Who should be throwing down on All-Star Saturday in Houston next week? Our panelists pick their own slam dunk contest fields.
1. Who's your top pick for the NBA slam dunk contest?
Graydon Gordian, 48 Minutes of Hell: DeAndre Jordan. His length and explosion make him arguably the best dunking center in the league. And DeAndre throws it down with real power, an underappreciated element of the dunk.
Chris Palmer, ESPN The Magazine: LeBron James. With James in the contest, it becomes the most talked about event of All-Star Weekend. Folks argue that he wouldn't have the creativity or bag of tricks to keep it interesting, but I don't buy it. His power and hang time would be enough to satisfy the people and snag at least one 50. Like a line from his favorite movie "Gladiator," James would "win the crowd."
Tom Sunnergren, Philadunkia: LeBron James. President Barack Obama, after letting his powerful campaign arm wither after 2008, is reportedly keeping the thing humming this time around to drum up popular support for various high-value initiatives. Add this one to the list, POTUS: LeBron James in the 2013 slam dunk contest. It's a long shot, but the King's protests, demurrals and dodges aside, we need him in one of these. Can we do this? YES WE CAN!
John Converse Townsend, Truth About It: Kenneth Faried. The Manimal is only 6-foot-8, but there's no doubt he's one of the better in-game dunkers in the NBA. Not even Dwight Howard can stand in his way. "He saw my eyes, I wasn't going to back down, I wasn't going to try to float it," Faried said after a 126-114 win over the Lakers, remembering the play that got Howard tossed with a flagrant 2. "I was going to try to dunk on him." Ferocious.
Kevin Zimmerman, Valley of the Suns: Andre Iguodala. The veteran lost a tough battle to Nate Robinson way back in 2006, but he had one of the most underrated dunks in the contest's history. Iguodala's behind-the-backboard reverse dunk off a pass from Allen Iverson has been lost in the shuffle, and that's a shame. Although he's nearing 30 years old, the Nuggets wingman still has hops.
2. Who's your second pick for the NBA slam dunk contest?
Gordian: Kevin Durant. Durant might be one of the most underrated in-game dunkers in the league. His dunks are high-flying and mean-spirited. And his length gives him the potential to come up with some pretty inventive dunks.
Palmer: Blake Griffin. He's the NBA's best dunker, so this is an easy call. So powerful yet hardly sacrifices finesse. Some of his early-round dunks in 2011 are dunks I'd never seen before, so I can only imagine what he has up his sleeve given a couple of contests more. Even without Baron Davis and a Kia, he's the favorite.
Sunnergren: Harrison Barnes. Nikola Pekovic is a good and improving basketball player, which makes it especially unfortunate that the most notable thing he did on a court so far this season was play graceless foil in the beautiful, violently athletic thing Barnes did on Nov. 24. I mean, just look at this. We need more Harrison Barnes in our lives.
Townsend: Russell Westbrook. Who wouldn't want to see the most athletic point guard in the game hammer it home on All-Star Weekend? It's like Thunder play-by-play man Brian Davis said, "THERE ARE NO WORDS FOR HOW NASTY … !"
Zimmerman: Terrence Ross. Although the Raptors rookie doesn't have the name nor the numbers to be atop the list, the #LetRossDunk movement isn't fluff. He could be more of an in-game dunk artist, but Ross' athleticism is too good to keep him off the list.
3. Who's your third pick for the NBA slam dunk contest?
Gordian: Eric Bledsoe. That's right: two Clippers, neither of which is Blake Griffin. The dunk contest has a long tradition of diminutive contestants who dominate the competition. No player under 6-3 has better odds of walking away with the dunk title than Bledsoe.
Palmer: Gerald Green. One of the best competitive dunkers ever. Before his special effects-style leaps, there's a tingling moment of anticipation that most dunkers lack. He's great at moving the ball across and around his body. And he has the requisite swag, which is oh-so-important. Besides, any dude who can get his head over the rim is all right with me. Don't believe it? Watch this.
