It's time to start getting excited about the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend. The game itself, which pits LeBron James' All-Stars against Giannis Antetokounmpo's All-Stars is going to be fun, but there are several other events for fans to consume.
Almost every year, though, it's the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest that fans flock to. Players generally don't take themselves too seriously during All-Star Weekend, but at the dunk contest, they are really able to let loose and have some fun with the even.
Past winners include notable names like Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb and Michael Jordan. Last year, Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz won the contest after a series of flashy dunks that included bouncing the ball off a second backboard, leaping over comedian Kevin Hart and finally finishing up in a throwback Carter Raptors jersey.
Mitchell defeated a field that also included Larry Nance Jr., Dennis Smith Jr. and Victor Oladipo. Smith, now with the New York Knicks, returns this year to take on a new four-man field. Other participants are Miles Bridges of the Charlotte Hornets, Hamidou Diallo of the Oklahoma City Thunder and John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks.
Collins is the early favorite.
How might this year's field fare? Read on for some predictions.
Dennis Smith Jr., G, New York Knicks
Smith is the only participant this year who has experience in the dunk contest. This could give him an edge, as he knows the showmanship that must go into a winning routine. A performance similar to last year's won't be good enough.
Though he had an incredible 50-point dunk in the opening round last year, Smith failed to move on. If he is going to make it to the finals, he'll need to rely more on his athleticism and creativity. At just 6'3", Smith isn't going to impress with raw power.
Despite not towering over the competition, Smith has can produce impressive hang time, as he did with that 50-pointer—a ridiculous 360-degree windmill slam. He'll need to do something similar on each of his three attempts—the two highest scores count—to make it to the final round. Going all out creatively while still saving something for the finals is a tall order, though, and Smith may ultimately fall short.
Prediction: Misses finals.
John Collins, F, Atlanta Hawks
Collins is the favorite, which may be a product of his 6'10" frame. Whereas players like Smith have a hard time powering their way to impressive dunks, Collins should be able to throw down something memorable.
Still, it's hard to see Collins actually making a legitimate run at the top spot. Creativity often trumps strength in a competition that doesn't have defenders in the lane.
The last big man to win the dunk contest was Blake Griffin back in 2011.
Unless Collins decides to stack up a few defenders in the paint and then posterizes them—which isn't the worst idea—he may find it hard to impress the judges.
Prediction: Misses finals.
Hamidou Diallo, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Second-year player Diallo may be the long shot in this competition, but he shouldn't be counted out. The 6'5" shooting guard may not be a superstar—he's averaging just over four points per game this season—but he's no stranger to dunk competitions.
Now is a good time to suggest searching for Diallo's Elite 24 dunk highlights.
Diallo also plans to bring some new-school creativity to the competition.
"The dunks they used to do then are not in style anymore," Diallo said, per Maddie Lee of NewsOK. "People have seen those kinds of dunks in games and stuff like that, so you can't really bring that to a contest. So you've got to be really creative and really use the internet to your advantage."
Expect Diallo to surprise with his novel approach and to make a run at the crown.
Prediction: Makes finals.
Miles Bridges, F Charlotte Hornets
Bridges has the second-best odds to win the dunk contest, and that isn't surprising. He plays for the Charlotte Hornets, and All-Star Weekend is being held in, you guessed it, Charlotte. While the judges won't necessarily care, Bridges winning in front of the home crowd would make for a terrific story.
This isn't the only reason why Bridges has a strong shot at winning the contest, however. The 6'7" forward has a good combination of power and athleticism, and he seems prepared for the coming challenge.
"I'm definitely going to have to do a lot of great dunks that people haven't seen before," Bridges told Mike McCray of the Charlotte Observer. "Just bring excitement back to Charlotte. ...The stuff I've got planned is pretty good."
Expect Bridges to combine creativity with a little hometown flavor to wow the judges through both rounds.
Prediction: Wins finals.