The 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star weekend will prove to be one of the most thrilling spectacles in recent memory, simply because of the talent on display.
As athletic as defending champion Terrence Ross is, the young Toronto Raptors guard has plenty of competition to fend off if he is to become the first back-to-back winner since Nate Robinson in 2009 and 2010.
ESPN's Buster Olney is a typical MLB expert, but he and many other basketball advocates can see the magnificent potential in this year's dunk contest:
A change in format has three players from each conference on teams. A freestyle round starts the event, with each individual attempting as many dunks as they'd like in 90 seconds apiece. Then, the battle round comes, where one-on-one matchups are chosen between the East and West, and the first team to win three battles becomes the Slam Dunk Contest champions.
All-Star Game starter Paul George of the Indiana Pacers is among those in the slam dunk field, along with Washington Wizards star point guard John Wall and several other big names that will bear the torch to carry the Association into the next era.
The West has been the superior conference all season long, but the fact that those three players are from the East may turn the tables on this occasion.
An individual winner will still be voted on by fans and dubbed "Dunker of the Night," so it's still worth figuring out who the best of the best are.
Below is a power ranking of all the contestants, followed by a more detailed breakdown of the top three and why their skill sets will allow them to thrive in New Orleans on Saturday.
Note: Contest format and information was obtained via the NBA's official release on Feb. 6.
|2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Participant Power Rankings|
|1||Paul George, SF||Indiana Pacers (East)|
|2||John Wall, PG||Washington Wizards (East)|
|3||Terrence Ross, SF||Toronto Raptors (East)|
|4||Damian Lillard, PG||Portland Trail Blazers (West)|
|5||Harrison Barnes, SF||Golden State Warriors (West)|
|6||Ben McLemore, SG||Sacramento Kings (West)|
|Rankings are personal opinion|
3. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors (East)
The elevation Ross is able to get at 6'6" gets his head well above the rim, and his resultant wingspan and strong hands allow him to throw down dunks with serious authority.
Ross' hang time is something to behold. What he's able to do in game situations is impressive enough, not to mention the work he put down in last year's dunk contest, highlighted by a behind-the-back throwdown in the video below:
But there are just too many top-tier competitors for Ross to go back-to-back as champion in the contest as an individual.
Here's the good news: Toronto fans can take solace in the fact that their team is surprising everyone this season and that Ross' development and promise continue to show. It appears the future is bright compared to last season, when Ross' win was about the best moment for the Raptors faithful.
Ross and his fellow Eastern Conference representatives should still put on a memorable show and dominate as a team, but he won't be tabbed as the top dunk artist in the contest.
2. John Wall, Washington Wizards (East)
No disrespect to reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, but Wall is a superior athlete with his blinding speed and leaping ability. Lillard is the better perimeter-oriented player and more of a pure scorer than Wall.
Thankfully for Wizards and casual, non-rooting-interest NBA fans, that doesn't matter in a dunk contest.
The 2010 No. 1 overall pick has taken a big leap in boosting Washington into playoff contention in 2013-14, but he hasn't blown off this contest as so many stars before him have. Others take the opportunity to rest, or perhaps don't want their dignity hurt by inferior all-around players.
That's something that evidently doesn't concern Wall as he gears up for his maiden All-Star appearance, though he was considering declining the invitation until a bit of motivation fueled him, per CSN Washington's J. Michael:
...It appears he’s learning toward [declining] because of injury concerns. Wall is dealing with soreness on the heel of his feet and is worried about the extra pounding, though if the competition involves superstars maybe—just maybe—he could change his mind...But make no mistake, the dunk contest is tempting. When Paul George of the Indiana Pacers threw down a 360-windmill dunk two weeks ago, in the locker room after the Wizards played, Wall got word of the feat. After seeing the video of it, Wall insisted that he could’ve done it better.
What an interesting driving force. How about that? Two of the game's brightest young stars are willing to put it on the line and attempt dangerous aerial acrobatics as a means of boosting the All-Star weekend's profile and the overall NBA brand.
Perhaps, more will follow suit and be galvanized by the dunking prowess of their peers. Only time will tell. For now, let's be thankful that Wall is in, and if he doesn't win, he ought to be close to grabbing that trophy.
1. Paul George, Indiana Pacers (East)
Think of Ross' dunking skill set, but add on about 25 pounds, three inches in height and craftier handles; That's what George brings to the table.
In setting the standard as the catalyst for the best team with regard to winning percentage, George also has all the tools to take home the hardware in Saturday's exhibition and give the dunk contest a necessary spark.
At age 23, the Pacers star's game is maturing at a rapid rate, and he has the opportunity to redeem a third-place effort in his first dunk contest appearance in 2012. A last-place effort in the three-point shootout last year should also help drive him.
George is excited to partake in the All-Star festivities as the Eastern Conference captain, per the Association's official release this past week:
It’s a real honor to serve as the Captain of the Eastern Conference Team for All-Star Saturday Night. This is a great opportunity to support and raise awareness of very worthy charities while entertaining our fans with contests showcasing the athleticism, creativity and excitement of our game. 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.
The new format George alludes to is bad news for the Western Conference. All three of these players seem easily capable of taking any opposing foe one-on-one.
Golden State Warriors' Harrison Barnes has continually not lived up to expectations, and Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore is similar to Lillard in that he's more based on the perimeter and not a vicious rim attacker as often.
Look for George to lead the East's charge as Slam Dunk Contest champions and win the individual title outright.