Ranking the 30 Best Dunks of the 2019-20 NBA Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2020

Ranking the 30 Best Dunks of the 2019-20 NBA Season

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Only gluttons for punishment would endeavor to rank the NBA's best dunks of the 2019-20 season (so far)(we hope). Inexact sciences are equal parts entertaining and maddening to begin with, and the sheer breadth of worship-worthy smashes exponentially increases the rate at which those undertaking said mission will end up hating themselves.

    Welcome, fellow self-loathers.

    Someone has to do this. It clearly can't be Dwyane Wade. Or Scottie Pippen. Why not us, together? Why not now?

    Perceived level of difficulty, creativity, verticals, posterization-ness, unpredictability—every element of the jam factored into the final rankings. Post-slam celebrations and bench reactions will be noted and used as theoretical tiebreakers, but they are not the meat and potatoes of final placement. Preseason and dunk-contest yams are not eligible for inclusion.

    To be clear: This responsibility is not accepted lightly. Hours upon hours were spent searching and watching and rewatching this year's glitziest throwdowns. My dreams are still haunted by Collin Sexton randomly annihilating Wendell Carter Jr. But we're here to have fun in decidedly un-fun times. Remember that. Embrace it. Disagree in the spirit of it.

    Now, let's rank.

Honorable Mention: Ja Morant Almost Ended Kevin Love

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    Every Ja Morant dunk attempt is an event. This includes the misses.

    Especially this miss.

    Few players would dare try to jump over the 6'8" Kevin Love in a recreational setting, let alone during the middle of an NBA game. Morant, however, has no regard for logistics. Or consequences. Every takeoff looks like an attempt to outdo the previous one.

    There will come a time to worry about the recklessness with which he lands. It isn't now. We have no choice but to appreciate his devil-may-care hops, even when they're unsuccessful.

    This might be the best missed dunk in league history. Had it gone down, his one-handed, spread-eagle silhouette would've instantly needed to become the NBA's new logo.

Honorable Mention: Zion Williamson's Impossibly Difficult Finish

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    Imagine caring that this isn't a dunk.

    Better yet, imagine thinking you know what this is at all.

    Calling it an alley-oop isn't enough. Dubbing it a layup is disrespectful. Zion Williamson caught the lob behind the freaking backboard and had both the air and coordination to gather possession, switch hands and get the bucket. This is the impossible made possible.

    Make sure you cherish Zion's honorable mention. He is not the top-dunk mainstay his highlight-reel DNA suggests.

    Oh, he throws down, both powerfully and often. He might even be unfairly penalized for normalizing mountaintop alley-oop finishes. But he didn't dominate this list. That's fine. He played in just 19 games and has years and years of rim assaults ahead of him.

Honorable Mention: Mitchell Robinson Doing 1-Handed Mitchell Robinson Things

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    Mitchell Robinson caught this pass from RJ Barrett with one hand and almost from behind the backboard.

    He deserves a year-end award vote in some category simply for not hitting his head on the basket.

Honorable Mention: LeBron James Crosses, Then Flushes, Gorgui Dieng

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    I would die for age-35 LeBron James.

    (Gorgui Dieng almost did.)

Honorable Mention: Sekou Doumbouya Welcomes Tristan Thompson to the NBA

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    Tristan Thompson needs to know better. He does know better. This is such a bizarre attempt at drawing a charge. Kyle Lowry on chloroform would be more self-aware and sell it better.

    Thompson would be better off getting out of the way. Teenage mutant ninja Sekou Doumbouya climbs him like a step stool and then offhandedly looks at him sprawled out on the ground.

    Some friendly criticism for Detroit's 19-year-old: The staredown needs a little work. It looks like he was telepathically asking Thompson a question, unsure of whether this is what the cool kids do after jack-hammering someone to the floor.

30. Domantas Sabonis Dunks Norvel Pelle into 2020

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    Remember Norvel Pelle?

