The NBA announced Thursday the six-man field for the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest: defending champion and Raptors guard Terrence Ross, Pacers forward Paul George, Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Wizards guard John Wall, Warriors forward Harrison Barnes and Kings guard Ben McLemore.
The Slam Dunk Contest will be held on Saturday, Feb. 15, in New Orleans. This year's contest will have a new format this year; full details are right here.
That group includes six lottery picks, three 2014 All-Stars (George, Lillard and Wall), two previous Dunk Contest participants (Ross and George) and one previous Dunk Contest champion (Ross, who won the 2013 contest in Houston). The last Dunk Contest to feature three All-Stars was 1988, when Michael Jordan beat out Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler, among others, to claim the title.
All things considered, the 2014 group is a strong field. George, Ross and Wall were all included in The Point Forward's dream six-man field earlier this week, and while the super-duper stars like LeBron James and Blake Griffin decided to pass yet again, the league did well to secure the services of some promising young blood with star power, name recognition and good dunking credentials.
George should be regarded as the early favorite, as he is a technically-skilled dunker and also the biggest name in the group. Name awareness and popularity go a long way in the Dunk Contest, obviously, and George's success in the 2013 playoffs coupled with Indiana's strong start this year gives him a major leg up on the competition. This won't be a cakewalk, but he did receive more than 1.2 million All-Star votes, which puts him on the same level of a Dwight Howard in 2008 or a Blake Griffin in 2011.
Ross was an underground sensation before he claimed last year's title, and he is as natural a dunker as you will ever see: the right size, the right combination of smooth movement and strong finishes, and the right upbeat attitude. He worked his way into "crowd favorite" status in Houston, and there's no reason that can't happen again in New Orleans. His "younger brother" youthful charm might be his secret weapon, but he's clearly not alone on that count, as this is a completely 23-and-under field.
Both Wall and Barnes will be tasked with proving they can make the transition from in-game dunking to contest dunking. Wall is a speed demon and a physical freak, and he's capable of dunking with either hand, both hands, on the run, all while twirling like a tornado. Does he have enough tricks and gimmicks up his sleeve to supplement his physical gifts?
Barnes, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the league's best posterizers, as his small forward size, leaping ability, and fearlessness have claimed many a victim already. Can he find a way to work that unique skill into his Dunk Contest routine, or will he need to re-purpose his powerful style in a more contest-friendly manner?
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Lillard and McLemore are both facing an uphill battle in this competition. According to NBA.com's stats tool, Lillard has thrown down just eight dunks this season despite not missing a game, playing 36 minutes a night and shooting nearly 16 times a game. Even though his portfolio is small, he can still throw it down, and he has a heat-seeking missile vibe to his best rim attacks, while also possessing sneaky hops.
McLemore will need to use the Dunk Contest as a way to introduce himself to a national audience. Playing for the also-ran Kings, McLemore is averaging just 23 minutes per game as a rookie, and this will be his coming out party on the NBA stage. Perhaps best known for his picture-perfect shooting form, McLemore has a big-time vertical and exquisite body control when he's in the air. He should be regarded as this contest's sleeper.
Here's a look at each of the six competitors that includes some highlights:
The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging 10.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in his second season in Toronto. The 23-year-old 2012 lottery pick recently made headlines for his vicious dunk over Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, and an out-of-nowhere 51-point explosion against the Clippers.
The 6-foot-8 All-Star is averaging 22.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in his fourth season in Indiana. The 23-year-old 2010 lottery pick turned in a "Dunk of the Year" candidate with a 360 windmill back in January, and he will make his second career All-Star appearance this year as a starter for the Eastern Conference. He previously competed in the 2012 Dunk Contest, experimenting with a glow-in-the-dark dunk that unfortunately seemed to confuse the crowd.
The 6-foot-3 Lillard is averaging 20.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds in his second season in Portland. The 23-year-old 2012 lottery pick earned 2013 Rookie of the Year honors and has unleashed a few powerful slams this season, even though he is an outside marksman before anything else. He will make his first career All-Star appearance as a Western Conference reserve and will compete in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend.
The 6-foot-4 Wizards star is averaging 19.8 points, 8.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds in his fourth season in Washington. The 23-year-old 2010 No. 1 overall pick will make his first career All-Star appearance as an Eastern Conference reserve. Wall is arguably the league's most dangerous point guard in transition and he's always looking for the most direct path to two points.
The 6-foot-8 swingman is averaging 10 points and 4.1 rebounds in his second season in Golden State. The 21-year-old 2012 lottery pick will compete in the Rising Stars Challenge and his posterization of Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic ranked No. 2 on The Point Forward's list of the top 10 dunks of the 2012-13 season.
The 6-foot-5 rookie is averaging 7.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in his rookie season in Sacramento. The 20-year-old 2013 lottery pick was passed over for the Rising Stars Challenge, but he has plenty of hops to be a factor in this competition.