If the New Orleans Hornets took the best finishers in their franchise's history and had them compete in a Slam Dunk Contest against each other, who would emerge victorious?
A showdown between such a diverse group of high-flyers would be as exciting and interesting a contest we've seen in years.
There are a number of contenders that could vie for the title of the Hornets' best dunker. Larry Johnson was the team's first big star and his powerful jams made him an instant fan favorite. Johnson's teammate, Alonzo Mourning, also had his share of rim-rocking slams during his tenure with the Hornets.
Guys like J.R. Smith and Desmond Mason didn't last long with the team, but still made an impact during their brief stint with some fine aerial theatrics. Tyson Chandler had his share of highlights, thanks to years of being on the receiving end of Chris Paul's lobs. Baron Davis is another name that would be a formidable contender in a contest such as this.
For the newer crowd, rookie Anthony Davis has the kind of length and athleticism that is sure to make him a fixture on plenty of highlight reels for years to come. Kobe Bryant was technically a Hornet at one point in his career, but his tenure with the team didn't last past draft day in 1996.
For the sake of argument, let's narrow down the contestants to the first four listed above. As a representative of the team's early years and one of the best dunking forwards in NBA history, Johnson makes the cut. Davis gives the contest a more contemporary contender, while Davis and Smith round out the list.
Let's begin with "Grandmama."
In this jam from the 1992 Slam Dunk Contest, you see a lot of what Larry Johnson brings to the table. The former UNLV standout doesn't just attack the rim with power and intensity, but he also has the hang time to add a little flair to his dunks.
A 360 jam like this may not seem as impressive now, thanks to the exploits of athletic forwards like Blake Griffin, but there weren't many big men who could pull off these kind of dunks back in 1992. Johnson was a part of a rare breed in the early '90s, which is why a slam like this stands out to me.
While Smith had the skills to make certain dunks unique, his calling card was using his elite hops to dunk on anyone foolish enough to stand under the rim when he's heading toward them. In this clip from Smith's stint in Denver, watch him make poster art out of Gary Neal. Neal makes the late attempt to draw the charge, but instead ends up on the receiving end up of a nasty dunk.
The elevation is key to this dunk. Smith takes off as if Hill isn't even standing there and proceeds to practically jump over him. There are numerous clips of Smith dunking on unfortunate opponents, but the reason this one takes the cake is how high Smith gets up over Hill. It's one of those moments that should make Hill shudder every time he thinks about it.
Next up, there's Baron Davis.
Like Smith's dunk, this clip features someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time when one of our contestants is attacking the basket. In this case, it's future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett becoming poster fodder for then-rookie Baron Davis.
Davis is a couple inches shorter than J.R. Smith at 6'3", but the leaping ability he displays for a smaller guy is very impressive. In this highlight, Davis goes coast-to-coast and finishes with a vicious one-handed jam. If you watch K.G.'s defense, he makes an attempt at trying to stop Davis, but realizes in mid-air that he might have made a mistake.
The result was the former UCLA Bruin making a name for himself by embarrassing a seasoned vet in "The Big Ticket." The lesson Garnett probably learned from this clip: When someone is charging the lane with reckless abandon, either foul him or get out of the way.
Finally, we have this year's No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Davis.
Unlike the others, Davis doesn't have an expansive library of pro highlights. Still, he's had moments where he's shown the potential that convinced the Hornets he'll be a franchise cornerstone. For a guy with such a lanky frame, Davis really attacks the rim hard.
In this highlight, Davis shows off his skills by turning a Greivis Vasquez lob into a reverse alley-oop dunk. Granted, Vasquez deserves a good amount of the credit for putting the ball in the right spot. However, Davis gets style points for deciding to take the pass and finish with the reverse.
With no defender in sight, Davis could have easily opted for a garden variety dunk to finish off the alley-oop. Instead, he added his own flair to it. The fact that Davis was able to catch the pass, change directions and still finish the dunk adds a degree of difficulty that makes the dunk so impressive.
And The Winner Is
For me, this contest comes down to Johnson vs. Smith. It's a battle of intensity vs. creativity. It's the forceful impact of L.J. attacking the rim versus Smith's flair for the dramatic.
In the end, my vote goes to "Grandmama." As great as Smith's highlights are and as enjoyable as it is to see him fearlessly dunk on opponents, there are plenty of guards that can pull off those same moves. In the 90s, you could count the number of power forwards with Johnson's athleticism on one hand.
If he played in today's era, Johnson would be grouped in with guys like Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard. He would have been the kind of highlight-inspring big man that would set Twitter and SportsCenter on fire.
In an odd way, Johnson was ahead of his time. His lack of success as well as issues with his health kept him from being a bigger star than he could have been. Johnson was overshadowed by more prolific dunkers like Shawn Kemp and Michael Jordan.
That shouldn't take away from his standing as one of the greatest dunkers to ever wear a Hornets uniform. A battle between him and J.R. Smith would be one for the ages, but Johnson's intensity and rare athleticism would get him the nod over Smith.