With so many incredible athletes flooding rosters in today's NBA, it's hard to believe that the Slam Dunk Contest has now become a boring, mediocre event with very few highlights.
Dunking when there are thousands of eyes watching you is quite different from just naturally doing it in the course of a game. But the fundamental principle is the same: Get a full head of steam, leap like a gazelle in the air and slam it down. Simple yet elegant.
It goes beyond dunking as well. NBA athletes are more durable, stronger and faster than they've ever been.
What sets them apart, however, is their leaping ability. Over the course of any NBA game, some player is going to either get on a fast break and jump a mile in the air, or be in a completely stationary position and explode off the ground like a rocket.
Trying to figure out which players have the best in-game leaping ability is like trying to settle on one model from the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show you'd want to go out with—you're going to make a great choice no matter what, but in the end you're just happy to see all of them.
So, let's try to count down the top 25 leapers in the league today, with a few caveats. First, guys like Kobe Bryant, Baron Davis and Shawn Marion didn't make the cut—in their heyday, they easily make the cut, if not the top 10. But they're past their primes and they've just gotten lost in the shuffle with so many explosive athletes.
Second, there are few centers on the list. So, apologies to the big fellas, but few have you ever have the need to jump two feet above the rim. And it's more fun to see the little guys go sky-high.
For your enjoyment, I've added links to a video of each player showing off his skills. Most are dunks, but only because they exemplify leaping ability better than most other videos—don't worry, this won't turn into a "best dunker" list.
Let's get it started at No. 25...
Ariza's athleticism has always allowed him to be a superb defender, but when he gets the opportunity to sky for a rebound or throw down a dunk, he's not shy about taking advantage.
He doesn't get the highest in the air, but has an explosive first step off the ground.
Known primarily as a scorer, the 6'3" Bayless gets off the ground faster than almost any guard in the league and seems to hang in the air forever.
Defenders routinely fall back down to the ground while Bayless is just hitting his peak to scoop in layups or throw down dunks.
Check out this dunk while he was a member of the Trail Blazers.
You might expect Granger to be a little higher on this list—he's got all the physical tools to jump above the backboard.
But he plays in a relatively controlled manner. He doesn't go flying off the ground for incredible dunks that often, nor does he take too many risks in the air.
He's still a physical specimen unlike many in the league, however. And being in the top 25 means he's still a better leaper than 95 percent of the league.
Beasley was one of the premier athletes coming out of college in 2008, and often used his quick jumping ability to grab offensive rebounds for put-back dunks at Kansas State.
Not many people got a chance to see him play when he was with Miami, since they weren't on TV as much as they are now (I'm not trying to offend Heat fans, just saying the Wade-Beasley combo wasn't as marketable).
He's kind of lost in the shuffle again in Minnesota, where he's quietly enjoying a fantastic season. And his ability to leap in transition is near jaw-dropping...especially when he's rocking the Afro.
Everyone loves to see the little guy get his chance to jump up at the rim.
So, when little Aaron Brooks (generously listed at 6'0") gets up to full speed and attacks the hoop, you know something special will probably happen.
Eric Gordon might be more known for his outside shooting, but he's at his best when he uses the dribble to get to the hoop.
From there, he's not a high jumper but uses a quick step off the ground to soar through the air and emphatically finish dunks.
A great example of this is from earlier this year when he freezes Tim Duncan and flies over him.
Can we still include Terrence Williams on this list even though he's not playing for New Jersey, but rather their D-League affiliate right now?
No matter. In transition, Williams is one of the best finishers playing professionally on the East coast, using his athleticism and long arms to finish layups and dunks over defenders.
Look how far up his arms get on this impressive play against the Mavericks.
I wondered how STAT was still so explosive and powerful even after knee surgery this late into his career.
And then I remembered that he's only 28. Doesn't it seem like he's been around forever?
The most impressive part about Amar'e is how quickly he can get off the ground and how high he can hang. In the old pick-and-rolls with Steve Nash, it would seem that he was quietly hanging around the paint when, all of a sudden, he'd get the pass and take off for the rim.
