The NBA's Next Generation of Highlight-Reel Dunkers

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2012

The NBA's Next Generation of Highlight-Reel Dunkers

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    The NBA's next generation of highlight-reel dunkers is upon us. In fact, many of these players have been throwing down monster dunks for several years already.

    The NBA has always been a cyclical league, and the trend holds true with its greatest high-fliers as well. The Vince Carter-Tracy McGrady-Kobe Bryant-Jason Richardson generation gave way to the current era—one featuring LeBron James, Andre Iguodala, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire and so many others.

    And that era is about to give way to a new generation of dunkers. These guys are guaranteed to show up on highlight reels for years to come.

    (Note: For the sake of argument, only players under the age of 26 were considered for this list. The goal was to include players who will be dunking for the better part of the next decade.)

    Soundtrack: "I Believe I Can Fly" by R. Kelly; "The World's Greatest" by R. Kelly

12. Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    Harrison Barnes has had just one notable dunk in his NBA career. Knowing that, you might think that it’s a little silly that he’s on this list at all.

    Until you see the dunk.

    Barnes’ detonation on Nikola Pekovic is the early favorite for dunk of the year, and it’s not even close. Try telling Pek that Barnes is a “good not great” athlete.

    It may just be one dunk, but it’s not like Barnes didn’t have any highlight-reel dunks during his time as a UNC Tarheel. Barnes is just a rookie, and the more comfortable he gets with the Golden State Warriors offense, the more likely it is that we’ll see more big-time jams from him.

    Sorry, Pek.

11. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

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    JaVale McGee has become far more well-known for his boneheaded plays with the Washington Wizards than for any legitimate basketball talent.

    That’s a real shame, because not only is McGee having a great year with the Denver Nuggets, he is also one of the best dunkers of this generation.

    McGee finished second to Blake Griffin in the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest, but more than a few people felt that McGee actually should have been the winner. Dunks like this crazy reverse lend some credence to the argument.

    Charles Barkley also brought up an interesting point during the dunk contest: It generally does look less impressive when a big man dunks than when a guard does.     

    It seems like the heads of most big men are so close to the rim that dunking the ball wouldn’t even be difficult. In McGee’s case, it’s even worse because he’s so lanky. Every time he dunks, it’s like watching Michael Jordan at the end of Space Jam.

    Don’t let the height or the arms fool you. McGee is no stranger when it comes to throwing down (like he did on Kyle Korver or on Ian Mahinmi).

10. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

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    Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is another guy who could make a legitimate case that he should have been the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest winner. DeRozan can soar, and he proved it with this reverse windmill.

    If Toronto were good this year, DeRozan may have finally gotten some exposure. But as it stands, he’s criminally underrated as a dunker.

    The Raptors just gave DeMar a big extension, and he’s in the midst of trying to expand his game right now.

    Just as long as you keep the dunks coming, DeMar. Just keep the dunks coming.

    Notable clips: Dunk on the entire state of Utah; poster dunk on Tyrus Thomas.

9. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Kevin Durant doesn’t get much credit as a dunker, but he already has one pantheon-level playoff dunk under his belt after basically ruining Brendan Haywood’s career, and he seems to be on his way to many, many more.

    Durant might be thin, but he goes after guys. Just look at this dunk on one of the league’s best shot-blockers (and fellow member of this list), or when he literally puts it on the head of Roy Hibbert.

    That’s some pretty incredible stuff.

    The real shame is that Durant is now a member of the “Greatest Dunk That Never Was” club after nearly putting Andray Blatche on an endless YouTube loop for the next century.

    Seriously, how incredible would that dunk have been?

    We know Durant best for his silky smooth jumper, but it’s time we threw his dunking into the equation. He’s just that good.

8. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    Paul George sometimes fails to assert himself offensively for the Indiana Pacers. However, when he does get aggressive, he tends to put on a show—even if it’s not on an NBA court.

    All you really need to know about George’s athleticism is that he’s either a 6’8” or 6’10” (depending on who you talk to) guard. That takes some kind of talent in today’s day and age.

    He also went off in last year’s dunk contest, in which he literally jumped over seven-foot teammate Roy Hibbert, who gets dunked on or over a lot on this list (sorry, Roy). It’s still hard to say what the whole lights thing was all about, but overall, Paul George showed up in a big way.

    Luckily for dunk fans, George has had to get more aggressive on the offensive end this season since Danny Granger is out with an injury. It will be hard to complain if that ends up leading to more plays like this.

7. Jeremy Evans, Utah Jazz

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    Jeremy Evans is undoubtedly the greatest dunker that you’ve never seen play.

    Evans gets just eight minutes per game for the Utah Jazz, and if not for last year’s dunk contest, most of the world would miss out on seeing exactly what he can do.

    Evans is nicknamed the "Human Pogo Stick,” which fits well because it genuinely seems like he has unlimited hops.

    (Honestly, though, that’s a pretty lame nickname. Brad Rock of the Deseret News has some much better suggestions. I love “Oh My Heavens” Evans.)

    Evans also (probably) holds the crown for “best preseason play ever” with this unbelievable block-dunk combo on Ronny Turiaf.

    Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin may get paid to win basketball games and everything, but someone needs to tell him to give Evans a few more minutes.

