 6-foot-10, 230-pound lefty out of Syracuse, Coleman was selected one spot ahead of future Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton in the 1990 NBA Draft.

Towns boasts a bigger frame (two inches taller and approximately 15 pounds heavier) than Coleman and he was a far more efficient rookie scorer than Coleman, too. Aside from those factors, this first-year comparison is rather fitting.

Both averaged around 18 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and more than one block. Coleman also shot about 34 percent from beyond the arc, though he did take 50 fewer 3-pointers as a rookie compared to Towns. Still, it’s fair to say Coleman was far from a post-bound center. He could step out and hit mid-range shots, just as Towns showed he was capable of doing.

If you narrow down the comparisons to stats per 36 minutes, however, a different narrative emerges.

Both David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal are in a class of their own as dominant rookie big men by this measure, but Towns clearly falls into the second tier — along with Blake Griffin, Chris Webber and Tim Duncan.

Towns notched 20.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes. Those figures are much more similar to Duncan than they are to Coleman, but Duncan went 0-of-10 on 3-pointers as a rookie and never developed that skill in his career. The latest No. 1 overall pick already has the ability to hit his 3-point tries.

Translation: Towns is going to be ridiculously good.

With the poise he showed as a rookie and the numbers putting him on par with guys like Duncan, Griffin and others, Minnesota has a bonafide star on its hands.

With those qualifying factors, Towns joins only Robinson and Duncan. How’s that for elite company?

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA Players, NBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Can Duncan turn back Father Time again?

Over a career that will travel directly from San Antonio to Springfield, Mass., Tim Duncan has beat them all: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and more. But here at age 40, it’s clear he’s waging an ultimately futile battle against some guy with a long gray beard and a hooded robe.

We’re reminded once again that Father Time is unbeatable, and on the heels of him giving Kobe a shove — gently, of course — is Father Time turning his attention to Duncan in these playoffs?

Duncan has struggled in two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and when you weigh the entirety of the 2016 playoffs, he has been inconsistent at best. He’s 12-for-24 on shots right at the basket, he’s seldom blocking (or altering) shots and doesn’t always find himself on the floor in the moment of truth. Duncan’s role with the Spurs seems more likely a ceremonial one compared to his prime. He’s averaging just 21.6 minutes per game and although he has been a presence on the glass, he’s a secondary offensive option and rarely has plays run for him.

And so, as the Spurs prepare to play two games in OKC in a series that’s tied at one apiece, an important and fair question must be asked: Has Duncan hit the final wall of a career?

At this time a year ago, he was the finest player on a floor that included Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Kawhi Leonard. Duncan was superb in the Spurs’ classic seven-game, first-round series with the Clippers when he averaged 17.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks and served as a mighty closer in several of those games. Once again, the Spurs’ strategy of keeping Duncan in a regular-season deep freeze worked; he was preserved for the playoffs and delivered the energy and production. Over the last three seasons, Duncan’s playoff numbers were higher than his regular season numbers, and this despite the fact the competition got tougher and the games obviously took on a higher meaning.

This season, circumstances have changed things a bit. The Spurs not only signed LaMarcus Aldridge, but Leonard’s role and talent have soared, thus reducing the need for Duncan to play major minutes. In fact, the three principle members of the Spurs’ glorious run of championships — Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — have all seen a reduction in roles and production. This is no longer “their team” as the Spurs have successfully introduced a new nucleus and have hardly suffered for it. Plenty of teams would kill to have this level of bump-free transition, which is a credit to coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ organization.

But against a quality team like OKC (and then again against the Golden State Warriors, if the expected Western Conference finals showdown materializes), the Spurs need all hands on deck. Parker is averaging 4.5 points against Russell Westbrook in this series. He was benched for a fourth-quarter stretch in Game 2 that was costly, because his replacement, Patty Mills, shot horribly. Ginobili has been inconsistent off the bench, and his decision to pass out to Mills in the crazy closing seconds of Game 2, rather than shoot a potential game-winning 10-foot floater, was strange.

There’s still time for Parker, Ginobili and even Duncan to put their signature on this series. The most curious case-study will be Duncan. He’s at an age where just being able to play on an NBA level is noble. And aside from a few offensive hiccups, he has been a contributor. But two games into the West semifinals, and really throughout these playoffs, Duncan hasn’t stood out. And this has never happened before in 18 years.

It’s all something that’s hard to imagine or even get used to seeing. Hopefully for the Spurs’ sake, Duncan still has a rewind button that’s still fully functional.

