While Friday night's Celebrity All-Star Game and BBVA Rising Stars Challenge got the 2013 NBA All-Star weekend off to a rousing start, it serves merely as a preamble to the yearly exercise in athleticism known as the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.
Everybody and their great grandmother knows how the dunk contest works at this point—you try to make the best dunks, duh—but the NBA did make some notable rule changes this season.
First, the field has increased to six participants: James White, Gerald Green, Terrence Ross, Eric Bledsoe, Kenneth Faried and Jeremy Evans. There are three dunkers from each conference, with two overall rounds comprising the competition.
In the first round, the Eastern and Western Conference representatives will be merely competing against one another. Following the first round, the player with the highest score from each conference advances. And then it evolves into the contest we all know and love, with the fans choosing the ultimate winner.
Got that? Good. Now let's get to previewing Saturday night's festivities. Here is a complete breakdown of all of Saturday night's Slam Dunk Contest participants, including their betting odds of coming away with the trophy.
(All odds are courtesy of Bovada.)
James White (G-F, New York Knicks)
Though his career arc has always been a bit of a curiosity, it's wholly possible that the Knicks keep James White around simply for entertainment value. He's averaging a meager 6.7 minutes per game in his first season in the NBA since 2008-09, and would be New York's sixth man if the roster consisted of just the team's six wing players in the rotation.
Essentially, White is a curiosity item; a guy who is happy to be getting first-class NBA treatment instead of riding the back roads on a European bus headed nowhere fast. He'll gladly go through the rest of the season collecting checks, taking "DNP - Coach's Decisions" and hoping the Knicks make a deep playoff run.
But on the rare occasions when White gets extended minutes, he may be the Knicks' most captivating player to watch. Nicknamed "Flight" for his ability to almost jump out of the gym, White has been dominating dunk contests for years.
He has an entire highlight reel of recording a dunk that Julius Irving and Michael Jordan made iconic. Even though at 30 years old he's likely a little past his dunking prime, White is by far the favorite on Saturday night.
Something tells me we'll find out very quickly it's for a good reason.
Gerald Green (F, Indiana Pacers)
Most analysts will spend Saturday comparing Gerald Green to White (and vice versa). Green, though given more chances due to a higher potential, has followed a very similar career path to his Eastern Conference counterpart.
The 27-year-old forward has bounced in and out of the NBA, playing consistently effective basketball just once in his entire career (last season with the Nets). But no matter where Green has gone, his athleticism and ability to leave a crowd speechless with a ferocious slam has followed.
As most good dunk-contest connoisseurs know, this isn't Green's first rodeo. He won the contest in 2007 and followed that up with a second-place finish in 2008 in a contest that featured arguably the single worst scoring travesty in dunk-contest history (Green's "46" on his "birthday cake" dunk).
A half-decade has come and gone since Green's last dunk-contest appearance, but if his preseason video with the Pacers is any indication, it doesn't look like he's lost an inch of hops.
The only disappointment about this year's contest is that the format switch prevents Green and White facing off in the finals. Only one Eastern Conference representative will move on to the final round, robbing fans of a potential repeat of arguably the best dunking display most mainstream fans have never seen.
Here's to hoping both are so good that we're forced to see an impromptu rule change.
Terrence Ross (SG, Toronto Raptors)
The forgotten man among Eastern Conference participants, Terrence Ross will hope to prove once again that the dunk contest is a young man's game.
At 22 years old, Ross is a full five years younger than both Green and White and arguably the most underrated dunker in the league.
For those with an NBA League Pass subscription, though, the Raptors rookie has become a nightly YouTube clip waiting to happen. Ross is explosively athletic, cast in the mold of so many great dunkers before him. He will seemingly throw down from just about anywhere in the open court, and put-back dunks have even become semi-prevalent for the former Washington standout.
