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2014 Slam Dunk Contest Participants: Gauging Each Player's Chances of Winning

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2014 Slam Dunk Contest Participants: Gauging Each Player's Chances of Winning
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

All-Star Weekend is one of the biggest highlights of the NBA season, and nothing receives more attention than the Slam Dunk Contest.

Every year, there's the same narrative about how the event is dead and nobody cares. Then everybody watches it and is blown away by what the participants do. Let's get over the fact that we're not gonna see Michael Jordan vs. Dominique Wilkins again and simply enjoy the show.

Because of the rules changes the league has put in place for this year, there isn't the same kind of champion that fans have come to expect each year. SB Nation's Mike Prada did a good job of summarizing the major differences this year in terms of the final results:

This article focuses more on the "Dunker of the Night" award. That is the best approximation of what would be the slam dunk champion in every other year.

 

Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

One of the bigger wild cards in the contest is Harrison Barnes. In such an exciting Golden State Warriors team, he gets kind of lost in the shuffle. His disappointing season isn't helping matters.

All-Star Weekend is a chance for Barnes to put his talents on display and make everybody remember why they fell in love with him during that crazy run in the playoffs.

A 6'8" and 210 pounds, he's the right kind of size to pull off the nimble athletic dunks and throw them down with some ferocity.

Barnes will be one to watch.

Final Verdict: Thumbs in the Middle

 

Paul George, Indiana Pacers

Paul George will be the prohibitive favorite. He has the perfect combination of star power and dunking ability. He arguably should've won the 2012 Dunk Contest had it not been for that rather poor decision to turn out the lights so nobody could actually see his dunk.

That was the kind of thing that sounded great in theory, but it was terrible in practice.

There's no doubt George will have learned from that and formulated some sort of strategy to be a happy medium between productivity and showmanship.

He also has the stamp of approval from Vince Carter, as the two were able to talk during breaks in play when the Indiana Pacers took on the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 12, per Manny Randhawa of NBA.com:

“It’s the first time I really had a chance to kind of reach out to him since he did the 360-windmill dunk,” Carter continued. “And I told him it was impressive. I’m not really one to go public on social media. I wanted to wait until I saw him to be genuine and have it come from me. So I said, ‘Hey, that was pretty impressive.’”

If George doesn't win, it will be a big surprise.

Final Verdict: Thumbs Up

 

Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

You wonder if stamina will be a concern for Damian Lillard. He's participating in five events this weekend, one of which is the Dunk Contest. Another is the three-point shootout. Should he go deep in that competition, taking that many shots is bound to wear out your legs, so Lillard may lose some of his explosiveness as the night goes on.

That would in turn affect what he could do for the Dunk Contest.

Lillard is still a huge star in the league and should get a lot of votes from the fans.

Final Verdict: Thumbs in the Middle

 

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

Can we all just consider Ben McLemore nailing a 720 dunk? That would be insane. Just when you think the human body can't do any more, the prospect of somebody doing two full revolutions in the air before dunking the basketball.

In all likelihood, McLemore won't hit that, but he should provide a lot of excitement. If you need a taste of what he's capable of, the Sacramento Kings revealed some of his practice dunks.

McLemore is a crazy athlete, and he will have a lot to prove in New Orleans between his and the Kings' disappointing seasons. Behind George, he's one of the favorites.

Final Verdict: Thumbs Up

 

Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors

As the reigning champion, you'd think that Terrence Ross would be one of the favorites. The problem, though, is that you have to top what you did in the year before. How much does Ross have left?

In order to repeat, you either have to pull out something crazy, like Jason Richardson did in 2003, or be so short that everything you do looks so much cooler, like Nate Robinson in 2010.

Plus, "Dunker of the Night" is voted on by the fans, so it will be difficult for him to beat out guys like Lillard and George in the event he doesn't completely blow everybody away.

Still, Ross deserves some sort of credit for past success, so he can't be written off completely.

Final Verdict: Thumbs in the Middle

 

John Wall, Washington Wizards

John Wall is capable of pulling off some circus shots, but I wonder about his dunking ability. He seems to be in more of the Russell Westbrook mold where his dunks look great during a game, but when in an isolated atmosphere, he wilts.

Wall is remaining mum about his dunk strategy, merely telling NBA TV that, "There will be extra bodies involved," per DC Sports Bog's Dan Steinberg.

Perhaps he can be inventive enough to provide some excitement. He's gonna need it.

Final Verdict: Thumbs Down

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