    He used to play for the Sixers*.

    But then Domantas Sabonis dunked on him**.

    And he's been in hiding ever since***.

    The end****.

    *He still does.

    **He never stopped playing for the Sixers.

    ***No, actually, he's still on the Sixers.

    ****Sabonis yammed so hard that Victor Oladipo needed to de-jacket.

29. Brandon Ingram Showcases His Wingspan

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    This jam is rude. Not just to Jordan Poole and Golden State. But to you, me and anyone else with a wingspan under 7'3".

    Brandon Ingram doesn't seem focused on generating the maximum amount of air. He is wearing the "I'm using all my length and then some" struggle face, replete with grimacing closed eyes.

    Quit bragging, man. You have like 13 inches to spare by the time the ball reaches its peak. We get it. You're long. And you're apparently at the stage of your career in which you can crush helpless rookies just because and throw down with your eyes closed.

    Stop making us regular folk feel so inadequate.

28. Spencer Dinwiddie Renders Tobias Harris Insignifcant

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    Tobias Harris must've wronged Spencer Dinwiddie in a previous life or something. That's the only explanation for this aggressive clobbering.

    Dinwiddie going toe-to-toe with Harris is impressive enough. At first glance, it looks like he maneuvers around the 6'8" wing. And he sort of does. But Dinwiddie also pushes him to the side as if he isn't giving up a few inches and 10 pounds.

    Brooklyn's bench reaction seals the deal. Everyone knows Dinwiddie just upstaged Harris, and DeAndre Jordan lifts him off the ground in a bear-hug embrace. Dunks that get appreciated in the moment are the best.

27. Joel Embiid Punishes John Collins

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    John Collins deserves an "Atta boy!" for hustling into harm's way. This is a serious attempt to challenge a 7-foot slab of marble. The effort must be celebrated.

    Joel Embiid almost made sure that respect could only come in the form of flowers at Collins' funeral.

    His pump-fakes into jams are religion. Containing him is out of the question once he gets downhill. This case is even more of a lost cause. Alex Len bites on his fake, and Atlanta's next two closest defenders have their backs turned. Embiid is gifted a wide berth to the hoop until he meets Collins.

    Knowing him, his insides probably lit up with once he realized someone was coming into his collector's card shot. His face doesn't show it, but the post-dunk staredown does.

    By the way: Contrary to what the broadcast says, Ben Simmons did not, in fact, kill De'Andre Hunter.

26. Derrick Jones Jr. Deletes Jakob Poeltl

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    Putback slams can be vicious. Players go up with extra oomph when they're competing with enemy rebounders.

    However, few players catch a body in the process. Derrick Jones Jr. nearly caught two.

    Marco Belinelli is but a footnote in this story. Jones soars right past him. Belinelli is lucky he doesn't get side-swiped to the ground.

    Jakob Poeltl isn't so fortunate. Jones isn't going around him. He goes through him. And Poeltl hits the floor in a combination of shock and duress. Jones' force is part of what sends him flying, but he also seems genuinely surprised when he spins around and comes face-to-knee with his assailant.

25. Ja Morant Strikes a Pose

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    Wide-open dunks need a style boost to rival more challenging jams. It comes as no surprise that Ja Morant is up to the task.

    Collin Sexton doesn't bother feigning a contest. Dillon Brooks trails closely enough that Memphis has a three-on-one. Just as well for Sexton, because he has no chance of stopping Morant. This dude leg-kicks himself to the moon.

    Morant's form turns what could be a run-of-the-mill transition smash into a poster. He gets a sick amount of extension on that right arm and doesn't need two hands to maintain control, and his slight sideways tilt gives off faint shades of Michael Jordan's lean.

    Staring down the ball is spectacular finishing touch. It gives off a "So you aren't too good for your home!" vibe.

24. Mitchell Robinson Shows Serious Coordination

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    Anyone who defies Mitchell Robinson's one-handed alley-oop stuff from earning a top-25 nod needs to consider the circumstances.

