For those who say the NBA Slam Dunk Contest is dead, take a look at this year's field.
The NBA posted the six participants on Instagram:
In short, it shouldn't be the disappointment that it was last year.
In a change from years past, the NBA is opting to throw out the idea of having one winner at the end of the night. Instead, the dunk contest will be played over two rounds. I'll just go ahead and let the press release on NBA.com try to explain the labyrinthine structure:
This year's event will feature the participants competing as a team -- three players representing the Eastern Conference and three players representing the Western Conference -- in an above-the-rim two-round format. In a significant first in the event's history, the competition will tip off with a Freestyle Round where the dunkers for each conference will have 90 seconds to showcase as many dunks as they want. At the conclusion of the Freestyle Round, the panel of judges will then choose a winner by voting "East" or "West." The winning conference will earn the advantage of deciding whether its dunkers will dunk first or second in the head-to-head battles that take place in the Battle Round.
The Battle Round will feature head-to-head matchups pitting East dunkers vs. West dunkers, with the judges choosing a winner for each battle. Upon losing a head-to-head battle, that dunker is then eliminated from the competition. The first team to win three battles will win the competition and be crowned 2014 Sprite Slam Dunk champions.
Seth Rosenthal of Posting and Toasting made light of the rule changes:
Interestingly, the winner of the Dunk Contest is the guy who makes the most three-pointers.— Seth Rosenthal (@seth_rosenthal) February 7, 2014
SB Nation's Mike Prada came up with a succinct summary of how the night will unfold:
So, to review: There is a “freestyle” dunk winner, a team dunk winner based on head-to-head match ups and a “Dunker of the night."— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) February 7, 2014
All-Star Paul George is a fan, though, telling the Indiana Pacers official site, "I’m particularly pumped to be in the Slam Dunk Contest as the new format provides players with the chance to display our individual skills while battling for conference bragging rights."
All in all, it's hard to see how those tweaks will raise fan interest in the dunk contest, but it's not like the rules matter all that much. We want to see guys dunking a basketball, and nothing more.
In what is a stacked field, these three will stand out the most.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers
The biggest concern regarding Paul George is whether there is anything he can do to upstage what we've already seen. He already competed in 2012, with that Tron-inspired glow-in-the-dark dunk as the biggest highlight.
There's also the fact that he broke out this 360 windmill during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers this season:
The human body is only capable of so much. It's not like somebody can reinvent the dunk all that much—at least not until "flubber" comes into play.
But George demonstrated in 2012 that he's inventive. Likely smarting ever since getting robbed by Jeremy Evans, he's had two years to think about how to mix the spectacular with the practical. And hopefully he'll leave the lights on this time.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Ben McLemore is one of those players who hasn't really done much during the season, but the Slam Dunk Contest is a golden opportunity for him to make a statement.
By now, everybody has probably seen the video of him dunking on the practice court. All three dunks are impressive, and the slow motion helps accentuate the athleticism McLemore displayed.
That video also makes you wonder what the rookie might have in the works considering that he felt comfortable unveiling those dunks to the public.
If anything, McLemore has history on his side. He's the fourth Kings player to take part in the dunk contest, the last two of which—Kenny Smith in 1990 and Gerald Wallace in 2002—have finished runner-up.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
How will the king defend his crown?
Although Terrence Ross can't technically repeat as the outright champion, he can at least earn bragging rights as the best dunker in New Orleans and/or win "Dunker of the Night" as voted by the fans.
What was nice about Ross' performance last year was that he didn't rely on a bunch of props or spectacles in order to make himself look better. His dunks were more deliberate, yet effective nonetheless. That's what the dunk contest needs more of.
Before you discount Ross' chances of reigning supreme again, consider what he did to Kenneth Faried in this clip:
Faried is no chump, but the Toronto Raptors forward made him look like one on that play.