 

Grizzlies’ Randolph not laughing at Reggie Miller’s joke


VIDEO: Zach Randolph talks after Monday’s practice

SAN ANTONIOZach Randolph knows the depleted Grizzlies are in deep water against the Spurs. He knows the odds are very much stacked against Memphis even a game, let alone the first round playoff series.

But Z-Bo also knows that he didn’t appreciate Hall of Famer Reggie Miller cracking that the TNT crew could beat the Grizzlies. Talking on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday, Miller said: “Without (Mike) Conley and without (Marc) Gasol, I think we could give the Grizzlies a run right now, don’t you think?” he said.

Of course, the 50-year-old Miller was talking about a team that would include 44-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, 51-year-old Kenny Smith, 53-year-old Charles Barkley and 43-year-old Chris Webber. There might be a few oxygen tanks and the presence of an EMT unit needed on the TNT bench.

“I heard that,” a displeased Randolph told Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “For what all we’ve been through, and all the injuries, and not having our team at full strength, we still got a group of young guys that have played hard for us. And we go out every night as veterans and play hard every night. That’s all you can ask for, if you ask me.

“It has a lot to do with pride. Even though we are short. Pride is playing hard and leaving it all out there on the court so the fans and everybody else can say, ‘You know what? These guys gave it all they got under the circumstances.’ ”

Miller will be calling tonight’s Game 2 on TNT with Kevin Harlan.

Blogtable: Most memorable career moment from 2016 HOF class?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOGet to know the 2016 Hall of Fame class

> Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson headline the new Hall of Fame class. Which player had the most memorable moment, what was it and why does it still resonate with you?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m going with Shaq and the moment is personal, because I was in Orlando on April 20, 1994 when the big man dropped 53 points on Minnesota. Wait, make that threw down 53 points. I know Shaq eventually would top that – he got 61 for the Lakers on his 28th birthday – and he had lots of other unforgettable plays. But I’ll never forget the cannon sound effect the Magic used back then for dunks and how, with Shaq destroying Christian Laettner, Mike Brown and Stanley Jackson inside, it sounded like they were playing the “1812 Overture” without the band. O’Neal made 22 of 31 shots, grabbed 18 rebounds and even hit nine of his 13 free throws that night. It was as if he was playing against Jabbawockeez, not Timberwolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOne moment for these three? Really? It’s just not possible. That single tear that Shaq shed in the moment after he won his first championship with the Lakers? The smile of acceptance when the combative, criticized Iverson raised his first All-Star Game MVP trophy in Washington, D.C. in 2001? But I will say the one that made me chuckle loudest was a Dec. 2006 game with the Rockets at Clippers. A dominant Yao Ming scored 32 points and after making one especially nifty fourth quarter turnaround jumper over Chris Kaman that sealed the win, he turned and shouted at the Clippers bench: “You can’t (bleep)ing stop me!” It was a positively raw moment that bridged the cultures of China and the United States. Pure playground, pure basketball, pure Yao.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s Shaq taking the lob from Kobe Bryant, slamming it through the net with his right hand and running back downcourt with his eyes bugging out in marvel at what had just happened. That exclamation moment had just happened, for one thing, in the final minute of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals, but it was the entire fourth quarter at Staples Center really. It changed history. The Lakers went from 15 points down with about 10 minutes to play, well on their way to being eliminated, to a six-point lead with 41.3 seconds remaining after the Kobe-Shaq connection. It was the final step to the pair winning the title together as part of a fourth quarter that was a huge step in what became a threepeat.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Yao Ming couldn’t get anywhere in the playoffs and also dealt with too many injuries. This is really a two-man contest between Shaq and Iverson, and does any pure “moment” from Shaq compare to Iverson’s step-back and step-over shot against Tyronn Lue in the 2001 Finals? That gets replayed almost as much as Iverson’s rant about practice.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There are more basketball fans in China than there are people in the United States. I got a little taste of that when I was sitting near the top of the arena on the first night of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The atmosphere was electric for China-USA and the building exploded when Yao opened the scoring by hitting a 3-pointer. He was recovering from foot surgery and out of shape, but he had an obligation to be out there for the biggest game in his country’s history. Shaq and Iverson had incredible careers, and basketball was popular in China before Yao came along. But that moment, for me at least, just illustrated how much of an impact he’s had on a global scale.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Shaq won four championships, the first three when he was the world’s dominant player, and it is not any single moment that resonates so much as his run with the Lakers when all of the NBA was loading up to overcome a single player. The 2003-04 champion Pistons collected four 7-footers around center Ben Wallace; they were inspired by Shaq to gamble the No. 2 pick in 2003 on Darko Milicic. It speaks to O’Neal’s majesty that his “moment” carried on for three years.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: This is a particularly memorable class for me, because I began my career as a writer as Shaq and Iverson were entering the NBA. I got to spend a good bit of time with each of them during their careers, and as a fan I enjoyed watching both of them play, a couple of polar opposites of the NBA. But while Shaq seemed like a Hall of Famer from the moment he was drafted, Iverson’s professional path was never guaranteed, so his ascension to the HOF seems like a geniune accomplishment. As for a single moment, I have to go with Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan. That was a true changing of the guard.