    Julius Randle's pass is behind him. He's falling backward as he goes up for it. His legs spread into a half-split. And he completes the catch and dunk with one hand.

    That's coordination on steroids.

    Robinson gets extra points for his clean landing. He looks close to out of control on the catch. One-legged landings are never ideal, but he somehow almost floats to the ground.

23. Kelly Oubre Jr.'s R-Rated Jam on PG13

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    This is easily among the top five hardest one-handed dunks of the year. It is the type of highlight you feel while watching it. You almost expect Paul George to head for the locker room after Kelly Oubre Jr. uncorks it. You definitely expect him to have a few choice words for Patrick Beverley following a failed steal attempt.

    Semi-related: Does anyone in the league have a scarier staredown than Oubre? It is frighteningly intrusive, emanating a concoction of terror and omnipotence.

    Is he glaring at George for sport? Are lasers about to shoot out from his eyes? Or is he seeing into PG13's soul, untwining his deepest, most intimate secrets and desires? We can't be sure.

22. Kawhi Leonard Strong-Arms Daniel Theis

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    Daniel Theis is not what you would call a slight human being. He's 6'8" and 245 pounds. His frame can't be easily dispatched around the rim.

    Tell that to Kawhi Leonard.

    Though Theis isn't rotating over from the best angle, he should have more than a 0 percent chance of putting up a reasonable fight. But Leonard's forearm and shoulder keep him from getting a real crack at the ball. Extending both his arms does nothing.

    And hey: How about Leonard swinging around the rim on one arm for no other reason than to flex? Nobody's in his landing space. He is free to descend unto solid ground with the usual amount of apathy.

    Inessential rim-hanging is the closest he comes to showing actual emotion in non-playoff settings.

21. Giannis Antetokounmpo's Poster for 2

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    I mean...it's just...but like...how?

    Posterizing one properly sized NBA player is hard enough. Giannis Antetokounmpo catches two bodies. JaKarr Sampson is just kind of here, while Goga Bitadze gets his "Welcome to the league, rook!" moment.

    I'd say something else about the man-myth-legend Giannis Antetokounmpo, but there are quite literally no more words.

20. John Collins' 1-Handed Alley-Oop Finish

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    Tristan Thompson busts out the veteran non-contest on this John Collins smash. I respect it. He knows resistance is futile and that this will probably end badly for him.

    This isn't meant to say Collins is throwing down a freebie. He isn't. Tristan Thompson is 6'9" and jumping. That counts for something. His arm is up for long enough that Collins still needs to get over it—which isn't an issue because oh-me-oh-my look how high he carries the ball with his right hand.

    If that doesn't do it for you, admire the extension instead. Collins is throwing down what would be a baseline baby floater for more aerodynamically challenged humans. And again: He does it all with one hand.

19. Bradley Beal Stuns His Own Teammates

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    Andre Drummond gave this contest the ol' college try. But you can tell midway through that he has no desire to let Bradley Beal delete him from the face of the earth. He uses his right elbow to brace himself and never brings his left arm to full attention.

    Limiting his exposure without fully avoiding the fight undoubtedly saves Drummond from getting the meme treatment. Social media has a tendency to mock players who get scrubbed from reality for what amounts to trying on defense. It's weird. Drummond does something in between. He's there, but he isn't. 

    None of that stops Beal from celebrating like he just notched the bucket of his life. His combination of force and elation lifts up the moment. The reaction from Washington's bench, meanwhile, makes it.

    Jerome Robinson looks concerned as if what he just saw is amazing, but he's also worried Beal might have ascended into heaven after finishing with so much force. John Wall looks like he almost wants to stand up. Davis Bertans looks like Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told him he'll rarely (and inexplicably) ever play 20 minutes per game. Anzejs Pasecniks looks like he just remembered he's on an NBA roster.

    Wholesome content, really.

