Few events can turn a role player into a household name quite like the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
The annual competition has featured some of the best players in league history from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to Dominique Wilkins, but it has also been a way for average players to jump into the spotlight.
Nate Robinson is likely more known for his three wins at the Slam Dunk Contest than anything he did in games. Gerald Green and Jeremy Evans also received boosts after their performances at the midseason event.
This year's competition features just one All-Star in the four-man battle, but all the entrants have a chance to make their mark on history with a great performance Saturday night. Here is a look at what to watch for in the highly anticipated showcase.
|2016 Slam Dunk Contest Participants and Odds|
|Zach LaVine||Minnesota Timberwolves||-250|
|Will Barton||Denver Nuggets||+400|
|Aaron Gordon||Orlando Magic||+450|
|Andre Drummond||Detroit Pistons||+800|
Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
The defending champion is the heavy favorite for the simple fact we know what he can do. LaVine is one of the most athletic players in the entire NBA, and he showed off his ridiculous hops while taking home the trophy at the 2015 contest.
As good as he was last year, the guard ensured people he can be even better this time around, per Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:
I've been practicing. I've got some tricks up my sleeve.
Those weren't my four best, but they were four good ones. I've got to make sure I make them. That's what I did last year. I made them all on the first or second attempt. That's the main thing. if you do it right, I try to make them all and bring people to their feet again.
LaVine certainly has the ability to bring people to their feet regardless of the creativity. His peak height and hang time can make a regular slam look incredible, certainly an advantage in a contest like this.
Still, he better come prepared because the rest of the field isn't going to go away without a fight.
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
As a former second-round draft pick, Will Barton had a hard time initially getting onto the floor. That was until he was traded to the Denver Nuggets, a move that gave him a chance to show off what he can do as part of the rotation.
All of a sudden, the wing is one of the top bench players in the entire NBA, scoring in a variety of ways on the offensive end while also making a big contribution defensively. At 25 years old, the future is still extremely bright for the 6'6" player.
While his skill set continues to improve, Barton can still rely on his athleticism to carry him on both ends of the court. This is what will be on display Saturday when he gets a free path to the net with no defenders in his way.
Considering Denver hasn't exactly been a featured team in the NBA this season, Barton's ascension hasn't made many headlines. This makes Saturday night the best opportunity to announce himself to the world.
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
Aaron Gordon was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft for one main reason: athleticism. The 6'9" forward had questions about what position he would play in the NBA and whether he would be able to make outside shots or create for himself. However, scouts knew there was plenty of upside thanks to his leaping ability.
Gordon has shown progress as a player, although he still has a long way to go before he lives up to his draft pick. Still, none of that will matter Saturday when he can show off the one skill that has never been in question.
Russell Peddle of NumberFire noted the 20-year-old forward has the best physical tools for this contest:
Russell Peddle @rustypedalbike
Zach LaVine's leaping makes him a dunk contest favourite, but standing reach + max vertical favours Aaron Gordon. https://t.co/cz3l3ESrKq2016-2-5 23:36:57
We still don't know what kind of creativity Gordon has in store for us, but he can certainly make things interesting.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond almost seems out of place in this contest. He is undoubtedly the most accomplished player in the field, set to make his first appearance in the NBA All-Star Game this Sunday. The NBA's leading rebounder is also more known for his work on the defensive side of the ball in the early part of his career.
Additionally, the other competitors in this field and most throughout the history of this contest have been high-flying guards or wings. Drummond will try to represent the centers with his 6'11", 279-pound frame. His big dunks might actually be less impressive when there aren't defenders trying to get in his way.
Still, Dwight Howard brought home a title in 2008. Drummond is also a freak of nature with the amount of mobility he has for his size. He has a chance to throw down some ferocious dunks, so the rims in Toronto should be legitimately scared.
The odds put the Pistons star as a long shot, but don't count him out.
Prediction Winner: Gordon
LaVine is the odds-on favorite for good reason, but look for Gordon to pull off the upset. While he is only recently getting more playing time for Orlando, he never had a problem throwing down big dunks whenever he was on the floor.
Expect a bunch of head-above-the-rim slams that bring the crowd and judges to their feet.
As long as he gets the ball in the net, Gordon will be a tough competitor to beat.
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