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NBA PM: LaVine and the Art of the Dunk

Zach LaVine expects to participate in this season’s dunk contest, but has no idea how he’ll top last year.

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It’s too early to know for sure whether Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine will actually participate in this season’s dunk contest, but he knows as the defending champion he’ll be invited back. What he doesn’t know, however, is how he’ll live up to the lofty expectations almost sure to be placed on him once he gets there.

“If I do it again this year it’s like, man, how do I top myself?” LaVine told Basketball Insiders. “I got 50s on almost every dunk, and that’s really hard to do. I just feel like every dunk has been done about a million times. When Michael Jordan was doing it, you could go out there and do the same dunk in multiple competitions, but it’s changed a lot. Everything has been done somewhere. There are guys out there doing things that we can’t even imagine doing, and they’re like six-foot. It’s crazy.”

Knowing the incredible pressure that will be on him should he compete this February, he admits he understands why some of the league’s bigger stars like LeBron James continue to decline the opportunity to participate in the dunk exhibitions.

“I can understand it,” LaVine said. “If you’re LeBron, you have no choice but to go out there and win it. If you don’t, it’s going to look horrible on you because there are such high expectations.”

He added that sometimes, the players we see as the best dunkers on a night-to-night basis aren’t interested in putting in the prep work that goes with exhibition-style dunking.

“Some people are in-game dunkers and some people are contest dunkers,” LaVine said. “I consider myself both, but you’ve got to practice those dunks. You’ve got to prepare for it. I remember Shannon Brown, one of the best in-game dunkers in the league, couldn’t get it done in the dunk contest. It’s just how it goes for some people.”

In just his second season, LaVine is working hard to shed the image that he’s just a dunker, but he knows where his bread is buttered and is appreciative for the opportunities his talents have provided him.

“I’ve definitely seen an uptick in endorsements and I’ve been able to travel to a lot of different places for those kinds of things,” LaVine said. “The dunk contest is a global thing, and I had a good showing at the rookie game at All-Star Weekend too. But I’m still the same person. I just won the dunk contest, that’s all. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it again and then move on to bigger and better things. I want to play in the All-Star game in the next few years. That’s what we all look forward to.”

To do that, LaVine put in the sort of work in the offseason to round out his game well beyond his innate athleticism.

“I’ve worked on my jump shooting to become more consistent,” LaVine said. “I worked to be more defensive-oriented this year. I want to get the jump on people. I’m really athletic and I feel like I can use that speed and length to contest three different positions on the floor. I got stronger too. I put a lot of work into this offseason and I just really hope it pays off.”

He admits that he looks forward to possibly competing in another dunk contest, but at the end of the day he wants to build an identity beyond that.

“You come into the league and you don’t come here just to be a dunker,” LaVine said. “You get placed in that category, and I understand that it’s not bad to be placed there. You obviously showed something good and you can excite people, but I think I can be more.”

As one of the most important building blocks on one of the league’s most promising young teams, he should be given ample opportunity to prove it.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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