Shaq, Iverson, Yao lead 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class


VIDEO: A closer look at the careers of Yao, Iverson & O’Neal

HOUSTON — For so many years they were the long and short of excellence in the NBA, so it was only fitting that Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson led the way together for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2016.

The 7-foot-1 O’Neal played 19 seasons in the NBA, averaging 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds. He was MVP in 2000 and a three-time MVP of the NBA Finals.

The 6-foot Iverson played 14 seasons, averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists. He was named MVP in 2001.

O’Neal and Iverson are among 10 new inductees for 2016. They were joined by”

  • Yao Ming, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 NBA draft and spent his entire career with the Houston Rockets before it as cut short by injuries in 2010.
  •  Jerry Reinsdorf, long-time owner of the Chicago Bulls, whose team dominated the NBA by winning six championships in the 1990s.
  • Sheryl Swoopes, three-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist, four-time WNBA champion and three-time WNBA MVP.
  • Tom Izzo, head coach at Michigan State, where he has led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA title and seven trips to the Final Four.

There are four posthumous inductees:

  • Zelmo Beatty, who spent most of his career in the ABA, averaging 17.1 points and 10.9 rebounds.
  • Darell Garretson, former referee.
  • John McLendon, former coach who won three NAIA championships.
  • Cumberland Posey, a star in the early 1900s, who is also in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 228) Featuring Klay Thompson and Arash Markazi

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — History will determine where these Golden State Warriors rank all time.

They have to finish the deal, of course. None of it will matter if the Warriors don’t break the NBA record for wins in the regular season (the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls still own the top spot at 72 wins)

But Klay Thompson and the Warriors are not intimidated by the task. Thompson told us during All-Star Weekend that the chase for 73 wins is on. And the Warriors are currently ahead of the pace, 50-5 and counting.

Where will the Golden State Warriors rank all time?

Ahead of those outlandish Michael Jordan-led Bulls? Certainly alongside them and the Showtime Lakers, the Larry Bird-led Celtics, the Shaquille O’NealKobe Bryant-led Lakers and others.

We debate that and so much more on Episode 228 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Thompson and Arash Markazi of ESPN.com, a Los Angeles native who provides a local perspective and also schools us on Echo Fox (owned by our very own Rick Fox).

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LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: The Starters discuss the Golden State Warriors historical chase for 73 wins

Anthony Davis shines with transcendent performance


VIDEO: Anthony Davis dropped a NBA season-high 59 points on the Detroit Pistons

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Anthony Davis served up a reminder Sunday of why so many NBA pundits and observers pegged this season as his opportunity to take his game to the next level.

His 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over the Detroit Pistons was jaw-dropping in both effort and result. Davis became just the fourth player in NBA history to pile up that many points while also grabbing 20 rebounds (Shaquille O’Neal did it once, Elgin Baylor twice and the great Wilt Chamberlain did it 33 times, including 17 times during the 1961-62 season).

It was a transcendent effort from one of the truly unique talents the league has seen. Davis, just 22, and having barely scratched the surface of what he can do in this league, showed off all facets of his current offensive arsenal. He finished with authority around the rim, was precise off the dribble and with his mid-range game and even stepped out beyond the 3-point line a couple of times for good measure.

It was a virtuoso performance that left Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy shaking his head and accepting blame for his team not being able to contain Davis, who admitted to surprising himself with his performance.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical the same:

Ever seen something like it? “I haven’t,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told The Vertical in a text message. “Not by a big with that skill level.”

This season had been targeted as Davis’ MVP breakthrough, his time. Now, he’s nowhere near the conversation. Sit down with him, and the sense comes quickly: That’s the least of his concern. Winning matters to him, and that’s how Davis wants to be judged. Chris Paul pushed his way out of New Orleans, but Davis is starting a new five-year deal, and he’ll have to find a way to become part of the solution there.