18. Damian Lillard Blitzes Through Denver's Defense

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    Damian Lillard's position is receiving a slight boost from his pre-liftoff spin move. Skal Labissiere's screen on Torrey Craig gets him going downhill, but he doesn't have enough runway to go full boomstick without bringing Mason Plumlee to his butt.

    Jamal Murray could've buoyed Lillard's rank by delivering more than a quarter-hearted contest, but he wanted little to no part of this smoke. Who could blame him? He wasn't really in position to go for the vertical contest, and as it stands, even throwing part of his body out of the way doesn't spare him from prime poster placement.

    Super-long off-the-dribble threes are enough to make Lillard a highlight factory. That he can still wreck the occasional rim as well is just unfair.

17. Markelle Fultz Hammers Omari Spellman

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    Please be mindful of who's around you before watching Markelle Fultz drop the hammer. This is extremely N.S.F.R.O.

    (Not suitable for relatives of Omari.)

    Omari Spellman's contest does not noticeably impact the slam. He's comfortably behind Fultz. But his trailing challenge does affect the flight path. Fultz winds up having to finish while going ever so slightly away from the basket and through contact.

    And yes, he was definitely fouled.

16. Collin Sexton Dunks in Wendell Carter Jr.'s Face

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    Wendell Carter Jr. has about eight inches and 80 pounds on Collin Sexton. Who knows whether that matters. It just feels noteworthy.

    Sexton builds up a head of steam on his cut from the strong-side break, but he doesn't actually use it. He sort of goes into a hop step on the catch and propels himself off the ground with a second-jumpish thing. It almost seems like he comes to a brief stop and then goes full grenade.

    Feel free to make a case for this to be higher. I'll listen. It is a viable banner moment. But Carter is pretty much under the net as he goes up to challenge the shot. Sexton's quick-twitch pop and emphatic force are what make this dunk one of the year's best.

15. Giannis Antetokounmpo Climbs Mt. Zubac

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    Unreal smashes are Giannis Antetokounmpo's default setting. He is so long and explosive and tall and unafraid that many of his dunks are gargantuan asks for the above-average NBA player.

    Antetokounmpo's posterization of Ivica Zubac follows this exact blueprint. Most players would have to hope they could barrel through him in hopes of drawing a foul or getting lucky around the rim. Antetokounmpo basically goes around and over him.

    Pause the clip at the apex of the reigning MVP's climb. Half of his arm isn't even on the screen. He's clearly a plane above Zubac—who is, mind you, one of the league's most aggressive rim protectors and also happens to be a 7-footer with the standing reach of skyscraper.

    This isn't normal. Almost nothing Antetokounmpo does is genuinely routine. It's just standard for him.

14. Bam Adebayo Dethrones 2 Kings

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    How many Kings defenders does it take to stop Bam Adebayo?

    More than two, apparently.

    Kent Bazemore and De'Aaron Fox tried. They really did. But Adebayo went from zero to human rocket ship in one gather dribble.

    The thrust Miami's Most Improved Player candidate generates before taking off verges on incomprehensible. He isn't rolling to the basket at full speed when he makes the catch. He barely centers his body before dribbling into a dry leap from just inside the elbow and piercing through the soul of Bazemore.

    This dunk never gets old or any less holy-crap prolific no matter how many times you watch it.

13. Jayson Tatum Baptizes His Elder

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    Posterizations rarely come at the expense of so much stopping power.

    Ben Simmons and Philadelphia-era Al Horford are 1.5 of the NBA's best defenders. Jayson Tatum needed to get by one (Simmons) and obliterated the other (Horford) at the rim. He earns an A+ for the force he uncorks but gets bumped up to an A+++ for the "I'm better than you" spin off the rim at the end.

    That mark then jumps to an A+++++ because this was a preempted murder. He declared ahead of Boston's season opener versus Philly that he intended to put Horford on an immortalized still-shot. 

