In the modern NBA dunk contest we rarely get to see who we truly want. We saw legendary performances in the past, from showdowns between Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins in the 1980s to Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard in the late 2000s. For a while now though, the NBA dunk contest has been lacking something: star power.
The dunk contest for the most part has been taken on by young guys with no real star power to draw the fans in. For the most memorable dunk in recent memory you have to go back to Dwight Howard’s Superman in 2008. Established stars do not compete for the title anymore â€“ be it for fear of injury or concern over not being able to fulfill high expectations of fans.
It once meant something to win the dunk contest â€“ there was a source of pride involved in competing, and especially winning, the trophy. The dunk contest should be one of the highlights of the NBA season, but more often than not we are left with a less-than-stellar product. Whether the NBA needs to change the format or increase the prize money (Warren Buffett doesn’t seem to have a problem offering up his money for basketball-related reasons) something needs to be done to get the stars back in the dunk contest.
Assuming everyone was willing and able, here is a list of the top 15 guys we want to see in the dunk contest this coming February.
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15. Aaron Gordon/Andrew Wiggins
Can we make an exception just this year? Both these guys are high-fliers who we will almost certainly see in this contest in the near future â€“ but why should we have to wait? Either one could put on a show and even win the contest this year.
Gordon is not the most polished of prospects, but he can sure dunk it. Arizona runs multiple alley-oop plays for him each game and he finishes with authority. He is quite agile, but powerful as well. I don’t want to do the disservice of comparing him to Blake Griffin, but you can’t help but make the connection when seeing Gordon dunk. Has he ever tried to jump over a Kia?
Wiggins came into Kansas with the most hype of anyone in this potential draft class, and it was almost impossible for him to live up to it. His mixtape coming out of high school showed an athletic freak with an almost Gerald Green-like leaping ability. He hasn’t had many highlights to that level so far this year, and has almost been overshadowed by teammate Joel Embiid. Nonetheless, the talent is still there for Wiggins, someone who ESPN’s Chad Ford has compared to a poor man’s Tracy McGrady. Not a bad comp.
Unfortunately, we won’t see these guys this February in New Orleans, but without question they will be taking the contest by storm in a few years.
14. Vince Carter
Vince has seen a career revival of sorts down in Dallas, where he is playing hard on both ends and putting up solid numbers. Clearly, Vince is not giving us highlights like he was at one time in his career â€“ but that doesn’t mean he is a slouch, either. We are talking about the guy who dominated the contest in 2000, putting on one of the best performances the dunk contest has ever seen. In case anyone forgot:
VC has had several highlight-worthy dunks this season, showing he still has plenty of hops left in those legs. Even for nostalgia alone, Vince would be someone we’d want to see in the contest. He’d want to show he can still throwdown with the best of them and would most definitely give the fans what they want. Check out these dunks from pregame just a few weeks back. Vince still has it!
13. Miles Plumlee
Plumlee has been a revelation this season. He was acquired in the Luis Scola deal with Indiana this offseason and was seen as just a throw-in after a disappointing rookie campaign. But like many young players on the surprising Suns, Plumlee has had a breakout season. He has had countless highlight plays this year, with plenty of blocks and big slams. The dude can get up, and he can throw down. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to have a white guy who can jump in the contest. Check out these two hammers on Philadelphia as proof that Plumlee more than belongs in the contest.
12. Anthony Davis
What can’t this guy do? He has the fifth-highest PER in the whole league and has become a menace on both sides of the court. He has crazy long arms and can do some unbelievable things in the air. Davis is on his way to stardom, and many young stars have won the contest at the beginning of their careers, so this might be the best chance for us to see Davis in the contest at all. In addition, with the contest in New Orleans, Davis would be a hometown favorite. Maybe he could incorporate the unibrow in some respects? Who knows! Either way, Davis has to be involved in this rendition of the dunk contest.
11. Andre Iguodala
Iguodala already participated in the contest in 2006 and put on a show but didn’t win because of the judges’ infatuation with little man Nate Robinson. Iguodala had one of the best dunks in the contest’s history, a windmill off a toss behind the backboard, in which he contorted his body (and even had to duck to avoid hitting his head on the backboard) to finish.
Iggy has been a regular on the nightly top 10 all throughout his career. He is known for cuffing the ball and throwing down on anyone and everyone. Iguodala is playing a different role for Golden State, but the athleticism certainly is still there. He deserves another shot after being robbed in ’06. This top 10 needs no introduction.
10. Nate Robinson
Speaking of Nate, his appearance in the dunk contest has kind of been soured in the minds of many NBA fans after he seemingly won dunk titles more for his small stature and underdog storyline than the actual caliber of his dunks. Whether he deserved the trophies or not, no can deny he is fun to watch and makes the contest better when he is involved. The dude is tiny and can jump out of the gym. He has performed some memorable slams in the past and surely still has the hops to do so â€“ throwing down three dunks in the span of two minutes a few weeks back. At 5-9!!! Nate needs to come back to the dunk contest.
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Guy might be 7-1 by the time the contest rolls around. He has grown two inches already since the draft! He has proven to be a solid player, finding his way into the starting lineup at just 19 years old (albeit on the lowly Bucks). Antetokounmpo is all legs and arms and has already had some crazy highlight blocks and dunks. Who knows what this kid could do in a dunk contest? He potentially could bring back some of the graceful dunks that Larry Nance (who was of a similar body type to Antetokounmpo) used to win the inaugural NBA dunk contest in 1984. The “Greek Freak” is already a fan favorite, and would be a very entertaining addition to the dunk contest.