Few people outside Canada or without NBA League Pass could tell you about Weems' dynamic hops.
You might remember him as the prop DeMar DeRozan used to dunk over in last year's Slam Dunk contest. Maybe they'll reverse roles this year.
Is there anything Derrick Rose doesn't do well?
Score? Check. Pass? Check. Finish at the rim? Check.
Jumping ability? Check, check.
Corey Brewer hasn't been the all-around stud in the NBA he was when he helped anchor back-to-back national championship teams at Florida, but he just hasn't found his niche yet.
However, if you put him in the open court, good things will happen. Like this dunk against Derek Fisher.
Check out how high his head gets—nearly above the rim.
Once one of the best dunkers and finishers in the league, Richardson is starting to go into the second half of his career where the leaps and dunks just aren't as fluid as they once were.
Still, out of respect for his abilities, it's unfair to put him any lower. And he still can get up in the air for an amazing play—it just doesn't happen as frequently as it once did.
The enigmatic Nuggets guard loves to roam around the perimeter and take as many open three's as his heart desires.
But if he gets a sliver of light to the basket, he just might take it. If he does and you're an opposing defender, look out.
The man nicknamed "Crash" because of his relentless hustle and activity also could get one or two Superman references due to how he flies through the air.
Seeing Wallace and Tyrus Thomas on the same frontcourt has to be a little intimidating for the opposition—these are two of the most athletic, high-flying forwards in the league.
That there are still a handful of leapers ranked ahead of Andre Iguodala speaks to how many truly great athletes there are in this league.
As for this dunk by Iggy...words don't do it enough justice.
Brown may be a bit of an up-and-down player, but he only jumps in one direction. And that's up. Wayyy up.
He misses this attempt, but just that he would try something like this speaks volumes.
Thomas represents the new age of power forwards in the NBA: tall, lanky and versatile, with loads of athleticism.
And when he makes plays like this, there's nothing you can do but marvel in awe.
We all know that Rudy Gay is a very impressive dunker who can fly down the paint, but he also gets tremendous lift on his jump shot.
It might not seem entirely impressive, but his ability to get up in the air makes that jumper nearly impossible to guard.
Check out how high off the ground he gets on his game-winning fadeaway against the Heat from earlier this year.
Some will think this is too high, some will think this is too low a ranking for Dwight Howard.
He's already so big and has such long arms that he rarely needs to extend himself that far off the ground...especially on offense.
It's on defense where you see his true jumping ability, as he routinely takes one or two steps and covers so much ground in attempts to block shots.
A bit of a sentimental pick at No. 6 because, let's face it, he's taken a lot of abuse over the years and doesn't have the explosiveness he once did.
That said, every now and then he'll make a play (typically a dunk) where he elevates off the ground in the blink of an eye.
Russell Westbrook has made the leap this year—both figuratively and literally.
He's always had great leaping abilities dating back to his days at UCLA, but when you think about Westbrook, the term "leaper" doesn't really spring to mind.
If you can jump over Dwight Howard, you have some ups...regardless of whether you got a little boost off his back or not.
Whether it's rebounding, blocking or dunking, Josh Smith sometimes doesn't even look like a human being with the way he effortlessly glides through the air and defies gravity.
He's the only person in the league who comes close to having the physical build of LeBron James...and is just about every bit as good a leaper as well.
Two months ago, I'm not sure Blake Griffin gets on this list, simply because we hadn't seen him play at a professional (or any) level in about a year and a half...and we just forgot how good he was.
But there isn't a more breathtaking or exciting player to watch without the ball in the NBA. You're just waiting and waiting and waiting for him to unleash some sort of fury.
And nowhere on the floor is too far away from the rim for Griffin to take off—6'9" guys aren't meant to be able to jump like that.
The perfect physical build to be the best jumper in the league: big, strong and powerful, yet quick, nimble and agile.