When 'Trying to Make Highlights' Goes Wrong: The NBA's Worst Dunkers Confess

Yaron Weitzman@YaronWeitzmanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2018

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 03:  Marquese Chriss #0 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on March 3, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. 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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
B/R

One day this past summer, Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss settled down in front of his computer and began flipping through YouTube highlights from last season, his first in the NBA. He found clips of the Suns' best wins and his best games. He beamed over one of his 10 best dunks of the year.        

But then, another video caught his attention from the sidebar on the right. He clicked on it and was greeted by a highlight from a March matchup against the Hornets. There was his teammate, Devin Booker, tossing a pass from beyond half court toward the rim. Chriss watched a replay of himself using his 38.5" vertical leap to soar over Hornets guard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, catch the ball with both hands and—still airborne,—twist his body and bring the ball toward the net.

It was an incredible display of athleticism and physical tools that few human beings possess.

Only the ball never actually made it through the net. Chriss slammed it off the back rim and sent it careening out toward the three-point line.

The nearly two-minute video, titled "Marquese Chriss missed dunks 2016-17," is full of mishaps like this. His 26 missed dunks were more than any other player in the NBA last season, according to Basketball Reference

"I was like, 'Damn, somebody spent a lot of time to roast me,'" Chriss said of his reaction was to the montage. "It's like saying Steph [Curry] missed a bunch of threes. If you take a lot of shots it's going to happen. But everybody wants to focus on the negatives. I also led rookies in dunks, too."

That he did, with 103, the 15th-most in the league. But that's still 150 fewer than DeAndre Jordan, who had the second-most missed dunks last season. All told, Chriss converted just 79.8 percent of his dunks as a rookie. As Five Thirty Eight's Kyle Wagner has pointed out, it was the worst mark for any player who attempted at least 100 dunks in a season this century (the first year we have records for such shots is 2001).

Does this make Chriss the NBA's worst dunker? Maybe not. As he pointed out, it does take a certain level of hops to even attempt that many dunks. But the record does make him the poster boy for a breed of NBAers more notable for their clanks than their makes. Call them the fruitless high-flyers.

"I'm trying to make highlights," Chriss, the eighth pick in the 2016 draft, who is averaging 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this year, said earlier this season while standing in front of his locker. "I think that's the fun part. Being on YouTube, doing things that not everybody's doing, doing something different."

Chriss' competitive basketball career didn't begin until his freshman year of high school, which could help explain some of these struggles. Chriss' problem is one of moderation. He's a natural athlete who relies too heavily on his natural athleticism. 

"His hand-eye coordination is unbelievable, and he can throw a football 60 yards," said Lorenzo Romar, who coached Chriss at the University of Washington.

It's not that Chriss doesn't have the skills to be a good dunker; he just chooses to dunk at bad times.

Then again, he claimed there are reasons for his futility. 

Ralph Freso/Associated Press

"That's really the only time (my teammates) throw me the ball, on lobs, so I got to go get them somehow," Chriss said—loud enough for then-teammate Derrick Jones Jr. to hear.

"On 2K, his hands are a 50," Jones Jr. joked. 

As for Chriss' complaint that he never touches the ball, well, he might have a point. This season, he's averaging 38.3 touches per game, according to NBA.com, the 10th most on the Suns. But the 1.53 seconds he's averaged per touch, the fourth-lowest mark on the Suns, better illustrates his point: In the role he's being asked to play, if he wants to shoot the ball, he'd better do so quickly.

Also, converting a higher percentage of his alley-oop opportunities would help his cause with his teammates, too.

"It was a joke around the locker room last year," Suns guard Tyler Ullis said. "He'd be like, 'Man, how come nobody throws me lobs anymore?' And we'd say, 'Because you missed 100 of them.'" 

The official number: five out of 14, according to NBA.com

Chriss can at least take solace in knowing he isn't the NBA's only fruitless high-flyer.

In fact,  earlier this season his record looked to be in jeopardy, thanks to Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins. A former Wake Forest player selected 19th overall in June's draft, Collins has missed a league-high 19 dunks this season, putting him on pace for 29.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

"I don't know why, maybe it's just cold feet," Collins told B/R. "I usually never miss dunks. I think, especially at the beginning of the season, I was just trying to take the rim off too much. It's not like I was getting rim stuffed or anything. I just needed to relax." 

The misses, Collins said, beget more misses. He clanks a dunk off the rim, and the next time down the floor, he tries to make up for it by slamming the ball home ever harder, only to misfire on that attempt, too, much to the amusement of his teammates.

"We'd tell him, 'Nothing looks good about a missed dunk,'" Hawks forward Taurean Prince said, smiling. "What's the point of having all that bounce?" 

Hawks coaches, meanwhile, respond with more practical comments. They remind Collins that there's nothing shameful about layups, a lesson Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson said he thinks more young players could use.

"You have people trying to do more tricks bust because, social media-wise, it helps you—you get on House of Highlights, all that stuff," Thompson said. "So I understand, but if you're gonna try a crazy dunk, you'd better make it. S--t, me, I'm just trying to get two points."

Collins, who is averaging 10.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, said he's heeded his coaches' advice. He's still 10th in the league in dunks but claims he's no longer trying to transform every drive into a poster. He's failed on just one of his last 23 attempts and upped his field-goal percentage on dunks from 79.1 to 82.6 percent.

"I'm still trying to take the rim off, but only if I'm in position," Collins said. "But I'm cool with missing dunks as long as I was attacking the rim. At least that means I was staying aggressive."

As for Chriss, he doesn't appear interested in seeing his record fall into someone else's hands. He's only attempted 45 dunks this year, but he's also missed 12 of them, meaning he's converted just 73.3 percent. 

"You try to dunk too hard sometimes, and the ball just comes out," Chriss said. "It happens. You don't dwell on it." 

Perhaps he doesn't, but those who spend the most time with failed dunkers certainly do.

"I heard it on the entire plane ride here," Miami Heat forward James Johnson said earlier this season, a day after being blocked by the rim twice in a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I don't think I got hung like that since I was in eighth grade. I tried bringing out my inner LeBron and fell short."

Collins can relate to Johnson's plight. Before ending the phone call, he made one request:

"Don't kill me too much. I already get enough from my teammates."

           

Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks and NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, listen to his Knicks-themed podcast here, and sign up for his newsletter here. 

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