This dunk here is just scratching the surface of what this kid can do. With his 7-4 wingspan, along with his athleticism, a dunk from a step behind the free throw line is not outside the realm of possibility.
8. Russell Westbrook
I’m not sure what NBA rims have ever done to Russell Westbrook, but it must have been pretty bad. Westbrook throws down some of the meanest dunks in the NBA â€“ it’s almost a shock that he hasn’t hurt his hand on a rim yet. Westbrook is also at the top of the list when it comes to emotions after his dunks, and he’d have no problem getting the crowd going. Westbrook would bring a Dominique Wilkins type flair back to the dunk contest, which is definitely something we need.
7. Harrison Barnes
There were questions about Harrison Barnes’s athleticism heading into the draft, but he quieted those quickly by posting the highest vertical at the draft combine in 2012 at 38 inches. He has used that vertical to put several big men on posters â€“ from Nikola Pekovic to Ryan Anderson to Ersan Ilyasova. Barnes could definitely put on a show if given the opportunity in the slam dunk contest. Most of these dunks would be 10s if done in the contest, yet he threw them down in games! All he would need to do is to bring those guys out as props and he would be all but guaranteed monster scores.
6. DeAndre Jordan
Besides having the most total dunks in the league this season, DeAndre Jordan tries to send a message with each and every dunk. He tries to break the hoop with each slam, and on many of them he is looking down on the rim. Jordan has a very impressive leaping ability for a guy of his size, and could really open some eyes in the contest. Dwight Howard (who would make this list if he was fully recovered from back surgery) once dominated this competition, and Jordan is a dunker built in that same mold. Jordan showed what he could do given the opportunity with this fast-break windmill slam. Look how high he is! If there are still any questions, ask Brandon Knight if he thinks Jordan should be asked to participate.
Jeff Van Gundy agrees we need DeAndre Jordan in the dunk contest!
5. Blake Griffin
Blake needs no introduction. He has turned himself into a very good player on the low block, but at the end of the day, Blake will always be known for his dunking. He made fans go wild when won the contest in 2011 with some impressive 360s, and topped it off by jumping over a car (kind of). Blake is one of the most ferocious dunkers in the league and can catch an alley-oop from anywhere. Blake stopped participating after he won it, but there is no one out there who would vote against seeing him give it another go in 2014. Here is 13 minutes of Blake hammers. Enjoy.
4. Terrence Ross
Ross dunks with such incredible power, and the way he kicks his legs during his dunks make them look even more spectacular. Some questioned the Raptors choice of Ross when they took him with the eighth overall selection in 2012, but athleticism was never one of those questions. He has thrown down some crazy windmills and tip slams in games, and his one-handers off two feet are breathtaking. Ross is the reigning champ, so hopefully he will be back in 2014 to defend his title. If these next three guys participate, however, it will be a tough title to reclaim.
3. Paul George
Paul George participated in the dunk contest in 2012, but was just a wide-eyed second-year player back then and fell short, despite an incredible dunk over teammate Roy Hibbert. He reportedly denied the invitation to participate this year, but then came out and said if other big stars were willing to enter, then he would be up for the challenge. With the ups to complete this dunk over a seven-footer, no one would dispute that.
George has become a bright star and fan favorite in the league, and giving the dunk contest another go would only further his stock in the eyes of the fans. He has the hops, and after seeing what he did on the fly on a fast break, it is clear he has the ingenuity to come up with some pretty nifty dunks. Hopefully a few of the other names on this list will agree to take part so George will have no choice but to participate himself.
2. Gerald Green
Gerald Green is one of the most spectacular leapers the league has ever seen. He effortlessly springs into the air, taking flight with the greatest ease. He has already won a contest in 2007, and put up a great fight the next year with the cupcake dunk and the shoeless dunk â€“ both of which didn’t get the respect they deserved from the judges at the time (even though no one was beating Dwight’s superman dunk that year).
Green’s dunking prowess needs no embellishment. From the windmill alley-oop (in a game!) where he could have kissed the rim, to the countless dunks on people’s heads, Green consistently shows he is one of the best in the business. Everyone would win if Gerald agreed to participate in the dunk contest once again.
1. LeBron James
Fans have been clamoring for LeBron to take part in the dunk contest since his rookie season. He throws down some of the meanest dunks in the league, and is probably the greatest athlete on the planet. He flies through the air with an inconceivable combination of power and grace. He has shown pregame that he has some dunk contest ideas in mind, but has never committed to a contest.
One reason LeBron may not have decided to take part is the mystique in him not participating has made people’s imaginations run wild on what he could actually do. Could he dunk from the top of the key? Could he do a double windmill? Our imaginations may have built LeBron up so high that we couldn’t help but be disappointed no matter what he came up with. Our hopes were sky-high when LeBron committed to the 2010 contest while watching Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard duke it out in 2009, but he withdrew his name from consideration. Perhaps LeBron is intent on keeping that shroud of mystery.
Either way, we need to get LeBron in the dunk contest â€“ along with any number of these guys. Whether we need a $10 million prize or some other wacky incentive, getting LeBron in the contest should be Adam Silver‘s first mode of business when he takes over for David Stern. What better way to gain the fans’ immediate approval than by announcing the dunk contest will feature LeBron, Gerald Green, Paul George, and Blake Griffin? Get on it Adam, and the fans will bow to you.
Who do you want to see in the dunk contest?
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