NBA Slam Dunk Contest 2018: Participants and Predictions for All-Star Saturday
The most electric skill competition at any professional All-Star Game takes center stage on Saturday, as four of the NBA‘s rising stars square off in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Rookies Dennis Smith Jr. and Donovan Mitchell are attempting to make an imprint on the competition in their first appearance, while Victor Oladipo and Larry Nance Jr. are vying for their first title.
Mitchell replaced Aaron Gordon, who was one of the dunk specialists who helped revitalize the marquee event of All-Star Saturday in recent years, in the field after the Orlando Magic star pulled out because of an injury.
The task for the four participants on Saturday is to continue the buzz created over the past few years with their individual creativity at the rim.
Larry Nance Jr.
With a victory in the Slam Dunk Contest, Larry Nance Jr. would become the first son of a champion to take first place. Nance’s father of the same name won the inaugural event back in 1984 in Denver.
In addition to becoming the first father-son duo to be slam dunk champions, Nance could do so while representing the same team as his father after being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers last week.
During his time with the Los Angeles Lakers before the trade, Nance produced a plethora of highlight-reel slams, including a posterization of Kevin Durant in the second quarter of a game against the Golden State Warriors.
The Wyoming product specializes in extending above the rim, which could lead to some early takeoffs and high amplitude.
If he is able to throw in some ridiculous tricks to go along with his height above the rim, Nance could be the standout star on his former home court at Staples Center.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Don’t let Dennis Smith Jr.’s height fool you, as the 6’3", 195-pounder can take off with the best dunkers in the game.
The North Carolina State product has put his incredible vertical leap on display throughout his rookie campaign, and it’s been one of the few bright spots in the Dallas Mavericks’ season.
Smith’s best dunks have come after beating defenders off the dribble near the top of the key.
The 20-year-old has also been able to show off his technical ability on dunks in transition with a few 360-degree slams in his repertoire.
Expect Smith to use a variety of spins at the rim, and look for most of his attempts to start at halfcourt or outside the three-point line.
Victor Oladipo is looking to add the title of Slam Dunk Contest champion to his impressive 2017-18 season resume.
The Indiana Pacers shooting guard is enjoying a breakout season as one of the young superstars of the game, and he has another opportunity to announce his presence to the NBA world.
Oladipo’s extension and ability underneath the rim will help distance himself from the other competitors.
Don’t count out Oladipo’s past experience in the Slam Dunk Contest in 2015 (when he was runner-up to Zach LaVine) as a factor that could help him come out victorious.
With the knowledge of how tough the judges will scrutinize the slams, Oladipo should bring an added degree of difficulty to his attempts.
The Donovan Mitchell hype train rolls into Los Angeles with a full head of steam.
The burgeoning superstar guard for the Utah Jazz enters the Slam Dunk Contest with all the confidence in the world, as his team is on a 10-game winning streak.
Mitchell has a similar highlight reel to the other participants in terms of his extension around the rim, which he’s displayed on a few putback slams.
The collection of dunks he’s shown off in the first half of the season include some of the one-handed variety and some flashy transition slams.
Although the other three players are experiencing great seasons, none of them are playing with the confidence Mitchell is at the moment.
Look for the Jazz rookie to benefit from his current run of form and challenge for a perfect score with each of his slams.
Prediction: Mitchell over Oladipo in the final
It’s hard to deny how well Mitchell is playing at the moment, and he’ll be able to use the confidence and momentum created by the Jazz’s winning streak to take All-Star Saturday by storm.
Oladipo’s experience from previous Slam Dunk contests will move him into the final, but he’ll lose out to the rookie phenom, who will join Jeremy Evans from 2012 as champions of the event from the Jazz.
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February 13, 2018 at 10:23PM