Young Players Making a Bid for a Dunk Contest Invite
Believe it or not, the 2018 NBA Dunk Contest is just over a couple months away. And with the league so packed with explosive young talent, it may be hard to settle on just four dunkers this season.
The rookie class alone boasts more than its fair share of worthy candidates. And there are a few others who are technically vets but are still young enough to make sense for this discussion.
The best options for some edge-of-your-seat excitement to rival that provided by Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon (both excluded from this list since they've already won) follows.
Donovan Mitchell has caused quite a stir with his scoring ability this season. After scoring 15.6 points per game in his last season of college ball, the rookie guard is the Utah Jazz' second-leading scorer this season at 17.3 points.
And while he's doing a lot of his damage from beyond the arc, what's really drawing attention are the jaw-dropping slams like this one.
Mitchell has a penchant for dropping the hammer and could give us some Dominique Wilkins-esque tomahawks in a dunk contest.
Another rookie, John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks, did so much damage on the rims at the Las Vegas Summer League that the NBA cut a highlight reel of just his dunks.
Collins is bouncy. Maybe bouncier than most realized he'd be coming out of Wake Forest. And that athletic ability is translating into some big numbers for Atlanta.
Among rookies who qualified for the minutes leaderboard, Arvydas Sabonis, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Robert Parish are the only ones who matched or exceeded Collins' points (18), rebounds (11.1), blocks (1.3) and steals (one) per 36 minutes. And Collins leads that bunch in field goal percentage, per Basketball Reference.
Victor Oladipo has participated in the dunk contest before. But this time, he'd have the shine of a budding superstar on him.
Oladipo's numbers exploded after his return to Indiana (where he played his college ball). He's averaging 24.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, four assists, 1.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three.
And he's still providing some ridiculous viral-worthy dunks along the way.
Give us this one for posterity's sake. And also, because Larry Nance, Jr. is a monster going at the rim.
Basketball fans everywhere.
This one may seem a bit off the beaten path. Pat Connaughton has mostly been a shooting specialist since his NBA career began (40.2 percent from deep in three seasons), but he has some spring in his step too.
"Connaughton, a 6-5 swingman from Notre Dame — and, yes, a white man — soared for a max vertical jump recorded at 44 inches," Des Bieler of The Washington Post wrote after Connaughton's combine performance in 2015. "Unofficially, that was tied for the second-highest such jump ever recorded at the combine, behind only the 45.5 mark set by Kansas’s Kenny Gregory in 2001."
The dunk contest might just be the perfect forum for Connaughton to show off that leaping ability again.
Plenty of people counted the Boston Celtics out after All-Star forward Gordon Hayward suffered a nasty-looking broken leg in the season opener.
But youngsters like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have the Cs near the top of the league over a quarter of the way into the season.
And as you can see above, a big part of that success is Brown's pure athleticism. He's among the league's most explosive young players and has the highlights to prove it.
Jordan Bell may not get a ton of run for the title-contending and veteran-heavy Golden State Warriors, but when he does, he sure makes his presence felt.
Bell currently leads the Warriors in True Shooting Percentage, and he's second in Box Plus-Minus, Rebounding Percentage and Block Percentage, per Basketball Reference.
He almost looks like the second coming of Draymond Green, only he might have even more vertical explosiveness. That kind of player is made for a night under the bright lights of the dunk contest.
Legendary coach Gregg Popovich called Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith, Jr. "...obviously athletic" after a matchup in November, per Isaac Harris of The Smoking Cuban.
And video of the young guard suggests the same. He's as explosive as anyone in this draft class. And in the dunk contest, his 39.5 percent shooting doesn't matter.
DeAndre Jordan, Clint Capela and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only players with more dunks than Philadelphia 76ers rookie Ben Simmons this season, per Basketball Reference.
Over a quarter of Simmons' buckets this year have been dunks. And his slams have some diversity. Sometimes, they're the of the smooth, gliding variety. Other times, he just hammers it.
He could keep the judges and fans alike guessing in the dunk contest.
Antetokounmpo just turned 23 years old. That's insane. And we need him in the dunk contest. Mostly, because I suspect he could one-up the free-throw-line dunks of Michael Jordan, Brent Barry and Zach LaVine.