The Minnesota Timberwolves' Zach LaVine put on one of the more memorable Slam-Dunk Contest performances in recent memory in 2015. He's coming back to defend his title on Saturday in Toronto, and he'll be facing an intriguing field of challengers.
Here's the viewing information and participants:
- What: Verizon Slam Dunk
- When: Feb. 13 | All-Star Saturday Night | 8:30 p.m. ET
- Where: Air Canada Centre
- TV: TNT
- Live Stream: Watch TNT
- Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves
- Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
- Will Barton, Denver Nuggets
- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Each Contestant's Chances
The Big Man
The Slam Dunk Contest hasn't been kind to big men. Dwight Howard is the only player 6'10" or taller to have ever won the event. D12 pulled it off with a variety of gimmick slams, explosive hops and costume changes.
Chances are, if the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond is going to dethrone LaVine and beat out the other two challengers, he'll need to take a similar route to the title. While at the University of Connecticut, Drummond proved he has the hops and flair to dazzle in a dunk contest format.
Check out some of the slams from Drummond during the Connecticut Huskies First Night dunk contest back in 2011. Drummond's portion of the video begins at the 45 second mark:
Those slams are fierce, but Drummond better bring the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and every other living and legendary Motown recording artist with him to Canada if he hopes to beat LaVine.
The Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon has explosive hops. He's an excellent in-game dunker, and his combination of length and hops, per Russell Peddle of Number Fire, implies the physical attributes are there to upset LaVine:
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
That said, Gordon has the look of a guy who may struggle to find the creativity and personality needed to wow the crowd. He's not going to be able to stay in the air as long as LaVine, nor will he be able to contort his body the way the defending champion can.
Gordon will need to close the gap with pre- and post-dunk flair, and that seems unlikely.
The Unusual Suspect
Casual fans may not even know the Denver Nuggets' Will Barton. He's having an excellent year for a bad Nuggets team, and he does have some pretty sweet slams this season. It's clear Barton has a strong appreciation for dunk contest greatness. On his Twitter account, Barton talked about the greatest dunker in history:
Will Barton @WillTheThrillB5
Greatest dunker of all time? @mrvincecarter15. See you Saturday, Toronto. #VerizonDunk @nuggets @NBA @TheJetOnTNT https://t.co/nB9Ujq0r5C2016-2-10 16:17:25
The wiry and energetic swingman is still a major long shot in this contest. One of the biggest reasons is: his thin frame. Quite honestly, guys built like Barton and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant just don't look as cool when they dunk.
It's hard to explain why, but it's true. Maybe he'll surprise us with a memorable performance, but he's the least likely to pull the upset over LaVine.
To put it plain: no one is going to beat LaVine. He could probably rehash the same slams he did in 2015 and win the event again this year. In case you need a refresher, here's the highlights of his legendary performance at Madison Square Garden:
LaVine doesn't appear to be getting ready to put it on repeat. He put this teaser of one of his upcoming slams on his Instagram account. Use the reaction of LaVine's teammate Karl-Anthony Towns as a gauge for how awesome the dunk was:
Don't watch the 2016 Slam-Dunk contest to see who will win; there's no suspense in that. Watch it to see what amazing gravity-defying slams LaVine will use to take the trophy this year.
Follow Brian Mazique on Twitter.