B/R's Official Wish List for the 2019 NBA Dunk Contest

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2019

B/R's Official Wish List for the 2019 NBA Dunk Contest

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Only four players have ever won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in consecutive seasons.

    That group will not expand during the 2019 version, as reigning champion Donovan Mitchell will not attempt to defend his title Feb. 16.

    "I loved doing the dunk contest last year, and it was a ton of fun, but I also know it takes a lot of focus, practice and preparation," Mitchell told Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News on Friday. "Right now, my mind is really on helping my team make a deep run [in the] second half of the season."

    Mitchell's absence gives the Association's All-Star planners some flexibility. Assuming he had a seat previously set aside for him, now all four are up for grabs.

    That got us thinking—what would the ideal 2019 dunk contest look like? No, not the dream one in which guys like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook suddenly decide this time they want in.

    We're not escaping the realistic realm. We know this contest is a young man's game, as they're the ones with the most to gain (and least to lose) in what could be their formal introduction to the casual fan.

    We'll focus on those who are both likely to accept the Association's invite and capable of producing the best throwdown theatrics in our preferred participant list.

Honorable Mention

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    Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls, and Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

    Remember watching their back-and-forth in 2016, wishing it would never end and then thinking it actually might not? We're always going to be down for a LaVine-Gordon airshow.

    But what could LaVine, a two-time champion, do that he hasn't before? He admitted he needed to empty his arsenal to fend off Gordon and declined a spot in 2017 before tearing his ACL. If LaVine has another contest in him, he might be eyeing the 2020 event hosted by the Windy City.

    While Gordon's dunking ability deserves some type of trophy, is he really itching for a third try to get it? It's not like he needs the platform boost at this point. He's an $84 million man, after all.

                

    Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks

    Getting dunk-contest love at age 41? That's strictly Vinsanity.

    But the man formerly known as Air Canada still has his pilot's license. You're talking about a '70s baby hammering home warm-up windmills in 2019. That should not be possible.

    Granted, his participation would shine brighter with #feelz than actual function, but we don't have to worry about that. He's already on record as having no interest.

    "If I step on the court for someone to see a dunk, the first thing you're going to think about is 2000," Carter said on The Ringer's Winging It podcast (h/t Sportsnet's Josh Weinstein). "And you're gonna compare that to 18-19 years later. And that's just too much time in between. ... What it did for me then, I don't ever want to tarnish it."

                     

    Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

    The two biggest arguments for Smith to take part: He had the filthiest flush of last year's contest, and he likely has ample frustration to unleash on a rim as his name bounces around in trade rumors.

    But the biggest argument against is hard to get past: He's already said he isn't doing it.

    "I'm not doing the dunk contest this year," he told reporters in September. "The gimmicks and everything that go with it, I'm not with it."

    Insert saddest-face emoji here.

Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Defenders got the message in high school. If Miles Bridges had a head of steam and any conceivable path to the basket, there was zero reason to jump.

    The springy swingman is a posterizer of the most vicious variety. Even his teammates can get bodied if they don't clear the runway.

    The way Bridges is building his body count, authorities are sure to take notice sooner than later. Dewayne Dedmon still hasn't been seen since the hyper-explosive freshman sent him into early retirement.

    As violent as some of Bridges' hammers are, he's not just a power-smashing specialist. The 20-year-old is a showman. Hornets games now have dunk-contest potential, whether he's crushing a windmill or finishing an off-the-glass lob.

    Considering Charlotte is hosting this event, Bridges always felt like a natural for the spark he could send throughout Buzz City. The NBA apparently agreed, as Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported Friday that Bridges "plans to compete" in the event.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

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    The best dunk-contest participants are fearless.

    Think about it. They're not only pushing both their creativity and athleticism to their maximum limits; they're also doing so under the collective watch of the basketball world.

    That's part of what makes Jaylen Brown such an appealing candidate. How many players would willingly attack the rim if Giannis Antetokounmpo and his real-life Go Go Gadget arms were lurking underneath? Not only did Brown live to tell about it, he even flexed when he was finished.

    Brown also went head-to-head with Joel Embiid, a modern-day clone of Hakeem Olajuwon. While Embiid deflected the attempt, Brown still got both the finish and the subsequent staredown.

    During his one-and-done stay at Cal, Brown flashed his explosive bounce with a between-the-legs 360 in warm-ups. In last year's Rising Stars Challenge, dude went between the legs during the game.

    As the NBA analyzes potential participants, it has to be asking itself: What can Brown do for us?

Derrick Jones Jr., Miami Heat

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    Remember him?

    Derrick Jones Jr. was the guy who had you asking "Who?!" and then marveling "Wow!" during the 2017 contest. Undrafted out of UNLV in 2016, he latched on with the Phoenix Suns that September. He spent nearly the entire first half of that campaign with the Suns' G League affiliate and had just seven career big league appearances heading into the All-Star break.

    But what he lacked in experience, he more than compensated for with incredible athleticism. He'd been looking down at the rim with regularity since high school and did the same during the event, causing TNT's Reggie Miller to label him "the best dunker you have never heard [of] or seen."

    Jones was the silver medalist in that event, plagued by a few misses that may have been his nerves getting the best of him. But if he heads back to the event this year, he'll go as a regular rotation player of the Miami Heat—and maybe the favorite to capture the crown.

    "Dunking [is] something that I do," he told The Undefeated's Justin Tinsley in 2017. "It's not who I am, but it's something that I do. And I do it well."

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

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    Height rarely holds back NBA players, but dunking often seems like one of the few exceptions. When your reach is as close to the rim as some of these players, there simply isn't enough time between launch and flush to add many bells and/or whistles.

    Every once in a while, though, a jumbo-sized smasher comes along with this unique blend of effortless athleticism, flex-worthy power and enough creativity to captivate an audience. The list of 6'10" and up dunk-contest champions is short, but it nevertheless exists: Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard and Larry Nance Sr.

    If any big man can expand that group this season, it's John Collins.

    He's jet-propelled by a 37 ½-inch vertical, has the hands and reach to catch anything in his airspace and seemingly has a lifelong grudge against the rim. There might not be many self-created slams—a bunch come off lobs and missed shots—but there doesn't need to be when the ball bounces in a way that showcases Collins' reach and quick, explosive ups.

    Speaking of showcase, the NBA surely wouldn't mind getting extra eyeballs on Collins. He's one of the more exciting young players in the league today and a legitimate All-Star candidate as a sophomore. Fans need him on their radar, especially the ones who typically tune out the Hawks.          

                                             

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.