- Victor Oladipo disappointed in the NBA Dunk Contest (again) while Donovan Mitchell proved that he should be a dunk contest fixture for years to come.
LOS ANGELES—The Dunk Contest is usually the make or break event of All-Star Saturday Night, and for the most part, this year’s edition delivered. With young bucks Donovan Mitchell, Victor Oladipo and the Jrs. Dennis Smith and Larry Nance making up the field, there was always potential for fireworks. We saw mostly bangers Saturday, as Donovan Mitchell ultimately took home the trophy. Let’s grade each participant from worst to first!
Victor Oladipo is a Superhero
Tough night for Oladipo. Victor couldn’t hit his first dunk, and then couldn’t get any love from the judges for the Black Panther Slam. Maybe he needed to wear a full costume? Seriously, imagine dunking, then imagine trying to dunk while wearing a hot-ass latex mask. Oladipo deserved better, but he also missed an opportunity to jump over Chadwick Boseman. What’s important to remember here is this: Make your dunks, kids.
Overall Grade: C+
Dennis Smith Was Robbed
Look, I don’t want to say the fix was in, but I don’t understand how Larry Nance Jr. made the finals. His second dunk, a half-turning one-hander that started from the baseline, didn’t really feel like a “wow!” moment. Yet it earned a 49 from the judges, and gave Nance a comfortable lead over Smith, whose 360-degree, between-the-legs jam was the highlight of the first round. I don’t know how we fix this problem in the future, but we need to do something to reward the best dunks.
However, Smith’s other dunk, a been-there, seen-that reverse double-pump was a lot less cool. So he definitely didn’t win the night.
Overall Grade: B
Larry Nance Definitely Has Hops
Okay, so Nance started the night with a tribute to his father, cradling the ball from the right wing for his first slam. It was a cool visual to watch back-to-back with his dad, but the actual dunk looked like it happened at three-quarters speed. While Nance’s second first-round dunk left a little to be desired, he absolutely brought the wood in the finals.
Nance started with a windmill oop from pops, which is a lot more difficult than it looks. The rotation on the windmill was damn near elliptical in nature, and drew some worthy oohs from the crowd. Nance’s last dunk of the night, a self-oop, tap-the-backboard jam was the kind of dunk you dream of as a kid but never really expect to ever see in real life. I wasn’t excited to see Larry in the ultimate round over Dennis, but he made me eat my words.
Overall Grade: A-
Donovan Mitchell is My Biological Father
OK, Mitchell deserves to be a fixture in the dunk contest for as long as he wants. My goodness. I’m not sure I can recall anyone who cocks the ball as far back as Mitchell before each dunk. Every single dunk of Mitchell’s the ball kept starting farther and farther away from his body before he rocketed it forward with authority. He got a great pass on his side-backboard oop that also included jumping over his sister, Kevin Hart and Hart’s son.
The coup de grace was Mitchell’s homage to Vince Carter on the last dunk of the night. Mitchell’s slam wasn’t quite as incredible, but considering how much shorter he is than Carter, it was definitely impressive. He even mimicked the celebration! Another bonus for Mitchell? He wore some of the sweetest jerseys of the night.
It may not have been the most inventive dunk contest over, but it was certainly far from the worst. I hope to see Mitchell—who told me last week he was more nervous for Saturday than his actual NBA games—get a chance to defend his crown against some heavy hitters in the future.
Overall Grade: A