Blake Griffin is the odds-on favorite to win the 2011 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and that would be true no matter who he faced. Still, one cannot help but wonder: What if, instead of JaVale McGee, LeBron James took to the air? What if, instead of DeMar DeRozan, it was Carmelo Anthony? What if Dwyane Wade replace Serge Ibaka?
The dunk contest used to be all about star power. Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and other truly elite stars of the game loved trying to top one another in basketball's greatest tests of art and athleticism.
Maybe the new spirit of friendship among the superstars of the game has removed that sense of competition. Still, it would be a ton of fun.
Read on for 10 guys who would make the dunk contest a whole lot more interesting.
The thing that makes Anthony so tantalizing—aside from the potential that he could be traded during the contest, which would be a hilarious and excellent gimmick—is the very thing that makes him an unlikely contestant: He is an entirely unknown dunking entity. We know he is an exceptional athlete, more than capable of doing the kinds of things DeRozan does in mid-air.
Yet, he dunks fairly rarely in games, almost only on offensive rebounds or fast-break chances, and neither of those come up for him often. He is a shooter and scorer before a dunker, so the fans have never really seen him cut loose at the rim.
It would be fascinating to see him explore that element of the game on such a big stage.
In contrast to Anthony, James has performed a fistful of game dunks that would have scored just fine in the contest themselves.
If James wants to shed the bad reputation that has followed him since the summer, the best way is to prove to the country that he is not the prickly, impersonal guy who sat on the stage in Connecticut in July.
He used to be viewed as a funny and confident guy, and he can begin to recapitulate that image by participating in the most loose and yet exciting competition of the NBA season. It may be too late this year, but he really should get on it for next season.
No one would think to name Nene as a participant in this event; he is too big, and is not a freakish athlete in league with Dwight Howard or Shawn Kemp.
He is every bit the leaper, though, and consistently finishes near the league lead in dunks by getting near the rim and jumping over everybody. He could put on a show, especially because Griffin has restored the audience's awareness of power as an element of a great dunk. Wilkins could jump and twist and all, but his true talent was finishing with an almost cruel authority.
Nene would bring that same sort of intensity.
No one in the league gets up off the floor as quickly as Rose, and while that helps more for in-game dunks than it does in the contest, it makes his bounce extra electrifying. He can jump out of the gym and at just 6'3", he looks really good doing it.
Rose is one of the game's most exciting players in every regard, and would add even more star power to this event.
Westbrook is possibly an even better athlete than Rose, and certainly uses his leaping ability more: He absolutely takes off and can get the crowd in Oklahoma City onto its feet as easily as Kevin Durant with his high-flying moves.
Length can be an advantage in the dunk contest, if properly used, and Durant has the athleticism to put his never-ending arms to good use. He could do a more authentic Superman dunk, really, the kind where he would go parallel to the floor and stretch those arms out to reach for a spectacular dunk.
Come to think of it, he, Westbrook and Ibaka might be a fun thing to watch: An all-Thunder dunk contest.
Or they could for a team, and take on the Heat in a whole new kind of competition.
If the aforementioned team contest ever came to be, the smart money would have to be on Miami. James would be the alpha dog in that context, without a doubt, but Wade has the explosiveness and muscle to be a game-changer himself.
Very few guys under 6'4" have Wade's sort of power on their dunks, and Wade combines it with elevation commensurate with Rose or Westbrook. That is one scary blend.
That Ariza, who combines Durant's length with LeBron's leaping ability, has never been in a dunk contest is a travesty. He can do it all, and he really seems to be creative when he gets a chance to show off in the open floor.
Iguodala is so much fun to watch, he should be an automatic bid in the contest each year. He goes up equally well off one foot or two, and finished with a flourish.
If Jordan himself has an heir apparent in dunking style, it may be this guy, although it is hard to match Jordan's hang time.
Howard did not participate last year, and that was bummer enough.
No one in the league can match his creativity, let alone the freakish elevation that brings his 7'0" frame towering over the rim. Howard is a monstrosity, and though he may have run out of gimmicks by now, he will never run out of dunks that are tremendously entertaining, and the contest seems not quite right without him.