Ross unfortunately has seen his minutes crater since the Rudy Gay trade, averaging a paltry 11.0 minutes per game in February. However, Saturday could be a perfect opportunity for him to remind the Raptors he still exists. I mean, hey, it's not like they wasted a lottery pick on him less than a year ago or anything.
Oh, right. Never mind.
Eric Bledsoe (PG, Los Angeles Clippers)
White men can't jump, but if you've watched a minute of the Clippers play this season, it's become abundantly clear that point guards can leap. Now, granted, it's not like Eric Bledsoe, who is 6'1", is a carnival curiosity like 5'9" Nate Robinson leaping over Dwight Howard.
Bledsoe, at least when he's not being bandied about in Kevin Garnett-related trade rumors, has emerged as arguably the NBA's best backup point guard. He's averaging 15.9 points, 5.7 assists and 5.2 rebounds per 36 minutes this season and displays his otherworldly athleticism on both ends of the floor.
If you want some ample evidence, here is an example of Bledsoe's athleticism and all-around brilliance from a Dec. 21 game against the Sacramento Kings.
Some were confused about Bledsoe's entrance in the Slam Dunk Contest. They obviously did not watch that clip. While neither play guarantees that Bledsoe will astound in Houston, there is a very good reason he's the favorite among Western Conference participants.
As we'll find out once again on Saturday, great things can come in (relatively) small packages. Here's to hoping Bledsoe makes us forget about the impossibility of a Green-White final round.
Kenneth Faried (PF, Denver Nuggets)
Maybe the 2013 All-Star Game festivities are meant to forever go down as "Manimal Weekend" and we're all just witnesses. Even if it's not, Kenneth Faried's weekend certainly got off to a rousing start on Friday night.
Faried was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, scoring 40 points on 18-of-22 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds in Team Chuck's dominant victory. Throughout the contest, Faried proved that his motor never stops, going up for blocks in the lane and putting back misses from his teammates.
All told, it didn't look all that different from his regular-season style of play —other than the scoring, of course. Faried's 40 points dwarf his previous career high wearing a Nuggets uniform (26).
Nevertheless, hustle points and rebounds don't translate to the Slam Dunk Contest. Faried will need to step up more than he did against his fellow rising stars and come out with dunks even more show-stopping than the nine he threw down Friday.
Don't put it past him. Faried ranks sixth in the NBA with 90 dunks coming into All-Star weekend, a figure that represents 33.6 percent of his made field goals this season. And while many of those slams are displays of pure power, he put on quite a preview of what's to come toward the end of the Rising Stars Challenge.
If those are the dunks Faried was throwing down at the end of a 40-minute contest, we should be in for yet another treat from the Manimal in Houston. He's not even close to being a favorite, but if you're looking for a dark-horse choice, Faried is certainly the best bet.
Jeremy Evans (SF, Utah Jazz)
Poor Jeremy Evans. I don't have a complete list of odds in dunk-contest history at my disposal, but it's hard to remember a more disrespected defending champion. After scraping out a victory over Chase Budinger last year, Evans comes in as by far the biggest underdog on Saturday night.
Why? Well, maybe it's because the second-best dunker last season was Chase Budinger. That's a pretty understandable reason, all things considered.
Still, it's not like Evans is unable to throw down spectacular slams. His two-ball leap over Gordon Hayward last season was pretty impressive, and while his Karl Malone-Kevin Hart follow-up was less so, it was the type of pandering homage that both the judges and fans enjoy.
The reason Evans comes in as such a heavy underdog is that he's still the least-famous face in the competition. Even in a contest that features White, a 30-year-old journeyman with 44 career NBA appearances to his name, Evans is an afterthought. He's averaging just 5.4 minutes per game, and his most spectacular play of the 2012-13 campaign came in the preseason.
If this were a completely even contest between the six participants, Evans' odds would be understandable. But he's only technically competing against Bledsoe and Faried in the first round.
So don't be shocked if Evans makes it to the final round and you're left to wonder how you could have possibly forgot about the young Jazz forward.