Handicapping the Field: 2017 NBA Dunk Contest Participants

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TORONTO, ON- FEBRUARY 13: Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon celebrates a dunk during the NBA's All-Star Saturday Night. Where players compete in three events, the Skills Challenge, 3-point shooting and Slam Dunk at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. February 13, 2016. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Following up the greatest (yes, I said greatest) dunk contest in history is no easy feat. Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon kept us compelled throughout the night last season and now, without LaVine, the contest who some believe isn’t the best event of the night, has to move on without its two-time defending champion. Gordon does return, along with three brand new counterparts vying for the title of “best” dunker in the NBA. The three competitors look to bring athleticism, flair and, most importantly, creativity to the 2017 NBA Dunk Contest

The dunk contest has gone through its ups and downs. It started with Julius Erving in 1976 winning the ABA’s dunk contest, but would not return again until 1984. The event would explode later in the decade as Spud Webb caused an uproar over his size (or lack thereof). Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, two of the games biggest stars, battled three times, upping the ante even more.

Fast forward to 2001 when Vince Carter put on a show for the ages with one of the best dunk sets fans had ever seen. The contest would then transition to stars like Nate Robinson and Dwight Howard before an all-time low in 2014 when the league reverted to a teams format and begun the discussion of the three-point shootout being the league’s best event. Zach LaVine showed up the next year and has reenergized the event. Now, these four contestants will look to continue that momentum.

Handicapping the Field: 2017 NBA Dunk Contest Participants

The Favorite: Aaron Gordon, F, Orlando Magic

Odds: 3/2

The amount of creativity displayed by Gordon in last season’s contest was unbelievable. However, it leads many to wonder whether he will be able to come up with a whole new bag of tricks.  His under the legs dunk over Stuff, the Magic Dragon is a top-five dunk of all time. Some might doubt his ability to recreate the kind of magic he put together last year but I would not doubt him at this point.

Last year, he came into this event as a big-time underdog to LaVine and proved to the whole world his dunking acumen. He has been prepping for this year’s event for the whole year, even consulting professional dunkers for tips. That comes from a terrific piece done by Flinder Boyd of Bleacher Report. In that same piece, he says that he wants to become the greatest of all-time and won’t stop until he is done.

Graham Betchart, the Magic’s mental conditioning coach and Gordon’s main dunk contest consultant, told Boyd of Gordon’s dunks, “We can’t say, but they’re amazing. It’s mind-blowing.”

The Internet’s Pick: Derrick Jones Jr., F, Phoenix Suns

Odds: 7/2

If you haven’t watched this video of Jones Jr. below, stop reading this and watch it:

 

This kid has everything you look for in a dunk contest winner. He’s young, hungry, has bounce, power, and has the vertical. The question is whether he has the creativity. Will he come in and replicate Gordon’s first-year performance? Or will he come in and think his dunks are great and bust? I would bet the former and I expect him to come in and give Gordon a run for his money.

Jones, who turned 20 just two days ago, has played seven games with the Suns and completed three dunks at the NBA level. Gordon is at 44, DeAndre Jordan 165 and Glenn Robinson III 17. Jones, if he had more NBA experience, could’ve been a co-favorite with Gordon, and has nothing to lose. The whole contest should watch out for Jones Jr.

The Token Big-man: DeAndre Jordan, C, Los Angeles Clippers

Odds: 9/1

Every year this contest brings in a big man that regularly has big time dunks throughout the season. This year brings Jordan, owner of one of the most vicious slams in recent memory. The thing about that dunk is it encapsulates what Jordan’s problems in this contest will be. His best dunking attribute is power and in a contest built on flash, that can only transfer so far. He is what many call a “game dunker”.

One idea that I could see happening with Jordan is him bringing out a hoop taller than 10 feet tall a la Howard. Howard brought a 12-foot rim out and Jordan could try and outdo that, or do more than what Howard did with it.

The Darkhorse: Glenn Robinson III, F, Indiana Pacers

Odds: 15/1

Robinson III is the player who will lead many casual fans to ask “who is this guy?” as he trots out for his first dunk of the night. This is a player who is mostly reliant on athleticism at this point in his career but at age 23, he has room to grow. What fans can expect is a smooth jumper, who, like Jordan, brings a lot of power to his dunks. I am still hesitant as to whether a “power” dunker can win this contest in an era of creativity and athleticism.

 

 

This photo, which was on Robinson’s Instagram until yesterday, shows that he is ready to, as he says, “Shock the World”. We will see what the Michigan product is able to bring come Saturday night.

 

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