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NBA Slam Dunk Contest 2016: Predicting This Year's Contestants

Jared Johnson@@jaredtjohnson21Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2016

ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 13: Aaron Gordon #00 of the Orlando Magic dunks against the Miami Heat during a preseason game on October 13, 2015 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Fernando Medina/Getty Images

The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest was the best All-Star Weekend has seen in several years thanks to a dazzling performance by Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine.

Can the league continue to restore the contest to its former glory in 2016? Picking an athletic, creative and hungry field would go a long way.

On Jan. 25, NBA.com noted the field for the contest "will be announced soon," so it's probably safe to assume we'll know who the contestants are by the end of the week.

Before the league reveals its competitors, though, let's predict which four players will find their ways onto the floor for the main event of All-Star Saturday in Toronto, assuming a similar format to last season's event.

Zach LaVine (Minnesota Timberwolves)

Was there any doubt?

LaVine dominated the competition a year ago as a 19-year-old rookie, earning two 50s, a 49 and a 45 on his four dunks. His jaw-dropping performance was just what the floundering event needed to stay relevant:

The Timberwolves combo guard hasn't "officially" decided he'll return for the contest this season, per the Star Tribune's Jerry Zgoda. However, LaVine did say, "I still have some tricks under my sleeve." He has shown a passion for dunking, so it's say to assume he's a go. 

LaVine would be the favorite in the contest no matter who his fellow competitors are. His ability to both effortlessly get off the floor and stay there for a long time is reminiscent of a former Chicago Bulls guard.

Kent Bazemore (Atlanta Hawks)

Kent Bazemore's team flies under the radar most of the time. How about Bazemore, though? Let's say he usually spends his time flying over things:

The fact that the 26-year-old Hawks swingman is also in the midst of a huge breakout campaign doesn't hurt. Starting in place of the departed DeMarre Carroll (yup, the guy he swatted in the above clip), Bazemore is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game as well as field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentage.

Even though he's only 6'5" and 201 pounds, Baze is a violent dunker who enjoys putting the proverbial exclamation point on all of his slams:

Add in the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously, and Bazemore looks like a perfect fit for the fun event.

Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic)

The dunk contest usually features at least one big man who gets a chance to show off his hops. Aaron Gordon is a 6'9", 220-pound combo forward, so he's close enough to matching the criteria.

Since high school, the 20-year-old sophomore has gotten Blake Griffin comparisons. While Gordon is still working his way toward a skill set that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Clippers star, his dunking ability is already comparable to Griffin's:

Gordon's name is getting more and more popular as his role with the Magic increases. Expect the league to invite the rising star to put on an airshow.

Will Barton (Denver Nuggets)

Will Barton's nickname is Will the Thrill. Even if you know nothing else about the Nuggets' sixth man, that should give you a hint that he might be a highlight-reel regular.

As it turns out, he is:

Barton has a spindly 6'6", 175-pound frame, so he's more of a glider than a rim punisher. However, don't discount his ability to elevate and detonate.

Like Bazemore, the 25-year-old is also in the midst of the best campaign of his career. His 15.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game this season may finally convince the league to give him a shot in the contest.  

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