NBA Slam Dunk Contest 2016: Participants, Odds and Predictions

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2016

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) hangs from the rim after dunking the ball between Memphis Grizzlies forward Jeff Green (32) and center Marc Gasol (33) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 26, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
Associated Press

There is a finite number of ways for a person to emphatically place a basketball inside a hoop. Yet even in a stage of declining relevancy, the Slam Dunk Contest still occasionally steals the All-Star Weekend show.

Last year, Zach LaVine reminded everyone how good the event can be. Then a teenage rookie for the Minnesota Timberwolves, he rejuvenated the contest with eye-popping, innovative maneuvers. 

Also, and this is a good advice for anyone in all facets of life, referencing Space Jam never hurts. 

NBA superstars rarely partake, but the showcase sometimes manufactures stars. Now a household name after last year's win, LaVine will defend his crown against Will Barton, Aaron Gordon and All-Star Andre Drummond. 

Toronto, the former home of Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, has a high bar for dunking excellence. Returning as the contest's veteran, the Minnesota Timberwolves guard enters Air Canada Centre as the overwhelming favorite for Saturday night's main event.

2016 Slam Dunk Contest Participants
PlayerTeamOdds*
Zach LaVineMIN2-3
Aaron GordonORL9-2
Will BartonDEN7-1
Andre DrummondDET10-1
Author's projections

Slam Dunk Participants  

Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons

Contrary to common sense, competitive dunking is not a big man's game.

Drummond's throwdowns provide more tangible value for this NBA club than any of the field's other three participants. The Detroit Pistons big man is averaging 17.1 points per game with a 52.5 field-goal percentage inflated by lobs and putback slams.

Aside from Dwight Howard, however, centers have struggled to translate power dunking into awe-inspiring aerial symphonies. In an event fueled by acrobatic showmanship, Drummond's hulking paint presence doesn't offer any advantage.

If he really wanted to stun everyone, he'd set up at the foul line and sink a free throw. For all his seemingly superhuman abilities, he's shooting an abysmal 34.9 percent from the charity strike.

Will Barton, SG, Denver Nuggets

From an actual basketball perspective, everyone—including the Denver Nuggets—needs to pay more attention to Will Barton.

The 25-year-old is enjoying a breakout year, registering 15.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest. Although operating off the bench, he has carved out a hearty role. Only Danilo Gallinari posts a higher scoring average for Denver than Barton, who plays 28.8 minutes per bout.

As noted by ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, Denver is utilizing the explosive wingman when it counts:

Barton has flashed serious hops in real-game situations, most impressively posterizing 7-footer Donatas Motiejunas in the video above. As a four-year pro, he's the quartet's sage veteran who is looking to teach these young whippersnappers some respect. 

Aaron Gordon, PF, Orlando Magic

Before stepping foot on an NBA court, Aaron Gordon immediately drew Blake Griffin comparisons in terms of pure athleticism. While he has yet to confirm the resemblance, the second-year pro could validate the early juxtaposition in one way.

During his second year playing for the Los Angeles Clippers—excluding the official rookie season he sat out hurt—Griffin jumped over a car to win the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest and a cushy Kia endorsement deal. He also finished the season averaging 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, so the Orlando Magic sophomore (7.7 points, 5.8 boards) has a long way to go.

He's not much of a shooter, which hampers his current value, but Gordon gives Orlando a burst of energy off the bench. On a one-handed slam against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 31, courtesy of NBA's Twitter feed, he displayed a wingspan lending well to dunking creativity:

The event's culture is made for Gordon. Although he's young and raw, he's capable of engineering a special moment in his first taste of the limelight. ESPN.com's Zach Lowe expressed his desire to see more of the 20-year-old forward:

Not feeling a LaVine repeat? Gordon represents his biggest obstacle.

Zach LaVine, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

It's hard for an unguarded basketball player to ignite an entire arena by hand-delivering a ball into a round hole. LaVine achieved just that last year, giving the event its most buzz since Griffin's 2011 performance.

Now, he somehow needs to do it again, of course with entirely new dunks. Since starting the contest in 1984, only three contestants have earned back-to-back victories:

Back-to-Back Slam Dunk Contest Winners
PlayerYears
Michael Jordan1987, 1988
Jason Richardson2002, 2003
Nate Robinson2009, 2010
NBA.com

Nevertheless, LaVine assured the Associated Press' Jon Krawczynski, via the Denver Post, that he didn't burn through all his material.

"Those weren't my four best, but they were four good ones," LaVine said. "I've got to make sure I make them. That's what I did last year. I made them all on the first or second attempt. That's the main thing. if you do it right, I try to make them all and bring people to their feet again." 

Per Krawczynski, he also didn't hide his plans, declaring intentions to again "go knockout punch in the first round." Most participants go an alternative route, holstering the headliner for a late KO. Instead, he'll look to again claim his title minutes into the proceedings.

He may be an unpolished reserve for Minnesota, but LaVine now owns this event until somebody slams it away from him. Barring the Monstars stealing his powers, he's the pick to win again.