The Spurs are eight games below .500. The last time the Spurs were eight games below .500 was more than two decades ago. As such, this all feels very uncomfortable and very sucky and I do not enjoy it a great deal. HOWEVER, the entire season has not been a bust. There have been several high points. For example:
- There was the game where the Spurs beat the Clippers in San Antonio, and that was cool because (a) the Clippers are a good team, and so after we beat them there were a couple of days when everyone was like, “You know, the Spurs might sneak into the playoffs and cause a little trouble for someone,” which was fun; (b) Kawhi Leonard plays for them, and even though we’ve all gotten over Kawhi’s departure from a couple of years ago now, it’s still nice to get a little poke in the eye there; and (c) that was the first Spurs game my youngest son ever got to attend, so that’s always going to be in my head.
- There was the game where the Spurs played the Grizzlies in San Antonio. The Spurs ended up losing that one, but there was a great moment that cameras caught afterward when Gregg Popovich hollered across the court at Kyle Anderson to get his attention (Anderson used to play for the Spurs and now plays for the Grizzlies). Pop said, “Kyle … Kyle … fuck you,” and then he started laughing and shook Kyle’s hand and gave him a hug. It made me happy. I love Gregg Popovich so much.
- And there was the game where DeMar DeRozan dunked on Toronto Raptors power forward Chris Boucher. This is the one I want to talk about here. Because this is the first installment of this season’s Disrespectful Dunk Index, a recurring column every year in which we figure out exactly how disrespectful several big dunks that have happened are.
That Spurs-Raptors game happened a little more than a month ago in Toronto. Nearing the end of the third quarter, the Spurs were already down 17 points, and it definitely felt like the rest of the evening was going to be both teams just playing out the string. But then, without warning and without provocation, DeMar decided absolutely the fuck not.
Right around the logo, he gave a quick behind-the-back dribble to change direction. It wasn’t a big move—if you watch the replay, in fact, it doesn’t look like anything he hasn’t done a thousand times before. But his defender, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, took one step too far to his right, and that’s all that DeMar needed to turn the game upside down.
DeMar saw that he’d gotten Hollis-Jefferson’s shoulders turned, and also saw a lane that was mostly unencumbered by defenders, so he attacked. He took a quick dribble to gather up speed, then a hard dribble to gather up strength. Two help defenders slid over to try to meet him at the free throw line, but by then it was too late.
There are several different versions of DeMar DeRozan that we’ve all gotten to see during his career. There’s the Good Teammate version of DeMar DeRozan, which is maybe what he’s most famous for, and why he and Kyle Lowry were such a special pairing for all those years in Toronto. There’s the Social Activist version of DeMar DeRozan, who’s been a part of changing the way we think about the mental health of NBA players. There’s the Midrange Master version of DeMar DeRozan—this feels like a good time to mention that he led the league in field goal attempts from midrange last season, and also that one of my favorite basketball stats ever was that there was a period during the 2017 season when he had more midrange attempts than all of the Houston Rockets combined. And then, finally, beautifully, there’s the It’s Time For Me To Rip Your Fucking Head Off version of DeMar DeRozan, which is the one he activates whenever he feels like delivering a dunk that people are going to search for on YouTube for the next couple of seasons. And, bad luck for the Raptors that night, that’s the version that DeMar decided to go with on that particular attack.
He charged past Hollis-Jefferson and the two help defenders into the paint, watched as Boucher moved into position to protect the rim, jumped from just outside the charge circle, cocked the ball back, and then hit Boucher in the forehead with a goddamn anti-ballistic missile. Here’s the play:
It’s gross. And beautiful. Let’s score it on the Disrespectful Dunk Index, and then let’s score a few more dunks from other players after that.
Category 1—How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. The harder a dunk is that a dunker tries to pull off, the more disrespectful it is. With DeMar’s dunk, it’s when he decides to cock the ball back that he punches the score up a bunch here. That’s a hard thing to do, which is why only the biggest jumpers and most aggressive jumpers ever try to do it. (Here’s a good video countdown of DeRozan’s 10 best dunks. You’ll notice that, excepting the one end-of-quarter dunk, each of the top five picks features a DeMar cockback.) DeMar gets a solid 15/20 here.
