We need these guys in the dunk contest come February.
There’s no question that the Slam Dunk contest is the best part of All-Star weekend. The game itself is a no-defense fiesta of entertaining but meaningless basketball, and though the three-point contest and skills challenge are pretty fun to watch, the other Saturday night events lack the artistry and creativity which make the dunk contest so great.
Last year we witnessed an all-time battle in the dunk contest with Zach LaVine winning his second straight dunk contest in a scintillating competition with Aaron Gordon. This year we’ve seen some great in-game dunks already, and it’s time we take a look at the four guys who deserve to be in the contest this time around.
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
No surprise here, as the reigning champ generally comes back to defend his title in these contests. But he’s not just getting the nod because he’s the defending champ. LaVine has been, no question, one of the game’s best dunkers the past two seasons. He does a lot of damage in transition where he showcases his freakish athletic ability, effortlessly gliding through the air. He frequently leaks out after a miss and will be the recipient of divine Ricky Rubio outlet passes for easy slams. As testament to that fact, nearly 43% of all his dunks are assisted this season.
But he also has a little off-the-bounce game, which can lead to tomahawks like this one:
Or this one:
The dude’s got mad hops and crazy athleticism. He’s a shoo-in to be the favorite come February.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Yeah, yeah, I know you think this is a cop out because of what he did in the contest last year. But first of all, would you be upset if we got LaVine vs. Gordon round two? I didn’t think so.
Second of all, Gordon has given Magic fans great dunks this year. If you go to 3ball.io and type in “Aaron Gordon dunk,” you will have yourself a fulfilling 15 minutes.
There are so many good ones, I feel confident I could get to Exhibit Z without any trouble. And Gordon has only thrown down 29 dunks, this year according to Basketball Reference, so that’s saying something.
Like LaVine, 44% of Gordon’s dunks are assisted, and a good portion of them are in transition. But where LaVine has the off-the-dribble component of his game, Gordon gets some of his dunks as the roll man in the pick and roll, receiving lobs from teammates Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin.
These first two picks are easy, but they feel right. The next two are where some debate will enter the fray.
Larry Nance Jr., Los Angeles Lakers
Nance Jr. has had quite possibly the two best dunks of the season. Obviously the Brook Lopez dunk was wild, but his poster job on David West was almost as Earth-shattering.
The Lopez dunk. I love that Timofey Mozgov, while running back on defense, puts his hands on his head in disbelief. He, just like the rest of us, can’t believe what really happened.
Nance’s length contributes to his ability to throw down massive jams. He can reach up and over rim protectors while palming the basketball and force it down through the hoop. However, he doesn’t create his own dunk attempts often.
As Gordon exhibited a bit, Nance Jr. is much more involved in pick and rolls as the roll man; 74.1% of his dunks are assisted, and dunks make up about 22% of his total offense, a much higher percentage than either LaVine or Gordon. According to NBA Savant, he’s shooting 81% within the restricted area, well above league average. Presumably that high percentage is a result of his many dunks.
When he dunks he looks heavy—and I mean that in a positive way. He looks like a boulder tumbling down a mountainside as he gathers slowly, keeping the ball over his head and out of reach of pesky guards, before crushing and hanging on the rim. He’s got what it takes and will be healthy (bone bruise in his left knee, back in two weeks) by the time the competition comes around. Let’s get this man in the contest.
Jonathon Simmons, San Antonio Spurs
You’ve never heard of Jonathon Simmons? Well let me introduce you to him.
What I love about Simmons’ dunks is that he really rears back to throw them down. There’s nothing dainty about them. They are ferocious and lethal, and I love them.
Simmons has dunked the least of any of the four mentioned here—only 17 times. As expected, many are on breakaways. But some, like the above and below, are designed alley oops where a Spur teammate will lob the ball up knowing that Simmons has the athleticism to go up and get it.
The play immediately above, in particular, is a true leap of faith from Patty Mills, who gently floats the ball up to seemingly no one while Simmons rampages in off a back screen and grabs it for the finish.
Simmons is not the most well-known player in the league, but he’s a great dunker. And though the dunk contest is fun when it’s littered with burgeoning or bona fide stars, it’s also about giving the best dunkers a chance to wow the crowd. So give me Jonathon Simmons over everybody.
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