    Notable clip: Best charge ever.

6. Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are all about grit and grinding out wins. They muck it up inside with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, crash the boards, play suffocating defense…they pretty much play the least flashy brand of basketball on the planet.

    But every now and then—if only for a moment—Rudy Gay will throw down a dunk that makes the Grizzlies look like the flashiest team in the league.

    Want to know how well Rudy can dunk?

    His first NBA season was 2006-07. His first official “Top 10 Dunks” video was made in January of 2008.

5. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

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    DeAndre Jordan is often overshadowed by a certain other member of the Los Angeles Clippers, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know how to rock the rim.

    What really separates DeAndre from other athletic bigs is his sheer strength. You're just not stopping him if he's up for an alley-oop.

    As Jon Brockman eventually learned, it’s better to get out of the way when Jordan’s going up for the slam. It may be humiliating at the time, but at least it will prevent you from showing up on lists like this.

    As incredible as Blake Griffin is, no one in the league finishes lob passes as spectacularly as Jordan does. He's the driving force behind the name “Lob City.”

    It’s just the truth.

    Notable clips: Jordan makes the Los Angeles Lakers weep (probably).

4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls

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    Honestly, Derrick Rose probably shouldn't be this high up on the list.

    It's hard to say what he's going to be athletically when he comes back from his injury. There's a decent chance that he won't be able rock the rim like this for the next decade, or maybe even ever again.

    But you know what? I have faith in Derrick Rose.

    I predict he comes back healthy and continues to humiliate far less athletic players for the rest of his career.

    It’s funny, Derrick Rose is by far one of the best dunkers in the league, but he doesn’t actually dunk that much. Rose’s body control is so incredible that, rather than trying to dunk in traffic, he can just avoid defenders in the air and put up a layup.

    But when Rose does dunk? It’s a guarantee to make the highlight reel.

    Notable clips: Rose dunks over Danilo Gallinari.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Russell Westbrook is aggressive.

    He's aggressive on defense, he's aggressive when he takes the ball to the basket and he's probably aggressive when he's doing everyday things like shopping and doing the dishes.

    It's just who he is.

    So it will probably come as no surprise that Russ is an aggressive dunker too.

    Russ punishes the rim on every single slam. You actually can't watch any of Westbrook's dunks in slow motion because the best thing about each dunk is the sound it makes. It's violent stuff—just a big boom when it's going through the net.

    It's not too far-fetched to say that his dunks are comparable in power to Dominique Wilkins at his scoring apex (and he's only the greatest power dunker of all time).

    And Russ is a guard. That's insane.

    There's more to be said about Westbrook's athleticism, about the way he can dunk in traffic and about his knack for darting past defenders at the last possible second for a putback slam.

    But it's better if you see all of that for yourself.

    Also, Westbrook is the only player in the league who starts celebrating his dunks on the way down from the basket. It's amazing.

    Notable clips: Top 10 dunks, phantom dunk.

2. Gerald Green, Indiana Pacers

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    It would be misleading not to mention that the whole "26 years old or under” rule was made up just so Gerald Green could be on this list. He's that good.

    Scouts pegged Gerald Green as a once-in-a-generation athlete and a potential superstar when he was coming out of high school to enter the 2005 draft. But Green slipped all the way to the Boston Celtics at No. 18 and has bounced from one team to another since then.

    However, he has always lived up to his billing as a prodigious athlete.

    You know how, for most players, it's considered a great dunk when their head is at the rim? How that's pretty much the benchmark today?

    For Gerald Green, it's more like when his neck or his waist is at the rim (OK, probably not his waist). The dude just goes up and up and up…

    Let’s just say this: Vince Carter is the greatest dunking guard of all time. That’s right, when it comes to dunking, Vince is even better than Michael Jordan. And of all the guards who have come along since Vince, Gerald Green is the one who most looks like he can fly.

    Notable clips: 2007 Slam Dunk Contest; 2008 Slam Dunk Contest.

1. Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs

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    Just kidding. This was fun, though.

1. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Nov. 20, 2010. The day Blake Griffin became Blake Griffin.

    Griffin submitted two dunks to the Pantheon that night—the spin and slam on Danilo Gallinari and the dunk that effectively ended Timofey Mozgov’s basketball career forever. No matter what Timofey does from here on out, he’ll always be remembered for being Mozgov’d.

    After the game, Mozgov told reporters (per ESPN’s Henry Abbott):

    I understood that I only had time to give him a little push. I committed a foul, but because of that he didn't jump over me.

    Mozgov, a seven-footer, genuinely believed that Griffin could have jumped over him. And after you watch the clip, you start to believe it too.

    There have been more dunks since then—the emasculation of Kendrick Perkins and his two-dunk assault on Pau Gasol being just two of many examples. Or maybe you prefer the dunk over the Kia.

    They're all great. It’s really just a matter of personal preference.

    Blake Griffin is just 23 years old, and he’s already the greatest dunker in the world. And it still feels like we’re waiting for that one dunk, the one that will never be topped.

    Out of all of the high-fliers on this list, Blake Griffin is the only one who has unlimited dunking potential.

    Treasure the next decade. Blake is an all-time great.