Category 2—What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. The bigger a dunker’s post-dunk celebration is, the more disrespectful it is. (Note that sometimes there’s an anti-reaction: After a player has just made some miraculous or incredible play, he purposely stays blank-faced. That scores highly here too.) DeMar, as he often does, opts to go with an anti-reaction here. He dunks on Boucher, they both fall to the ground, and DeRozan’s expression never changes even one single percent. (He was given a technical for briefly staring at Boucher as Boucher laid on the floor, which was a ridiculous call by the ref.) (If I could jump like DeMar, and dunk like DeMar, I’d carry two road flares tucked in my socks at all times. That way if I dunked it on somebody the way that he did here, I could reach down, pull them out, ignite them, and then set them down around the person I’d just dunked over the way that policemen quarter off roads after car crashes. That’d be worth the tech.) DeMar gets a 12/20 here.
Category 3—How hard did the defender try to stop it? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. If a player tries with all of his might to stop a dunk and still gets yammed on, then it’s a high score. If he ducks out of the way right before the dunk, then it’s a low score. Boucher, who I really enjoy (and who shows up later in this column under far better circumstances), really went after that block. He legitimately tried hard, which is why there was such a big collision between him and DeMar, and also why he has this look on his face afterward:
DeMar briefly turned a basketball game into a UFC fight:
DeMar gets a 19/20 here.
Category 4—Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 15. The juicier the history, the higher the score. This one is less a backstory between DeMar and Boucher, and more a backstory between DeMar and Toronto, who traded him to the Spurs in 2018 for Kawhi Leonard in pursuit of their first championship, and who Boucher represents in the play. Because that’s the first thing everybody seemed to talk about afterward (there was even a section on the next day’s episode of The Jump wondering whether the dunk on the Raptors seemed more personal than his other dunks.) And I don’t figure he was thinking about that as he was making the play—my guess is the only thing that was happening in his head at that moment was the red light and those loud sirens from Kill Bill that would happen whenever Beatrix Kiddo was about to go into fight mode—but I also don’t figure there’s any way that the Toronto angle didn’t come up in whatever text messages were sent to or from DeMar that night. Let’s go with 12/15.
Category 5—Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 5. If the ball swishes straight through the rim, it’s a perfect score. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Art is important. Straight through. 5/5. And let me add very quickly: I love the sound this dunk makes. It’s so distinct: unforgiving, angry, perfect.
Category 6—How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? This one is scored on a scale from zero to 20. Similar to Category 2, the bigger and wilder the response from everyone else — the other players, the crowd, the announcers, etc. — the higher the score. (Unlike Category 2, however, an anti-reaction from the other players, crowd, announcers, etc. does not lead to a higher score.) Big reactions all the way around. The announcers are amped. The crowd (which is a Toronto crowd, by the way) can’t stop themselves from reflexively OHHHHHH-ing. And Jakob Poeltl and Drew Eubanks look like they’re a couple in a movie who’s just been asked to identify a body that the police think might be their missing child.
15/20 for DeMar. The only thing really missing was someone on the Spurs making one of those Stephon Marbury post-dunk faces.
Total: The DeMar dunk on Chris Boucher was 78 percent disrespectful to Boucher.
That’s Aaron Gordon trying to put a war hammer through all of JaVale McGee.
Listen, the truth of the matter is I am including this dunk in here because (a) Aaron Gordon had yet another dunk contest championship trophy yanked out of his hands this past weekend, and so adding him into the DDI column is the closest thing to justice I personally can give to him; and (b) by chance, I ended up at this game with a buddy of mine while I was in Los Angeles on a work trip and we were sitting about 30 feet away from this dunk when it happened. When it did, I wrote a note into my phone that said: “GORDON DUNK DDI FUCK FUCK.” So here we are. I’m going to go quickly through the categories since I spent 2,000 words on DeMar’s section.
Category 1 — How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? Every dunk that Aaron Gordon does is impressive because he’s Aaron Gordon, two-time dunk contest champion. (I don’t care what the judges said.) 20/20.