    Sure, Tatum was a few months late on delivery. Whatever. This is Boston's present and future liquidating its past. The timing is immaterial.

12. Anthony Davis Makes Aron Baynes Look Small

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    All 6'10" and 260 pounds of Aron Baynes are in Anthony Davis' grill when he catches this lob from Danny Green. It meant approximately nothing.

    Two-handed alley-oops from career dunksmen aren't special. But Davis must go over the top of Baynes to get the conversion—and from basically outside the restricted area.

    For as fundamental as this seems, it's also absurd. And as it turns out, fundamental absurdity sticks with you.

11. Chris Boucher Goes Way Up

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    ALERT: Severely underrated dunk inbound.

    Chris Boucher catches Terence Davis' pass with momentum and Darius Bazley carrying him away from the basket. This play could easily devolve into a turnover, or he could try to come back down with the ball. 

    He chooses Option C: cleanse Bazley of his dignity.

    Most big-man alley-oops don't get you off your seat. This isn't most big-man alley-oops. Boucher is far enough away from the hoop that he shouldn't be in range of completing a poster. He did it anyway.

10. Jarrett Allen Uncorks a Monster Jam Over Mike Muscala

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    Brooklyn's announcers encapsulated this one best.

    Ian Eagle: "Ohhhhh! Jarrett Allen! That's a man's jam."

    Richard Jefferson: "You know you are dunking a bomb when you can't even land on your feet. Ohhh, poor Mike Muscala! I've seen people go to jail for less than this."

    Yep, that about sums this one up.

9. Kawhi Leonard Is Stronger Than You, Exhibit No. 27938

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    Hello, nasty.

    Some will inevitably declare this dunk overrated. It isn't. Kawhi Leonard not only puts PJ Tucker through an abridged spin cycle, but he absorbs multiple levels of contact at the rim.

    Robert Covington is both getting into his body and has a hand on the ball. Leonard powers it through anyway without any semblance of a struggle. That indifference does not extend to the Clippers bench. They are in awe of his casual horsepower and silent fury.

    If you find yourself struggling to appreciate this smackdown at real-time speed, watch it in slow motion, on repeat. You'll come to marvel at it eventually.

8. Jaxson Hayes Extends Over Cheick Diallo

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    What did we just (re-)watch?

    Cheick Diallo isn't the tallest (6'8"), but he has a 9'0" standing reach, leaves his feet to contest this attempt and keeps his body between Jaxson Hayes and the rim throughout the entire sequence. New Orleans' rookie/human pog ostick doesn't even really land inside the restricted area when he comes down.

    It doesn't matter. Hayes keeps the ball a good six inches or so above Diallo's outstretched arms and has the length to find the bottom of the net without ever truly entering point-blank range. This is one of those hammer-downs that is vicious and defies logic and couldn't be done without springboards for knees and yardsticks for arms.

7. Derrick Jones Jr. Jumps to Infinity and Beyond

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    Is a hot dog a sandwich? Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

    Is this Derrick Jones Jr. bucket a dunk?

    These are all questions with varying answers. (No, yes, yes.)

    Letter-of-the-law police officers will note that DJJ doesn't touch the rim. If that renders this less poetic and enjoyable to you, then you hate both poetry and fun.

    Jonas Valanciunas didn't rotate over in time to completely obstruct the flight path, but he's still a 6'11", 265-pound obstacle who left his feet and outstretched his arms. Jones doesn't just elevate over him. He has the breathing room necessary to throw the ball down into the basket.

    While I, of 5'10¾" height and subspectacular athleticism, am not speaking from experience, I imagine Jones' finish is tougher than the traditional dunk. Letting go before touching the rim bilks him of some control. More can go wrong. Maybe the ball caroms off the back rim. Or wiggles in and out. He needed both precision and bounce to get this one down.

    Hashtag, respect.

