The NBA’s Top 20 Dunkers

Nothing gets us going in the Dime offices like a good ol’ fashioned debate, and the best debates are the ones that get heated. Trying to rate the best dunkers in the league is unanimously impossible. Do you want style? Force? Does a big man get points taken away? If a player is an epic dunker in warm-ups, does that count?

Back in the day, we had Vince Carter and there was no denying what type of dunker he was. But in the current NBA, outside of perhaps one or two guys, you could make a case for anyone.

Gerald Green jumps REALLY high. DeAndre Jordan dunks all the time. Shannon Brown is only 6-3 and yet is always packing a nice highlight. We’ve heard them all. Now, as we’ve done in the past, we took a shot: Who are the 20 best dunkers in the NBA?

*** *** ***

Two years ago one of the biggest fan movements in the NBA was the “Let Shannon Dunk” campaign. Brown was putting on dazzling in-game dunking exhibitions ever night for the Los Angeles Lakers and was pre-crowned the automatic winner of the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest. For some reason, Brown couldn’t live up to the hype and was one of the worst slam dunk competitors the competition has ever seen.

The 2010 Dunk Contest proved that Brown is more of an in-game dunker than a competition dunker. But with his hops and athleticism that’s not a bad thing, as despite a change of scenery, his high flying dunking ways have continued with the Phoenix Suns.

It makes sense that one of the best scorers in the league is also one of the best dunkers in the game. At 6-9, with a wingspan of 7-5, getting to the rim is one of Durant’s specialties. Brendan Haywood, Roy Hibbert, Al Harrington and DeJuan Blair have all been on the receiving end of his thunderous dunks.

For Durant, dunking is nothing more than an opportunity to score in a different way; it’s just another weapon in his deadly arsenal.

As we touched on back in January, similar to Shannon Brown, there was a large fan campaign to get Jeremy Evans and his pogo stick hops into the dunk contest. The #LetJeremyDunk campaign was successful and helped introduced the world to the dunking phenom that is Jeremy Evans.

Overall, the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest was pretty weak and too gimmicky, but the two ball dunk over Gordon Hayward by Evans has to be one of the better dunks in dunk contest history.

DeAndre Jordan is known for doing only two things on the court: blocking shots and dunking. Part of the Lob City crew on the Los Angeles Clippers, Jordan has delivered some nasty dunks in his four-year career, adding flair to his dunks that most big men are not usually able to do. The scary thing about Jordan is that he is only 23 years old and is still learning how to properly use his size and athleticism. If you think his dunks are wild right now, just wait ’till he actually learns how to dunk from the post and off the dribble.

Josh Smith has slowly been developing into one of the best all-around players in the game but the 2005 Slam Dunk Contest winner is one of the most underrated dunkers in the game. Joe Johnson may get the All-Star appearances and the bulk of the spotlight but Josh Smith is the heart and soul of the Atlanta Hawks as nothing gets the “Highlight Factory” in Atlanta rocking like a dunk from Smith. Just ask Serge Ibaka about it.

15. J.R. SMITH
What makes J.R. a top-15 dunker is his never-ending enjoyment from making a foe look bad. Being able to drop a “Got ’em” moment means he’ll attack where others won’t, which can lead to some huge dunks. His dunk on Gary Neal — full body extension, almost more Superman than Dwight — is in a top-five rotation from the 2010-11 season. While he’s more content to hoist threes on his return from China, he can uncoil a hammer as quick as any two in the league.

Like any great dunker, there’s a no fear element in play with Gee. It’s hard to make a name playing for the Cavs, but he knows dunking on dudes is his ticket. He hasn’t disappointed, with enormous throwdowns this year on Paul Pierce, Kenneth Faried AND Birdman (on the same play) and Jeff Foster. The hallmark to a Gee dunk (which means the point at which you should start getting out of your chair) is when he takes a pass at the wing and blows past a closing defender before finding a victim en route.

An afternoon not spent watching Faried’s dunk off Rudy Fernandez‘s lob on YouTube is an afternoon wasted. Faried is a 6-8 forward who’s become a name for ferocious rebounding because of his hops. It doesn’t disappoint on lobs, especially, which reminds us of another YouTube legend clip of his: his dunk from the Drew League this summer. With his head over the rim, it served warning he could finish nearly any lob.

It seems impossible this dude didn’t know how to dunk until late in his high school career. It seems all to preternaturally destined for him to catch lobs from KD a couple feet above the rim. If Westbrook is slower than Rose, it’s negligible, and that speed translates into enormous lift in short bursts — perfect for serving up facials in drives through the lane. He has to be in the conversation for best-dunking point guard of all time.