Category 2 — What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? Immediately after the dunk, Aaron Gordon remained Aaron Gordon, who was then a one-time dunk contest champion and is now a two-time dunk contest champion. 20/20.
Category 3 — How hard did the defender try to stop it? JaVale McGee tried to shove Aaron Gordon, two-time dunk contest champion, but it didn’t work, because he is Aaron Gordon, two-time dunk contest champion. 20/20.
Category 4 — Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? Yes. The backstory is that Aaron Gordon is owed two dunk contest championships. And I know that this category is supposed to be measured from zero to 15 and the next category is supposed to be measured from zero to 5, but I don’t care. He gets a 20/15.
Category 5 — Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? Of course it did. What else would you expect from Aaron Gordon, two-time dunk contest champion? 20/5.
Category 6 — How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? It doesn’t matter. Because when you’re a two-time dunk contest champion like Aaron Gordon is, you don’t concern yourself with the goings-on of simple commoners. 20/20
Total: The Aaron Gordon dunk on JaVale McGee was 120 percent disrespectful—almost as disrespectful as dunk contest judges have been to Aaron Gordon.
That’s Spencer Dinwiddie knocking the bitcoins out of Tobias Harris like they were in a game of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Category 1—How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? I love this dunk for a number of different reasons, but mostly I love it because it’s a good example of how if you have the right people around you, even regular stuff can become outstanding. This dunk all by itself isn’t super great, or super fun, or super anything (regarding difficulty, it’s a 9/20). But you add in the other parts—like the bench going fucking bananas afterward, or Richard Jefferson, who’s part of the commentator team, emphatically throwing out a few of his best lines—and suddenly the dunk is up there with the 10 or 12 best of the season.
Category 2—What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? He didn’t do much of anything, really. He just dunked it and then jogged back. And I’m not sure if it’s one of those situations where he didn’t react because, in his brain, what he had just done was totally commonplace, or if it’s one of those situations where a player does something they weren’t expecting to do and so they’re not quite sure what’s supposed to come next, like that time Boban Marjanovic hit a 3 at the end of an already-decided game in Dallas in January. Either way, it’s charming. 12/20.
(My no. 1 wish in America is that Spencer plays so well this season and becomes so buoyed by his own talent and confidence that he suddenly starts doing a thing where every time he dunks on someone or hits a 3 in someone’s mouth he turns and looks at them and says, “You just got Dinwiddied.”)
(My favorite thing about the Boban play was that it was packed instantly with so much joy and silliness that even the referee was happy that it happened. If you stop the video right at the 0:38 mark you can see him staring at Boban and smiling.)
Category 3—How hard did the defender try to stop it? Tobias Harris gave an honest effort to stop the dunk, but he’s not a big shot-blocker (he’s averaged more than a block per game only one time in his career; let’s go with a 9/20) so mostly he was just sort of in Dinwiddie’s way. And, again, this is what I was talking about earlier. The dunk itself, by itself, with no outside factors, was just a pretty regular dunk. But all of the supplemental parts make up for it. To wit:
Category 4—Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? Yes, in two different ways. For one, Dinwiddie and Tobias were teammates and friends in Detroit during the 2016 season. So there’s that. (Dinwiddie said he texted Harris about the dunk after the game, which is just lovely to think about, especially if you’re a fan of Dinwiddie.) For two, the Sixers and the Nets played in the playoffs last season, and that series included several bits of quality shit-talking and confrontations, not the least of which was Joel Embiid trying to take Jarrett Allen’s head off with an elbow and then Embiid and Ben Simmons laughing about it in the postgame press conference. So that’s all bundled together here for a solid 10/15 score.
Category 5—Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? It touched the rim, but in a good way, if that makes sense. It can’t be a perfect score, because the ball has to splash through the rim flawlessly for it to be a perfect score, but I don’t want to dock more than one point because the ball touching the rim here made sense within the context of the play. 4/5.
Category 6—How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? This section is where the dunk really takes off. Because the game was being played in Brooklyn, all the fans went bonkers when it happened. So that’s one thing in its favor. Also, the play happened right in front of Brooklyn’s bench, which means we get to see all of them lose their fucking minds about the play in real time. So that’s another thing in its favor. Look:
A few quick things about their reaction:
- They’re all sitting down before the dunk, and then as soon as it happens they stand up and jump and run out on the court. It’s an excellent reaction, and immediately makes the dunk at least 25 percent better.
