As the NBA Slam Dunk contest slowly slips into an induced coma, we can be grateful the league no longer takes it seriously.
The once-marquee event rides the caboose on NBA’s All-Star Saturday Night, giving even the most hardcore fans the chance to change channels and watch Vanderpump Rules or a COPS rerun. While I mean no disrespect to the young millionaires who will try mightily to impress the judges with above-the-rim acrobatics and no-look, behind-the-back throwdowns, this year’s dunk roster is the weakest in years. It’s time to strike this once must-watch event from the NBA’s midseason festivities, and replace it with something a bit more relevant.
Gone are images of Michael flying toward the hoop from the foul line, Dominique Wilkins (The Human Highlight Film) leaving spectators and viewers with their mouths open, or even Cedric Ceballos pretending to perform a dunk while blindfolded. Instead, the slam dunk competition consists of guys with major hops trying to rip down the backboard or attempting the tried-and-true windmill. Yawn.
Without further fanfare (or any at all), here are your Saturday night slammers.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
Not to take anything away from this 20-year-old budding superstar, but his dunks leave little to the imagination. For my taste, a Dr. J/Jordan/Wilkins slam has both power and style. The young Greek star has power, but needs to work on his showmanship and creativity to win over the judges and fans. Antekounmpo has unlimted potential, and if they keep the dunk thing going, he could be a winner with some more fit and finish. I think it will be fun to hear Charles Barkley try and pronounce his name.
Zach LaVine (Timberwolves)
This 19-year-old has been dunking since he was in high school in Renton, Wash., and after one year at UCLA (where he did not even average double figures), he entered the NBA. He averages a bit more than seven points per game but shows flashes of future greatness when he is on the court. Like Anteokounmpo, LaVine may be a future dunking stud, but his signature windmill won’t get him past the first round.
Victor Oladipo (Magic)
If you’re making a friendly wager on the slam dunk fest, Oladipo is your likely winner. The closest to having some old-school dunk moves, this former Hoosier attacks the basket with that rare blend of power and finishing finesse. He’s a great alley-oop dunker, with world-class hang time, so look for that as part of his repertoire. Maybe, to get the sympathy vote, he’ll wear that scary-looking protective mask he rocked after getting a facial fracture last November.
Mason Plumlee (Nets)
Whoever said white guys can’t jump has never seen the springs on this former Duke second-team all-american. Plumlee was a star high-jumper in high school, which allows him to effectively play above the hoop, and throw down his favorite overhead, behind-the-back slam. The Brooklyn Net center/power forward will have the home-court advantage since the game is being held at the Barclay Center, so that makes him as a possible finalist or even a darkhorse for the trophy. If Plumlee wins, he will be the first white player to win since Brent Barry won in 1996. Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ biracial superstar won the slamma jamma in 2011.
Even though there are new rules to speed up this year’s competition, let’s hope new commissioner Adam Silver puts his stamp on future all-star games by eliminating the slam dunk contest and replacing it with something more fan-friendly and interactive. A game of H-O-R-S-E anyone?
Photo via thoungfu/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)