Has there ever been a big man with as much imagination — or the execution — with big dunks? His All-Star Weekend dunks with a Superman theme mixed the playful Howard we’d known with the ferocious dunker we’d seen. But together, it was something else. There’s not a lot of room to dunk on a higher rim in a game, of course, which means he’s easily one of the most powerful to put a ball through the net in the game right now. We can’t wait until he returns to see more of his power on display.

Take Allen Iverson, throw on a few more pounds of muscle and an actual workout routine, and you get Derrick Rose. The reigning MVP’s fast and furious forays into the lane look a lot like what Iverson used to do, but when it comes time to convert, Rose is built more for a rim-rocking dunk than a layup plus-one. Not saying one style is better than the next – but one makes for more shots of teammates losing their minds on the bench.

Enjoy the next couple of years while you can, because we wouldn’t be surprised if D-Wade’s time as a regular on the dunk highlight reels is running out. It’s not that he doesn’t have the hops, the quickness to get into the lane, or the aggressiveness to make poster children out of the big men who take a crack at blocking his shot. It’s just that as he gets into his 30s, Wade will do what every great scoring guard from Jordan to Kobe eventually does (or at least should do) and alter his game for longevity. Don’t worry, Wade will still get his 20-25 points a night, and his knack for circus shots won’t leave him. But guys like Emeka Okafor and Anderson Varejao can rest a little easier knowing that layups don’t always end up on YouTube.

If we had known the results of the NBA’s 2011 dunk contest would have turned DeRozan off of the event for good, we’d be willing to go back and take the title away from Blake Griffin. In a contest full of props (remember Serge Ibaka‘s stuffed animal?) and gimmickry (a church choir?), DeRozan lost out on a spot in the finals simply because he, well, went simple. His standout dunk was a rock-the-cradle backwards cuff that he caught off the bounce, which earned a perfect 50 on the scoreboard but wasn’t enough for DeRozan to advance. Afterwards, the Raptors’ two-guard said he was done with NBA dunk contests if that’s how it was going to be.

That’s too bad, because DeRozan remains one of the league’s highest leapers and elite finishers, and we know from his high school and pro contest efforts that he is creative even without Carrot Top’s big box of toys.

As a dunker, Rudy Gay is the NBA’s closest active answer to Dominique Wilkins. Athletically, his build and skill set are similar to ‘Nique. Stylistically, the comparison works too: Gay’s windmills are textbook, and while ‘Nique is the author of that textbook, Gay has also graduated to making a backwards two-hand windmill one of his signature in-game dunks.

Gay hasn’t performed as well in dunk contests, but he may be a victim of changing times more than anything. Wilkins wasn’t terribly creative during his dunk contest career either, but got by on sheer power and grace. Gay is the same, but in the 21st century, the audience demands more ingenuity.

More than just a sight gag, George’s glow-in-the-dark windmill 360 in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest told the story of the second-year swingman’s career. From a mostly unheralded high schooler, to his college stint at mid-major Fresno State, to his tenure with the Pacers, George has constantly played – and dunked – just beneath the mainstream radar. What he’s done in the dark still hasn’t truly been brought to light.

But those who stayed up for the occasional Fresno State late-night start on ESPN, or who have paid attention to the third-seed Pacers on NBA League Pass, George’s status as a top-10 dunker in the league is no surprise. His in-game dunks are contest-worthy, and as we saw in Orlando, his contest dunks could change the game.

His mother once said he was the future of the NBA. That might not be a good thing, but if we’re talking strictly the future of dunking, then it’s in good hands. He hands out facials like candy at Halloween, and some of his contest dunks were literally impossible for 90 percent of the league.

One of our favorite in-game dunkers in the league, and someone who gets even better when you put him into a dunk contest. His losing performance in the 2006 contest stands out as one of the best we’ve ever seen. And yes, we’re still very pissed he was screwed over in that one.

Forget his chances at winning a title this summer or his unreal MVP season (justice needs to be served for James this year), the most impressive thing out of ‘Bron was seeing him pull off a 360 and a two-footed windmill. We literally had never seen him do either one of those dunks before. That says something: The third-best dunker in the league has a very limited repertoire, and yet it still doesn’t matter because he jumps TOO high.

It’s 2012 and Green is in the top three of a list about the NBA. Who would’ve thought? Sean Sweeney remembers watching All-Star practice in Orlando this year, and behind him was a group of D-League guys there to take in the scene. Green was among them, and it was a little sad.

It was like seeing the senior in high school who dominated in middle school not being able to start for the team anymore because everyone had caught up to him physically.

Thank God Gerald is back. Here’s the only reason to watch New Jersey:

Was there any way we couldn’t put Shawn Kemp 2.0 at No. 1? He has the hops, the creativity and the power, and now with so many players taking cheap shots at him, we might start seeing some really angry dunks from Griffin.

We can argue all day about Kemp vs. Blake but there’s no argument here: Griffin is the best dunker in the NBA right now.

Who would make your top 20?

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.