- The more I watched their reaction, the more I became convinced that something else was at play here. It was just too big for there to not be an underlying reason behind it. So I started digging around. And, it turns out, there was. Dinwiddie, who rarely dunks, is apparently known on the team as being secretly athletic. (Teammate Joe Harris had the best quote about it, saying, “Spencer’s probably the most athletic guy in the NBA that doesn’t use his athleticism.”) So when he finally flexed it a little bit in a game, that’s what they all responded to.
- The best part of the whole thing is the referee angrily waving the players off the court and back toward the bench. He looks so frustrated. He looks like a character in an animated movie who’s trying to shoo some kids away from hanging out in front of his bakery.
And then lastly, and equally as important, is Richard Jefferson turning his RICHARD JEFFERSON-ness up as high as it can go and giving us three great lines. The third-place line is, “That was offensive in more ways than I care to talk about it.” The second-place line is, “And I like Tobias, but apparently—but APPARENTLY—Spencer Dinwiddie doesn’t.” And the first-place line is, “Whose baby is that?! Somebody get that little baby out the street!” That’s so funny to me. It’s just perfectly weird and perfectly disrespectful, but not in a way that anyone can really explain. (He said on a podcast that it was something he started saying whenever someone would get bullied in the paint while he was on the Cavs, and that it’s a reference to that famous Dave Chappelle bit from his comedy special Killin’ Them Softly where he talked about seeing a baby on the street at 3 a.m.)
All of that stuff adds up an extremely strong 20/20 score here.
Total: The Dinwiddie dunk on Tobias Harris was 64 percent disrespectful to Harris.
That’s Ja Morant turning Aron Baynes into an extra from Sons of Anarchy.
Category 1 — How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? This isn’t a ferocious dunk, like some of the other Ja dunks have been, but it’s a very difficult dunk. After he gets the switch, he sees that it’s Baynes who’s guarding him. He takes stock of the situation, figures that a bucket here ends the game, and goes to work. He pulls Baynes out into the deep water past the 3-point line, gives him a quick stutter-step dribble, zips by him, and gets to the rim. Once there, he plants two feet, jumps, moves the ball from his left hand to his right hand on the way up, and then somehow jumps so high that he dunks the ball while still on his way up, which is really just outrageous. It’s all of the things that make Ja such a joy to watch—his basketball smarts, his handle, his fearlessness, his unstoppable athleticism—on display at once. 15/20.
Category 2 — What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? He fell down, because that’s what happens on basically every dunk that Aron Baynes is involved in: someone falls down. Look at this goofy shit:
It’s a good thing that 20-year-olds are made out of muscle and rubber bands, because had this been, say, a 32-year-old, this play would’ve ended with Baynes picking through a pile of bones for a good chunk of flesh to carry back to his cave.
Regarding the score for the category here, sure, there wasn’t much of a celebration from Ja after this dunk, but he’s still going to score well because I like him and I want to celebrate him. And let’s also add in a point or two because Ja does talk a little shit to Baynes on the dead-ball play afterward. 14/20.
(Ja has become, I think, my favorite player to watch this season. He’s just so fun, and unpredictable, and confident, and willing to try all manner of impossible things. And he doesn’t care who or what is in front of him, which is how we end up with plays like this one against the Suns, where he accidentally dunked on his own teammate:
I love Ja so much.)
Category 3 — How hard did the defender try to stop it? He’s Aron Baynes. He’s an Australian volcano of Australian strength and vigor. He will never not try hard. And so you have that, plus the Suns absolutely needed a stop on this possession if they were going to have any chance of winning the game. Of course Baynes was trying hard. This is an automatic 16/20.