6. Aaron Gordon's Dunk-Fest Against the Lakers

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    Viewed separately, all three of Aaron Gordon's posters against the Lakers this past January—the high-rise and-one, up-and-under self-oop and one-handed reverse jam—are top-30 candidates. The first two are shoo-ins.

    Together, they coalesce into a top-seven case.

    Don't bother hating on this tweak. I don't make the rules*. This is being done for you—for all of us. It allows us to review more dunks in the aggregate. You're welcome.

    Also: Gordon's toss off the backboard has top-seven credentials on its own. Even the most brazen dunksters won't try that in open transition. Gordon does it in the half court and from the free-throw line as a means of creating a scoring opportunity rather than strictly showboating.

    *I do.

5. Ja Morant Goes Boom on Aron Baynes

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    Point guards cooking bigs off the bounce aren't novel displays. Aron Baynes actually does an OK job of keeping Ja Morant within contest's length and ensuring he doesn't have a direct line to the basket.

    Morant just doesn't care.

    This man-child went up with the ball in his left hand and then shifted it to his right while flying away from the basket. Finishing with the inside arm was no doubt the correct call at that angle, but it also demanded Morant have the juice to elevate over the outstretched 6'10" behemoth in front of him.

    Both the style and difficulty points here are off the charts.

4. De'Aaron Fox Nearly Ends Christian Wood

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    "Did I see what I just thought I saw?"

    You did.

    Christian Wood deserves an award for surviving this. De'Aaron Fox emptied every ounce of force in his left arm on his way down. He winds up with the intent to destroy. And he does. That rim will never be the same.

    Half-court off-the-dribble dunks from guards are masterpieces. Detroit's defense open-sesame'd for Fox, and midair gymnasts have faced tougher contests. But whew buddy, we must not take 6'3" guards jamming around 6'10" bigs for granted.

3. Donovan Mitchell Wallops Nicolo Melli

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    Alley-oops finished by guards should always hold a special place in our hearts. This one is no exception.

    Donovan Mitchell's baseline approach isn't the easiest to complete, but he makes it look routine. And he somehow has the air required to catch Joe Ingles' pass, wind the ball back with his right arm and unload all over the 6'9" Nicolo Melli.

    No poster would be complete without a not-so-subtle staredown of the victim. Props to Mitchell for giving us one. And kudos to Melli for contesting the slam. Far better players would've abandoned ship in this situation.

    He should probably do the same next time.

2. Derrick Jones Jr. Jams Through Rudy Gobert

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    Rudy Gobert is the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Derrick Jones Jr. didn't give a damn.

    Sticklers will lament his finishing with two hands, but he went through and over a 7'1" superstructure to get the jam. That takes a special blend of gall and explosion.

    Plus, you know a dunk is seriously nasty when the person who put it down expresses disbelief. Jones' reaction sells the difficulty of this sledgehammer. It also doesn't hurt that Jimmy Butler watched him take off with an open mouth, and that Meyers Leonard nearly adjourned to the showers after seeing Gobert get posterized into a different dimension.

    Jones may not be the rightful 2020 Slam Dunk Contest champion. (Aaron Gordon was robbed.) But this monster blast is unquestionably a dunk of the year candidate.

1. DeMar DeRozan Posterizes All of Toronto

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    Does...Does 30-year-old DeMar DeRozan have the dunk of the year?

    Everything about this is filthy. DeRozan scoots past three defenders, nonchalantly winds up and then jams through Chris Boucher. 

    It doesn't help DeRozan's case that San Antonio trailed Toronto by 17 at the time. But he definitely gets brownie points for yamming on his former team, and the reaction on the bench from Drew Eubanks, who needed to be consoled by Jakob Poeltl after witnessing DeRozan commit murder, is unforgettable.

    Shame on the officials for saddling DeRozan with a taunting technical. He lorded over the chalk outline of Boucher for roughly a half-millisecond. Besides, works of art deserve to be admired. DeRozan earned himself a moment of reflection.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.