When it comes to All-Star Weekend, few things generate as much as excitement as the Dunk Contest, which is why it’s been a little surprising to see so little discussed thus far in terms of who might actually be responsible for providing this year’s acrobatic entertainment.
Two-time defending champion Zach LaVine, for example, will not be participating in this year’s dunk contest, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders:
Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine won't compete in the 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, sources told Basketball Insiders.
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) January 25, 2017
It’s not entirely surprising considering LaVine is third in the NBA in minutes, averaging over 37 per game. He’s getting the Jimmy Butler treatment in Tom Thibodeau’s system this season, so it’s reasonable for the guy to want to get some rest.
It’s also reasonable for him to worry about his Dunk Contest legacy. He makes everything look easy and certainly could have pulled some new tricks out of his bag (like the 360-degree free-throw-line dunk teammate Andrew Wiggins posted on Snapchat earlier this season), but he’s proven what he wanted to prove on that stage already.
The good news, though, is that Aaron Gordon will be back to avenge his loss from a season ago, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN. He was every bit as good as LaVine and perhaps even more diverse in his collection of dunks. On top of that, he also appears to be a student of the YouTube dunk, choosing to execute several dunks from online videos making the rounds ahead of last year’s contest. If he were to pull off five or six more of those next month, he’d be right back in contention for the title for the second year in a row.
Other than Gordon, there are a few other players’ names who have been making the rounds as possibilities for the dunk contest. Indiana’s Glenn Robinson III reportedly will participate, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. While his highlight reel of dunks isn’t quite as impressive as Gordon’s and LaVine’s, he absolutely was known as a dunker at the University of Michigan and would be an eager participant in this year’s contest.
Boston rookie Jaylen Brown will not partake, however, which is a shame considering how good he would have been.
“I am honored to even be asked to compete in the Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Saturday,” Brown wrote in a statement, which ESPN’s Haynes released on Twitter. “However, I decided to pass this year because I want to focus all my energy on being ready to help my team. I hope the league asks me again.”
With Brown out, that means the other two contestants could be San Antonio’s Jonathan Simmons and little-known, undrafted Phoenix rookie Derrick Jones.
Simmons’ has been a non-stop highlight reel this season on both ends of the floor, so he’d be a welcome addition, but Jones is the real wild card in the mix. He has been on the floor a total of six NBA minutes this season, having spent most of his time playing for the Northern Arizona Suns of the D-League.
Jones is considering accepting the NBA’s invitation to dunk next month, according to Chris Haynes. While most casual fans have no idea who this kid is, it would not be outlandish for him to make a name for himself by winning the Dunk Contest outright. Jones is practically hand-crafted by the Basketball Gods for this event, and were he to participate, he absolutely would be right there with Gordon as a favorite to win it.
Consider this compilation of dunks from high school two full years ago:
Why he hasn’t already accepted the league’s invitation is a mystery. However, there may be a measure of pride in being put on display as nothing more than a dunker when he’s trying to crack the Phoenix rotation on the merits of his all-around play. Still, a Dunk Contest win for a no-name guy like this would be nothing but a positive for his career moving forward, at least from a PR standpoint, and goodness knows he’d make the event itself all the more entertaining.
With Gordon and Robinson all but confirmed, and Jones and Simmons both perfectly acceptable additions, this year’s dunk contest will have every bit of creativity and athleticism as what we’ve seen in the event’s renaissance the last two years, even if the names themselves aren’t quite as large as they have been.
The actual field typically is announced the first week of February, so we’ll find out soon enough. Based on what we’ve heard so far, though, it’s perfectly appropriate to start taking bets as to who will win the dunk contest in 2017.
The Insiders Podcast
Basketball Insiders Senior NBA writer Michael Scotto and producer Brian Fritz discuss the All-Star starting snub of Russell Westbrook, the underwhelming New York Knicks and the NBA trade market. They’re also joined by special guest Myles Turner of the Indiana Pacers as he discusses his individual growth, where the Pacers are headed in the second half of the season and the Eastern Conference overall.
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