NBA All-Star weekend is less than two months away but until yesterday, when the league announced a format change for the festivities, there has been surprisingly scant discussion about the weekend and its premier event, the Dunk Contest. The apathy is perhaps understandable given the last few Dunk Contests, which, quite frankly, haven’t lived up to expectations.
At its best, though, the Dunk Contest is one of the most exciting events on the NBA calendar. Moments such as the 1988 showdown between Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan or Vince Carter‘s coronation in 2000 will forever be remembered by those who follow the sport. And despite how depressing the contest has become recently, the mere prospect of seeing the next Jordan, ‘Nique or Carter is often reason enough to tune in again.
So, with the new East vs. West format in mind, here’s a list of five realistic competitors (sure, we’d all love it if LeBron, Dwight and Blake battled it out, but it’s not happening) who might be able to rekindle the magic Dunk Contests’ past in 2013: two for the East, two from the West, and one wildcard.
Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz: Utah’s Jeremy Evans carried the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest on the strength of his one-handed slam over Gordon Hayward and “Mailman” redux over comedian Kevin Hart. As a rule, the previous contest winner should always be given the chance to defend his crown. In addition to his contest performance, the 6-9 power forward has demonstrated freakish athleticism throughout his three seasons with the Jazz, consistently rocking opponents with powerful slams and monster swats. Evans combined these skills in marvelous fashion during the preseason when he blocked Ronny Turiaf, snatched the loose ball, then embarrassed Turiaf again with a huge crush on the other end. If he can leverage that sort of energy again in February, he should have little trouble repeating as champion.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: At present, rookie Harrison Barnes is sitting atop the “Dunk of the Year” ladder for his utter baptism of Nikola Pekovic last month (I think Pek is still having nightmares about it). Indeed, Barnes’ aggressive play has vaulted him into a starting role with the turnaround Warriors, and he’s averaging a respectable 8.8 points, 1.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. Maybe more important in this context, though, he already possesses the pedigree of the prototypical Dunk Contest champion: winger, 6-foot-8, North Carolina alum, and of course, jump-out-the-gym hops. In this tradition, let’s see if Barnes can take home a Dunk Contest trophy of his own.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors: Inspired by the #LetJeremyDunk Twitter campaign last season, the Toronto Raptors Twitter account has started a hashtag of its own to promote first-year guard Terrence Ross. Ross, for his part, has brought the movement to life, accumulating an impressive reel of flushes that includes the above trio of gongs against Houston on Nov. 27. What might separate “T-Dot Flight” from some of the other nominees on this list is the gracefulness with which he slams the ball. It’s obviously a subjective thing, but for whatever reason, when he dunks, it just looks better to me than other candidates. Should the #LetRossDunk campaign succeed, he will have an opportunity to showcase his acrobatic style to the rest of the league, too.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers: George was robbed of the 2012 Dunk Contest title. He should have won, and he knew it. After the event, George expressed his, shall we say, displeasure with the competition, telling the Indianapolis Star: “(Not to) take nothing away from the dunk contest, (but) it was a joke. I guess whoever had the biggest celebrity involved in their dunk was going to be the winner.” It’s only fair, then, that George receives another shot at the crown in 2013. He deserves it. But if he is still a little steamed about last season’s outcome and declines, perhaps he could send his equally airborne teammate Gerald Green to Houston in his place.
James White, New York Knicks: “Flight” White has been considered by many to be the best dunker alive for some time now. Don’t believe me? Check the video below. Unfortunately, various circumstances (mostly that he’s bounced in and out of the league) have prevented him from competing at NBA All-Star weekend. Now, with the New York Knicks in top spot in the East and White receiving minutes off the bench, the proverbial stars seem to have aligned for White’s participation. I realize he doesn’t fit the typical Dunk Contest criteria (he’s 30 and the NBA has generally used the contest as a vehicle to spotlight young stars), but the addition of a true high-flyer like White might finally inject some life into the floundering event. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Kevin Durant and rapper Wale both lobbied for White to be invited to Houston earlier in the week. Make it so, Mr. Stern.
Who do you want to see participate?
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