Throughout All-Star weekend, Davis probed the biggest winners in the NBA. Throughout this lost Pelicans season, Kendrick Perkins has been guide to his personal inventory of franchise star stories – from Kevin Garnettand LeBron James to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“Perk tells me stories from 10 years ago, and says: As the franchise player and leader of this team, you have to do this, you have to do that,” Davis told The Vertical.

Davis listens, but here’s the truth of the matter: The franchise star job demands that you learn through experience. Otherwise, everything will devour you. Davis is so gifted, so dedicated. And he takes everything – the losing, the unrealistic insistences that he ought to be to able to win all alone – in the most personal way possible.

“It’s tough,” Davis told The Vertical recently. “You start hearing all the white noise. ‘They lost three in a row, and it’s Anthony Davis’ fault.’ The blame gets put on you. Of course, there are other factors that go along with it – like the praise when you are winning. But to handle that when you’re so young, and haven’t really accomplished anything, it’s tough – especially when people put you on a pedestal. ‘He should be doing this, he should be doing that.’ It’s frustrating.

“It’ll make you overthink your game. You start thinking too much. You start listening and trying to figure out, ‘Well, I’m going to try to do this,’ and it takes you away from your game. Now, you’re losing more because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to do.”

Davis said Gentry challenged the Pelicans to be the best team in the league after the All-Star break, a task that will be difficult given the way the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs have been grinding all season.

The more realistic task, even with Stephen Curry playing the way he has all season, is for Davis to be the best player in the league the rest of this season.

That’s what many thought he’d do last summer, after his breakthrough effort in pushing the Pelicans into the playoffs. Injuries and the adjustments from an old system to Gentry’s didn’t allow that to happen early on this season. But Sunday’s effort could be the start of something spectacular for Davis the rest of the way …

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VIDEO: Anthony Davis joins the Game Time crew after his 59-point, 20-rebound effort in a win over Detroit

Morning shootaround — Feb. 14


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from All-Star Saturday Night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest | Hack-A-Gone? | Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother | Horford embraces uncertain future

No. 1:  LaVine, Gordon wow in Dunk Contest For years, the Verizon Slam Dunk was All-Star Weekend’s marquee event. The electricity surrounding the event may have waned in recent years. But last season, Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine gave it a jolt of excitement, notching his first win. And Saturday night in Toronto, a couple of 20 year olds, LaVine and Magic forward Aaron Gordon, took turns making jaws drop, posting alternating perfect scores in the contest’s final round until LaVine was ultimately able to grab the win in arguably the greatest dunk contest in All-Star Weekend history. And as Lang Whitaker writes, with the contest on the line, LaVine went to the free-throw line

High expectations? No problem.

After bringing the Dunk Contest back to prominence one year ago with a series of electrifying dunks, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine picked up where he left off, with help from Orlando’s Aaron Gordon.

And with the Verizon Slam Dunk on the line, Zach LaVine went to the free throw line. Well, almost.

With a through-the-legs dunk from just inside the charity stripes, Zach LaVine earned his fifth score of 50 on the night, making him the 2016 NBA dunk champ. The 20-year-old LaVine became the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.

Going against Magic forward Aaron Gordon in the contest finals, LaVine and Gordon got locked into a heavyweight bout where they traded incredible body blows. After the contest, LaVine said, “We should share the trophy, because [Gordon] did some stuff I’ve never seen before.”

To begin the final round, Gordon completed a dunk with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, snatching the ball from Orlando Magic mascot Stuff — who was spinning on a hoverboard — and throwing down a twisting dunk. This earned a 50. LaVine countered by throwing himself an alley-oop and floating through the air for a one-handed finish, earning another 50.

Gordon then again used Stuff, this time clearing the mascot with his rear end while passing the ball below for a lefty finish. That earned another 50, putting the pressure on LaVine.

LaVine responded coolly, with a windmill from just inside the free throw line, for another 50. This marked the first time in Dunk Contest history the final round saw four scores of 50.

They didn’t stop. In the first dunk-off, Gordon enlisted teammate Elfrid Payton to throw an alley-oop off the side of the backboard. Gordon caught the ball and completed a reverse dunk while flying through the air. 50. LaVine responded by throwing an alley-oop to himself from the baseline, catching the ball and passing it through his legs for a reverse dunk. This earned another 50.

On the second dunk-off, Gordon ran along the baseline and did a two-handed double-pump reverse reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins. Gordon scored a 47. To win it, LaVine went back to the free throw line.