Sunnergren: Terrence Ross. Although not much has gone right for the Toronto Raptors the past decade or so, at least they have this. And this. And this. The rookie is so athletic and graceful that you half-expect there's a picture of him whiffing on a dunk growing dusty in a closet somewhere.
Townsend: Lob City's DeAndre Jordan. Anybody that says big men don't look good dunking has never seen this Clippers center play ball. He's already dunked it more than 100 times this season, and I bet half of those jams made the highlight reel. Just throw it up and D.J. will throw it down -- hard.
Zimmerman: Paul George. The Pacers' rising star has told people he's not interested in doing the dunk contest, and with an All-Star bid already accepted, that's fair. Still, there's no reason one of the NBA's most underappreciated teams shouldn't have one of its most underappreciated players in the dunk contest.
4. Who's your fourth pick for the NBA slam dunk contest?
Palmer: Terrence Ross. He's the best leaper no one knows about and has more flair than the Jeremy Evanses and DerMar DeRozans of the world. Youngster has crazy rise. He has the kind of pop off the floor that leaves people with a perplexed look. Did I just see that? He's the one upstart on my list, and that would work in his favor. The crowd loves a good surprise.
Sunnergren: Paul George. A not small proportion of NBA fans thought George was robbed in last year's contest. He was one of them. With a boulder on his shoulder, an elevated national profile and muscle fibers that still snap like pop rocks, he deserves satisfaction. The list of people who have done this to Larry Sanders is a short and distinguished one.
Townsend: Since neither Kevin Durant nor LeBron James will compete, and because James "Flight" White is now 30 years old, why not turn to the most eligible slam dunk contestant in the land, Gerald Green? Maybe he's overqualified, having won in 2007 and taken second place behind Dwight Howard in 2008, but you won't hear any complaints with Green in the billing.
Zimmerman: James Harden. Probably known for his Euro step more than for his dunking, the Houston Rockets guard is one of the more underrated athletes in the NBA. Creativity is part of Harden's game, and that always bodes well in the dunk contest. And beard props are worth brownie points.
5. Who's your first-alternate pick for the NBA slam dunk contest?
Gordian: Chris Andersen. Andersen's dunk contest performance is the most ridiculous event in the history of All-Star Weekend. What's the harm in giving him a second chance? If he bombs, it will be hilarious. If he's great, which he still could be, it'll be a wonderful moment of fundamentally meaningless redemption.
Palmer: Given his wicked throwdowns so far this season, Harrison Barnes wouldn't be a bad alternate. He has good hops and packs a wallop. My only concern with Barnes is a lack of showmanship. He doesn't strike me as someone who would play to the crowd, and the dunk contest can't afford to be boring. So when in doubt, give me Nate Robinson.
Sunnergren: James "Flight" White. The bellyachers who bellyache over the declining star power of recent iterations of the finest All-Star festivity in professional sports will surely thumb their noses at the inclusion of a 30-year-old journeyman who has played 44 career games, started eight and averaged 2.7 points per game. Here's my rebuttal. The defense rests.
Townsend: One-time No. 6 overall pick Jan Vesely. This 6-foot-11 forward jokingly referred to Blake Griffin as "the American Jan Vesely" on draft night back in 2011 -- let's see what he's got. Wizards Euro-stash Tomas Satoransky said Vesely doesn't have the creativity to win a dunk contest, but you never know what might happen with John Wall throwing him alley-oops.
Zimmerman: JaVale McGee. McGee's performance from 2011 was a mixed bag, but going with a big man always requires that that big man is either a freak athlete or a bit of a personality. McGee is both. Whether he succeeds wildly or fails miserably, he'll draw attention from the start.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Chris Palmer covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. Graydon Gordian, Tom Sunnergren, John Converse Townsend and Kevin Zimmerman are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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