Category 4 — Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? Mostly no, but kind of yes. On the play immediately before this one, with the Suns down by six and their chance at a win disappearing quickly, Aron Baynes scored on a dunk. Obviously I don’t know if this is the case or not, but Aron Baynes had a dunk to keep the game within reach, and then on the very next play Ja dunked on Aron to end the game, so it seems a lot like Ja saw the Baynes dunk and decided to punish for him it. Again, I don’t figure that’s really what was going on inside of Ja’s head, but … maybe? Half credit here. 7.5/15
Category 5 — Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? 3/5.
Category 6 — How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? The game was too close and also too near its end for any of the players on the court to react, but the Phoenix crowd certainly did, and the Memphis bench (which is in the shot) started to before trying to restrain themselves. Let’s go with something light here. 8/20.
Total: The Ja dunk on Aron Baynes was 59.5 percent disrespectful.
Let’s go full-circle and end this with Chris Boucher:
That’s Chris Boucher turning Darius Bazley into a plate of lasagna.
Category 1 — How difficult and/or impressive was the dunk? Extremely. It’s the kind of dunk—an away-from-the-rim alley-oop while absorbing contact—that only a small number of players can pull off. You can see here it takes him every inch of his 11-foot-wide wingspan to get the ball to the rim:
If he’s half an inch less long, or half a percent less athletic, this play is a bust. But he’s not, so it’s not. 16/20.
Category 2 — What did the dunker do immediately after the dunk? He did a back roll on the floor because of the contact, and then he got up and appeared to flex as he started to run back down the court. It wasn’t a lot, but in this case it didn’t need to be because, same as that Dinwiddie dunk, he had the crowd with him, the announcers with him, and the bench with him. 13/20.
Category 3 — How hard did the defender try to stop it? I mean, he gave it a go. But there’s just really not a lot you can do when someone like Boucher gets up in the sky like that. Best-case scenario, Boucher jumps for the alley-oop and as he rises you run to the parking lot, get in your car, then drive it out onto the court and hit him with it like that one guy did in Happy Gilmore. But the problem with that plan is they were playing the game in Toronto, so Bazley didn’t have his car in the parking lot. So he was stuck. 13/20.
Category 4 — Is there a backstory between the dunker and the dunkee? So there are two ways to get a good score here. The first is if, like with the DeMar dunk, there’s a baked-in history already in place. The second is if the dunk between two players creates an instant connection that people will reference from there going forward. (A good example of something like this is when Blake Griffin dunked that first time on Timofey Mozgov and everyone was like, “Well, shit. Timofey and Blake are connected forever now.”) I don’t think this dunk hits either one of those marks, so this is going to be Boucher’s lowest-scoring category. 4/15.
Category 5 — Did the ball go straight through the rim or did it rattle around a little? Straight through. 5/5.
Category 6 — How did everyone who was not directly involved in the dunk react? There’s a lot of fun here.
First, Toronto’s crowd is already perpetually loud and excitable, so you take that and add to it how the team this year is way better than anyone was expecting and the fact that this is a big dunk in the fourth quarter of a close game, and that’s how you get that nice pop the stadium unleashes when the dunk happens. (A nice little additional thing is that since the play is an alley-oop, and since Boucher stays in the air for two seconds longer than anyone was expecting him to, we get just enough time for everyone to realize what’s about to happen right before it actually happens. Even in the video, you can feel the air rush away from the court as the crowd takes a big breath in, and then you can feel it rushing all back out as they erupt.)
Second, the bench loves it, and that means we get this great shot here:
(The women in the bottom left corner who are looking at each other and laughing is exactly the kind of thing that makes shots like these wonderful.)
Third, the ball bonks Bazley in the head after Boucher earthquakes it through the rim, and we really can’t ignore that kind of poetry. (Additionally, it’s Bazley who grabs the ball afterward and quickly throws it to his teammate so the Thunder can inbound it and keep playing. This is the basketball version of that thing in poker when someone loses a big pot and immediately starts to gather all the cards to shuffle them so more hands can be dealt.)
And fourth, you have the two announcers, one of whom can’t do anything but yell (“Boucher! OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! CHRIS BOUCHER!”) and the other who can’t do anything but laugh. That’s a bunch of very good pieces, which gives Boucher a very solid score. Let’s go with 15/20.
Total: The Boucher dunk on Darius Bazley was 63 percent disrespectful.