The 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest field is absolutely stacked, so it's going to take some ingenuity for the winner to rise above the rest.
This year's six competitors—Paul George, Terrence Ross and John Wall from the East and Harrison Barnes, Damian Lillard and Ben McLemore from out West—all have the high-flying leaping ability and ferocious finishing strength to join the ranks of the best dunkers to ever compete in this event.
You can get lost in a YouTube rabbit hole of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins going slam for slam, Vince Carter messing around with a spur-of-the-moment between-the-legs flush and hours upon hours of other historic dunks.
All that viewing time will teach you not only that the Slam Dunk Contest is a truly awe-inspiring display of athleticism, but also that creativity comes in a plethora of forms whenever NBA players try to outdo each other's rim-rattling.
Showcasing one's physical prowess won't be enough in this field; the winner will ultimately package his talent in a surprising, breathtaking fashion that will wow the crowd.
So who's going to pull out all the stops to immortalize himself in New Orleans?
The most likely candidate to do something bonkers is the least-heralded player competing.
After the Sacramento Kings selected him seventh overall in the 2013 NBA draft, Ben McLemore's professional career has gotten off to a slow start. He's averaging just 7.8 points per game on 36.8 percent shooting, numbers so disappointing he wasn't even able to earn a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Given the rookie-year struggles McLemore is facing on the court, there's not a chance he'd be in New Orleans this weekend if not for his otherworldly athleticism.
Yet he lacks Barnes and George's length and Lillard and Wall's lightning speed on the lead-up, so McLemore is going to have to lean on his limitless ambition to get ahead.
Just how gutsy is he? Well, McLemore told Jared Weiss of CelticsBlog that he might try a 720 dunk—a feat no one has pulled off in the NBA's dunking extravaganza.
Short of that legendary attempt, we're still talking about someone with a quirky approach to slams. Don't forget McLemore is the dunker behind the novel backpack posterization, giving him a potent blend of shenanigans and chutzpah that cannot be counted out.
Let's stick with the topic of teammates. McLemore had then-comrade Patrick Patterson's assistance as backpack wearer when he went viral. As fun as the Kings can be, the Golden State Warriors are as exciting as they come.
So, sure, Harrison Barnes made it this far on his own merits, earning his Black Falcon nickname with the way he soars to the rim. But come Saturday night at Smoothie King Center, he'll also have Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala and company at his disposal to set up his thunderous slams.
High-difficulty passing is not a huge or even a necessary part of a winning dunk contest routine, but it will give Barnes a big leg up that he has distributors who can do this:
That's Curry hurling the ball into space from just in front of the Golden State logo, finding the hands of a back-cutting Barnes for an insane connection that was executed as though it were routine.
Unless someone gets Chris Paul to mutiny from Lob City and give them an assist, no dunker has the resources Barnes has. Perhaps the Black Falcon would fall to George in a mano-a-mano dunk-off, but Barnes can level the playing field with some help from the Dubs.
This year's star-studded group of dunkers stands in stark contrast to the far less heralded group of athletes that graced the competition in 2013.
Kenneth Faried was probably the biggest name when Houston hosted All-Star weekend, but Terrence Ross stole the show with his smooth yet devastating assaults of the basket from all angles and in all attires.
When Ross paid homage to a past Toronto Raptor by donning an old-school Carter jersey and going between his legs after catching the ball off the side of the backboard, there was no beating him. It was just an overwhelming combination of talent and showmanship, and none of his competition could match him.
This year's crop of challengers will be tougher for Ross to take down. The caliber of the competition raises the degree of difficulty for everyone involved, but expectations will be highest for the man attempting to defend his title.
Simple costume changes won't cut it this time, but Ross has so much room for tougher lobs and more prop use than he used in Houston. He'll need to go bigger to repeat, and nothing about Ross' dunking gives you any indication he'll come up short and disappoint.
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