'No Respect at the Rim' All-Stars: NBA's Nastiest in-Game Dunkers
Basketball is theoretically a non-contact sport, but the area around the rim is paradoxically defined by violence.
It's where defenders—big men especially—carve out their niches, hoping to turn away high-altitude encroachment with midair blocks or, failing that, hard fouls.
Assaulting that area of the floor, then, is a task for the bold. So here, we'll highlight several of the most fearless rim-attackers—the ones who practically seek out conflict 10 feet off the ground. These are the guys who not only aren't deterred by the presence of an opponent between them and the bucket, but who also seem to welcome the confrontation.
We'll try to keep it fresh by focusing mainly on what we've seen so far this season, but if there's a compelling body of evidence from 2016-17, that'll get consideration, too.
Finally, center-on-center dunks just aren't as cool. There's no David-Goliath quality. So our focus will be on guys who attack bigger opponents or several foes at once.
These are the brave men who do not respect verticality, personal space or common decency.
Speed Kills Division
John Wall, Washington Wizards
Sorry, but he's just too fast for his own good.
Wall's dunks tend to involve blow-by drives or transition bursts. Usually, the opposing team's big man isn't quick enough to react. Which is probably for the best. The knockdown on the Philadelphia 76ers' T.J. McConnell is pretty nasty here, but this isn't quite what we're looking for. Though, to be fair, you've got to love Wall's penchant for the lefty smash.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets
If you're basically the human embodiment of a coiled spring, you're going to produce dunks like this one. Even as Faried spends yet another season as a seemingly expendable trade-block occupant, he'll still be good for several high-energy slams. The 6'9" Omri Casspi won't be Faried's tallest victim of the season. He'll bag bigger game.
It's Only a Matter of Time Division
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks
If DeMarcus Cousins didn't make a business decision on this play, we'd be looking at a potential candidate for dunk of the year. Along with this conspicuously uncontested jam, Smith might be best known for the one he missed against the Sacramento Kings during summer league. Or the one he tried to put down on Draymond Green's head.
Sooner or later, someone's going to meet Smith at the top and regret trying. Let's put the over-under at December 10.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
Leading with an elbow to the face is weak.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
It's been hard to choose among the many highlights of Victor Oladipo's breakout season with the Indiana Pacers. Fortunately, we don't have to pick between game-winning threes and takeover scoring nights.
All we have to worry about are the contested dunks.
Oladipo logged two in-your-face jams in the first half when the Pacers took on the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 31, both coming on backdoor cuts. The second victimized Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein. That's pictured above. He threw one down on Skal Labissiere a few minutes before that.
In addition to sneak attacks, Oladipo loves to go up and hammer lobs. The Portland Trail Blazers' Evan Turner is no rim defender, but the way he recoiled after Oladipo flung this one through the rim showed exactly the type of ferocity we're looking for.
The New Orleans Pelicans' Anthony Davis was in the neighborhood on this one, and Oladipo was undeterred.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
When the best player alive doesn't even think about challenging you at the rim, it's a good sign you belong on this list.
LeBron James wanted nothing to do with this Jaylen Brown breakaway when the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Boston Celtics on Oct. 17. That may have disappointed Brown, who has delighted in putting opponents on posters (and yelling about it) since he was a rookie last year. In fact, you could tell early on that Brown was going to produce his share of ambitious plays. His first highlight as a rookie was a missed dunk against the Brooklyn Nets.
This is a vital component of making our list. Failing in a spectacular, overzealous, nearly impossible attempt is actually better than succeeding on a more mundane try. This is about a lack of respect—for the opposition, for gravity, for your own physical limitations.
Missed dunks, especially completely ridiculous ones, earn major points. And Brown's been piling them up since he was at Cal.
Don't be mistaken. The Celtics sophomore has made his share, too. He kicked off his 2017-18 season unofficially by baptizing a couple of Portland summer leaguers, and he put this one down on Cauley-Stein.
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Andrew Wiggins goes after everyone, and he does it differently than any dunker we've covered so far.
Each player we've hit has had quickness and explosion, which you need to go around or through rim-defending opponents. But Wiggins adds serious length to the equation, which gives him a third avenue of attack: over.
Whether that makes the Minnesota Timberwolves high-flyer a better dunker than Oladipo or Brown is a question of aesthetics. Maybe you prefer smaller wings who surprise big men with speed, or maybe you like Brown's bulldozer mentality. But it's hard to deny the way the 6'8" Wiggins' combination of rangy limbs and fast-twitch muscle produces high-wire theater.
And that's just including last year and the first portion of this one. If we were going back to 2015, when Wiggins got Rudy Gobert twice in the same game, posterized Omer Asik and tried to end Hassan Whiteside, we'd be drowning in dunks.
Finally, I know we made a point to demerit bigs for dunking on other bigs, and that by extension, we shouldn't reward someone such as Wiggins for posterizing Josh Richardson, who is also a wing. But...this is too filthy to ignore.
Wiggins is a purely confrontational dunker. He's a two-foot leaper, always cocks the ball back with the right hand and floats just enough laterally to throw off the shot-blocker's timing.
If you've watched all the clips, you'll also note that Wiggins' dunks just sound better than anyone else's. The thud of ball when it hits the back rim is cleaner and meaner.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Some of the main criteria here are aggression and recklessness. Did you not think Russell Westbrook would pop up eventually?
You may not realize this, but after watching Russ attempt this act of savagery on Gobert, your own aggression levels will have spiked. Try to remain calm and resist the urge to knock over walls or steal teammates' rebounds; the feeling will pass if you give it time.
If you think about it, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard's entire basketball existence is a metaphorical dunk attempt over a larger opponent. He goes as fast, as hard and as high as he possibly can, and just sort of lives with the results. It winds up being spectacular either way, and it turns everyone else into bystanders.
He suffers a bit from the same thing that afflicts Wall: Westbrook is often too fast to allow defenders to get themselves into dunking range. But not always.
There's a possibility that as Westbrook loses just a touch of his speed but none of his aggression that we'll see him meet more defenders at the rim. Right now, centers aren't quick enough to rotate in for damage control once Westbrook has beaten his man and is heading downhill.
Let's keep our fingers crossed for that.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Antetokounmpo would have a place here even if we limited our study to his dunks on Aron Baynes.
The Milwaukee Bucks star got the Boston big man on a lob, reaching almost horizontally to mash the ball through the rim as Baynes learned that hacking just one of Antetokounmpo's arms was insufficient.
This effort, in which Antetokounmpo elevated from a total standstill with Baynes and a second defender in his way, shouldn't have even been possible. Of course, after seeing him rise up and finish over three defenders (Baynes wasn't involved this time, mercifully), two seems a little easy.
He also missed one that would have been on the short list for Dunk of the Century.
We tend to think of the long, loping strides and unreal extension when it comes to Antetokounmpo. We envision him in the open floor, or carving a path down the lane with two steps and one dribble after crossing half court.
But Antetokounmpo is broadening his dunk repertoire, adding two-foot takeoffs and sizing up defenders before trying to go through them rather than around them.
May as well enjoy Antetokounmpo's place here while he has it. Before long, he'll be too big, too strong and too imposing to fit a category that celebrates a certain brand of basketball bravery.
Because what's brave about attacking defenders at the rim when you're more physically imposing than any of them?