NBA All-Star weekend is less than two months away but until yesterday, when the league announced a format change for the festivities, there has been surprisingly scant discussion about the weekend and its premier event, the Dunk Contest. The apathy is perhaps understandable given the last few Dunk Contests, which, quite frankly, haven’t lived up to expectations.
At its best, though, the Dunk Contest is one of the most exciting events on the NBA calendar. Moments such as the 1988 showdown between Dominique Wilkins and Michael Jordan or Vince Carter’s coronation in 2000 will forever be remembered by those who follow the sport. And despite how depressing the contest has become recently, the mere prospect of seeing the next Jordan, ‘Nique or Carter is often reason enough to tune in again.
So, with the new East vs. West format in mind, here’s a list of five realistic competitors (sure, we’d all love it if LeBron, Dwight and Blake battled it out, but it’s not happening) who might be able to rekindle the magic Dunk Contests’ past in 2013: two for the East, two from the West, and one wildcard.
Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz: Utah’s Jeremy Evans carried the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest on the strength of his one-handed slam over Gordon Hayward and “Mailman” redux over comedian Kevin Hart. As a rule, the previous contest winner should always be given the chance to defend his crown. In addition to his contest performance, the 6-9 power forward has demonstrated freakish athleticism throughout his three seasons with the Jazz, consistently rocking opponents with powerful slams and monster swats. Evans combined these skills in marvelous fashion during the preseason when he blocked Ronny Turiaf, snatched the loose ball, then embarrassed Turiaf again with a huge crush on the other end. If he can leverage that sort of energy again in February, he should have little trouble repeating as champion.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: At present, rookie Harrison Barnes is sitting atop the “Dunk of the Year” ladder for his utter baptism of Nikola Pekovic last month (I think Pek is still having nightmares about it). Indeed, Barnes’ aggressive play has vaulted him into a starting role with the turnaround Warriors, and he’s averaging a respectable 8.8 points, 1.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. Maybe more important in this context, though, he already possesses the pedigree of the prototypical Dunk Contest champion: winger, 6-foot-8, North Carolina alum, and of course, jump-out-the-gym hops. In this tradition, let’s see if Barnes can take home a Dunk Contest trophy of his own.