Preview: Slam Dunk Contest

The Sprite NBA Slam Dunk Contest features a young, exciting field this year which includes Brooklyn’s own Mason Plumlee. Can he steal the show and win the contest on his home floor?

The dunk contest looks to return to form in 2015 in the Barclays Center, after 2014’s failed experiment which included team competitions and saw John Wall crowned “dunker of the night.” It was a head-scratching move for the NBA, as the problem with the dunk contest was never the format, but rather lack of talent or household names in the contest.

The 2015 contest is set to be a good one however. With a more traditional format, the removal of fan voting, and a young, talented field which features only rookie and sophomore players, the competition should be very exciting.

The field of four players includes Nets F/C Plumlee, as mentioned, as well as Timberwolves rookie G Zach LaVine, Orlando Magic G Victor Oladipo, and Bucks phenom F Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as the “Greek Freak.” All four players are exciting to watch, and any one of them could conceivably win the contest. Who will be crowned champion in the Barclays Center on Valentine’s day?

4. Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets

Plumlee may be the least likely to take home the crown, but he’s certainly no longshot. As seen in the video above, Plumlee can throw it down with the best of them, including a very impressive three balls at once dunk. Plumlee is hindered, however, by his body frame. At 6’10”, 236 pounds, Plumlee is a force on the court during games. In this setting though, it makes him less nimble, limits his in the air ball handling, and decreases the degree of difficulty on most dunks as he’s already close to the rim just standing. Plumlee will have to get very creative with his dunks without relying on gimmicks if he wants to win or place well in this year’s contest. In the past ten years, the only players over 6’9″ to win the dunk contest were Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin, both widely known for great dunking abilities. Plumlee will easily be the crowd favorite with the contest being held in Brooklyn, but will that impact his chances at all? Mason Plumlee has potential, but his emphatic slams are much more suited for in-game crowd pleasers than in the dunk contest.

3. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

Victor Oladipo already has an impressive collection of in-game dunks, including two breakaway 360 slams in his career, once against the Nets, the last dunk in the above video, and a strong finish over LeBron James. At 6’4″, Oladipo is the shortest dunker in the contest, an attribute that has helped past winners like Nate Robinson and Spud Webb. Simply put, dunks are more impressive the higher you have to leap from the ground. We can expect Oladipo to perform windmills, between the legs, and 360 dunks to match his style, as he has been fearless attempting these kinds of dunks mid game. Though these dunks will likely draw positive judge reaction at first, they have been done before and innovation is key for the Orlando Magic shooting guard. It appears Oladipo will try to avoid the gimmick route, as he rejected teammate Kyle O’Quinn’s absurd “Coming to America” homage dunk. Oladipo must make the most of his extended hangtime and preform some thrilling acrobatics to win the judges over.

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks 

Throw out all the reasons about why Mason Plumlee can’t win the dunk contest at 6’11”. Antetokounmpo measures in at the same height, but a full 20 pounders lighter at 216 pounds. The Greek Freak has extremely long arms, reportedly a 7’4″ wingspan and maybe the biggest hands in basketball. This is a tremendous asset in the dunk contest, as Antetokounmpo could literally be feet away from the rim and still slam it home. His long strides even give way to what has been a dunk contest favorite, launching from the free-throw line. In short, the disadvantages Plumlee’s height gives him are advantages for Antetokounmpo due to his insane amounts of athleticism. Antetokounmpo is my personal pick to have the most creative, awe-inspiring dunk of the night that will keep fans talking, even if he doesn’t take home the title. Expect the “Greek Freak’s” long arms to do something crazy with the basketball at some point during the competition.

1. Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves

If LaVine’s in game dunks weren’t already impressive enough, he has already given us a taste of what he can in a dunk contest style in last year’s Seattle Pro-Am appearance. Anyone who’s watched LaVine can see he’s an electric player and the easy favorite for this year’s contest. It also helps that he won the high school dunk contest just two years ago with some filthy dunks against some stiff competition. It’s hard to say anything that hasn’t been said about LaVine, as fans and critics have been clamoring for his participation in the contest ever since he burst into the league. At 19-years-old, LaVine is the only rookie in the contest and would be one the youngest ever to win it. He also has an insane reported 46 inch vertical leaping ability.  LaVine’s expected repertoire includes through the legs, 360’s off the glass, killer windmills, and brutal finishes after launching himself from several feet away. But as a winner at the high school level, LaVine already knows he has to do more than just what’s expected. If LaVine puts on a show as expected in the dunk contest, his following and appreciation from fans could explode, almost to the levels of Blake Griffin just a few years ago.

This could shape up to be one of the best dunk contest in years. The only thing hindering each participant, is what can be done that hasn’t been done already? This is a tough question and often leads way to gimmicky prop dunks that don’t actually improve the quality of the dunk. Whoever breaks the mold most effectively should be this year’s winner, and there’s a great chance that man is Zach LaVine. It would be great to see Mason Plumlee win in front of the stands he calls home in the city of Brooklyn. In what is becoming a season where the Nets continue to slide on the court, a Plumlee win would also be a nice win for the fanbase to keep them excited.

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