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No. 2: Hack-A-Gone? A Q&A with the Commissioner of the NBA has become a staple of All-Star Saturday Night, and last night Adam Silver faced the assembled media to address several topics. As Steve Aschburner writes, among the many topics addressed, one change Silver is clearly looking to implement is an end to the Hack-A- intentional fouling that has become en vogue around the NBA lately …

If the Hack-A-Whomever strategy currently raising such a ruckus in some NBA precincts is actually something you like, take solace: It’s going to be with us, extending the real time of games, disrupting any sense of flow and showcasing a whole lot of bricked free throws, at least through the end of the 2016 playoffs.

If, though, you believe in the tactic as a coach’s best friend — something to encourage bad foul shooters to improve, lest they look silly and cost their teams victories — those guys had better get in the gym soon and practice their form, release and follow-through fast.

Change almost certainly is coming, based on NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments Saturday in the annual state-of-the-league All-Star news conference.

Silver, addressing and fielding questions from reporters before the skills, slam dunk and 3-point shooting contests at Air Canada Centre, reiterated what he has said on several recent occasion. “I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made,” Silver said, citing conversations he has had with broadcast partners, sentiment expressed in fan data and feedback from players, GMs and owners.

As for coaches, Silver said “Clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them.”

But changing the rules wouldn’t be pursued to make life tougher on the league’s coaches, any more than it would be done to let the most frequent targets of the tactic — notoriously poor free-throw shooters such as DeAndre Jordan (.423 free-throw percentage), Andre Drummond (.351), Dwight Howard (.532) and a handful of others — off the hook. It would be a decision driven more by the NBA product as entertainment, not merely athletic competition.

Silver did share that, when the league’s competition committee discussed the strategy last summer, it sought data from an additional season before making a recommendation. That data so far? “We’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five-and-a-half-times greater rate than it was used last season,” the commissioner reported.

That’s a lot of standing around, stoppages in play and, for folks viewing from the stands or on TV at home, a procession of finely tuned, multi-millionaire athletes failing at one of basketball’s fundamental skills. That’s not a good look for anyone involved.

Interestingly, Silver said that there is no consensus among the practice’s critics what remedy should be pursued. Treat the entire game like the final two minutes, when fouls away from the play equal one free throw and retained possession? Come up with something more stringent to snuff even the temptation to hack a targeted player intentionally?

Silver said he would want to have a specific alternative to propose. And even then, that sort of change would need the approval of two-thirds of the league’s members (20 of the 30 teams).

“So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads,” Silver said. This summer would be the soonest, he indicated.

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No. 3: Splash Brother vs. Splash Brother It was no big surprise last season in Brooklyn when Stephen Curry managed to win the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest; after all, he was midway through an MVP season and establishing himself as one of the greatest shooters in NBA history. Last night in Toronto, when it came time for Curry to defend his title, he posted a fine performance, making the final round, until his Splash Brother and Warriors backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson was able to get hot and edge Curry. As Sekou Smith writes, if there was any questions left about the league’s best-shooting backcourt, those doubts were officially laid to rest night

For the second straight year, one of the Golden State Warriors’ Splash Brothers walked off the All-Star Saturday night stage as the champion of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.

But it wasn’t defending champion and NBA three-point king Stephen Curry. This time it was teammate Klay Thompson taking home top honors in a competition that, by the final round, looked like something the Warriors might do at the end of every practice.

It marks the first time in Three-Point Contest history that different players from the same team have won it in consecutive seasons.

“Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool,” Thompson said.

Thompson saved his best for last, finishing with 27 points in the final round to conquer one of the deepest fields in the history of the competition, a group that includes some of the best long-range shooters in the game today and perhaps ever.

“He definitely shot well tonight,” Curry said. “I still think I can hold my own in the competition, but the way that he finished off that second round was amazing. So trust me, the pressure of knowing what number he had to hit and making five out of five was fun to watch.”

Curry collected 23 points in his final round, but was on his feet cheering with the rest of the contestants as Thompson drained shot after shot on his final rack. Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker, the youngest player in the league, finished third after netting 16 points in the final round.

