The Staples Center in Los Angeles will host NBA All-Star Weekend. Once the home of the Showtime Lakers, the arena clears the stage for the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest with the son of a former champion as a participant.
A 2015 contestant, Victor Oladipo, and two impressive rookie combo guards in Dennis Smith Jr. and Donovan Mitchell join Larry Nance Jr. in the much-anticipated event Saturday night.
Spectators in attendance will find themselves in an electric atmosphere. We could see two rookies face-off for the title. Nance may follow in his father’s footsteps, a winner in the 1984 competition over high-flying stars Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins.
Initially, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon received an invite, but a hip injury forced him to withdraw his name. Mitchell took his place. Based on in-game highlights, he looks like a suitable replacement. Let’s take a look at the participants and what may propel them to victory Saturday night.
Meet the Dunkers
Heading into the All-Star Break, Mitchell leads the Utah Jazz in scoring with 19.3 points per game, but he also leads the team in air mileage as a frequent flyer. The 21-year-old rookie plays above the rim with impressive hops and thunderous throwdowns in the paint—a style that started before he reached the NBA:
Mitchell’s athleticism followed him through college at Louisville to the pros, which allowed him to earn recognition as a top dunker in the league. In preparation, he’s going through old videos to re-create magic Saturday night:
There’s much said about the lack of flash in Utah, but Mitchell plans to change the narrative, at least for one night. Don’t sleep on the rookie, who comes into this event as a substitute. A tomahawk jam or a 360 windmill could help him claim the dunk title.
For Oladipo, there’s an extra motive that drives him as a participant in the competition. He’s attempting to take one for the team since the previous winner and fellow Indiana Pacer Glenn Robinson III can’t defend his crown:
Nonetheless, it’s more than stepping in for a teammate. Oladipo took part in the spectacle on the biggest basketball stage in New York City for the 2015 contest. How could anyone forget his singing voice followed by an amazing 360 dunk that TNT analyst Reggie Miller called a 540:
At this point, fans know about Oladipo‘s golden pipes, but can he put his vocal talent and athleticism together to keep the title in Indiana? Maybe he’ll walk out reciting a clean Tupac track to hype the crowd before crushing his opponents. The combination would bring spectators out of their seats.
Dennis Smith Jr.
Similar to Mitchell, Smith’s rookie year has impressed many, and the 2000 dunk champion Vince Carter took note. The all-time high-flyer delivered a message to the Dallas Mavericks guard, per SLAM magazine:
As expected, Carter’s support adds some fuel Smith’s competitive juices. According to Mavs.com reporter Earl Sneed, the 20-year-old plans to showcase something he’s never done, which would ignite the audience:
Smith has already drawn attention his way. Those who haven’t watched him throw down a 360 slam with ease would call him a dark-horse candidate to win, but Mavericks fans know what we might see Saturday night. This particular dunk may count as a warm-up routine:
Now, it’s clear why Carter put his support behind Smith. It takes an innovative rim-rocker to know one on the up. The first-year guard will have the arena at full tilt.
Larry Nance Jr.
The third-year pro also grew up with an example in the household. As mentioned, his father won the 1984 dunk contest in Denver and the tale lives on through old tapes and a T-shirt:
Nonetheless, it’s not about a 1984 template. Nance has a unique source for ideas, but he received an invite due to being a respected dunker in the bright lights, ask Kevin Durant:
It’s worth mentioning spectacular in-game dunks mimicked during solo acts may not correlate. Nance can dunk over or on someone Saturday, but it wouldn’t carry the same effect compared to a competitive game in progress. He must use personality and appeal to draw love from his former fanbase in Los Angeles.
As a taller participant standing at 6’9", Nance will have different approaches in attacking the rim. Ultimately, will size matter?
The broadcasters will likely discuss a rookie vs. rookie final, but it’s fair to question whether nerves play a part in a shaky performance for either first-year player. However, Smith’s vow to show the crowd something fresh gives him an edge if he’s able to complete the dunk.
As the veteran of the group, don’t underestimate Oladipo‘s ability to engage the crowd—an often overlooked factor in the event. Showmanship could elevate an average dunk. The lack thereof could hurt an impressive finish.
The rookies must display some charisma along with creativity to take the 2018 dunk title. There’s much buzz around Smith and Mitchell as remarkable combo guards with pizzazz. Nonetheless, Oladipo goes into the contest as an established version of the two with experience and a creative mind.
Projected: Winner: Victor Oladipo
Projected: Runner-up: Dennis Smith Jr.
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February 14, 2018 at 04:24AM