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No. 4: Horford embraces uncertain future All-Star Weekend is traditionally something of a swap shop for trade rumors, and with his contract expiring this summer, All-Star Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford hasn’t been immune from hearing his name. But considering the trade rumors and that he was swimming in the Caribbean when he got the last-minute call to get to Toronto, stat, as Sam Amick writes, Horford says he’s thrilled to be in Toronto and taking everything day by day

It’s no secret that the Hawks have been exploring trade options that include Horford, but that doesn’t mean the four-time All-Star’s days in Atlanta are necessarily done. The relationship between the player and the team that drafted him third overall in 2007 remains strong, with nine seasons of history between them and a dynamic between Horford and president of basketball operations/coach Mike Budenholzer that could still lead to him re-signing this summer. And yes, it should be noted, the Hawks are well aware that retaining a talent like Horford in today’s NBA will come with an enormous price tag not only because of his talents but because the league’s salary cap is about to spike from $70 million to $89 million next season (and $108 million in 2017-18). He would earn approximately $25 in his first season.

But the 31-24 Hawks, like any team that isn’t playing to its anticipated level, must consider all options this time of year. They are also known to be engaging in trade discussions relating to point guard Jeff Teague, who is less of a flight risk than Horford because he has one year left on his contract ($8 million). The New York Knicks and Utah Jazz, to name a few, could be serious suitors for Teague in the coming days.

The Boston Celtics are widely believed to be a potential fit as a Horford trade partner, but the real level of interest from general manager Danny Ainge remains to be seen in the coming days. And while Horford continues to speak positively about the city and his situation, there’s an inherent uncertainty to this process that always acts as the driving force.

“I’m very happy in Atlanta,” Horford said when asked if the Hawks had reason to be concerned that he might leave. “I’ve said it repeatedly. I love the city. My family, we all live in Atlanta, we stay there in the offseason, so my focus is just to keep playing and taking it day by day and, right now, it’s to enjoy this weekend. … Just taking it day by day. That’s the only thing I can do. We really can’t worry about three or four months from now.”

Especially when a welcome All-Star berth comes your way.

While Horford wasn’t selected to the team initially, he was given the nod on Friday when Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh unexpectedly pulled out because of a calf strain. Horford was vacationing with his family near Cancun, Mexico, when he got the call.

“I had my phone off (and) I was in the water,” said Horford, who is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds this season. “I was doing my morning swim out there, and I got the call (around 9:30 am).

“I’m so excited to be here, man. Words don’t describe it. Being here in this city, in Toronto. I remember last year looking at it, and I was like, ‘It’s going to be in Toronto, I would love to be a part of that,’ because, you know, the fans here are so lively and just being around these guys and it happens to be Kobe’s last All-Star. It’s kind of a big deal, and for me to be a part of this I’m very grateful.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony says he’s not getting tradedKarl-Anthony Towns struck a blow for bigs in the Skills Challenge … If you haven’t heard, it’s really, really cold in Toronto this weekend … The Indiana Pacers are eyeing a future All-Star Weekend bidJimmer Fredette was named MVP of the D-League All-Star GameKevin Hart tied Draymond Green in their own three-point shootout.

Iverson, O’Neal, Johnson among 2016 Hall of Fame finalists


VIDEO: 2016 Hall of Fame finalists announced

From NBA.com staff reports

A legendary NBA center and two of the toughest guards to ever play in the NBA mark the list of 14 basketball standouts selected as 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finalists.

Shaquille O’Neal won an MVP in 2000, was a three-time NBA Finals MVP, the Rookie of the Year in 1993 and won four championships in the NBA and is one of the two centers in this year’s class. He played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA all-time scoring list.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson won the NBA MVP in 2001 and led his team to The Finals that year (where they faced — and lost to — O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers) and was one of the most skilled and toughest players in league history. He was an 11-time All-Star and one of the most influential players of his generation, averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game in 14 seasons.

Former Phoenix Suns guard (and current Sacramento mayor) Kevin Johnson was a three-time All-Star, a key member of the Suns team that made the 1993 Finals and one of the best playmakers of his era. As mayor, he was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

The other inductees in this year’s class:

  • Former high school coach Leta Andrews
  • Former college coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell
  • Former NBA referee Darrell Garretson
  • Former high school coach Robert Hughes
  • Current Michigan State coach Tom Izzo
  • Current Notre Dame women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw
  • Former college coach John McLendon
  • Former college coach Bo Ryan,
  • Former college coach Eddie Sutton
  • Former WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes
  • The 1954-58 Wayland Baptist Univ. women’s basketball team

Current TNT analyst David Aldridge won of the Curt Gowdy Award for print media while ESPN analyst Jay Bilas won the Curt Gowdy Award winner for electronic media. Jim Delaney, the commissioner of the Big Ten, wins the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, the Hall’s highest honor short of enshrinement.