For the majority of players and coaches, the 2020–21 NBA season has been as unexciting as any. In a normal season, players could rely on fan excitement after big plays or chants during the game to boost their energy. Without fans in the arena this season, teams have had to suffice with their own sideline energy and recorded crowd noise to pump up their players.
Despite this fact, we have still seen some incredible dunks and posters over the past few months. From Zion Williamson to Miles Bridges, the NBA has got a very strong crop of young high flyers right now. One can only imagine the real-time reactions to some of this year’s highlight plays had fans been able to attend.
Sports Illustrated ranks the top eight dunks of the NBA season so far.
8. Lauri Markkanen over Moses Brown
Markkanen has got some tremendous offensive potential. Here, the Bulls seven-footer runs a hand-off with Thaddeus Young before getting into lane and obliterating Brown, a Thunder center, at the basket.
Markkanen, once thought to be Chicago’s future franchise player, has been relegated to sixth-man duties since the Bulls acquired centers Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis. Since Markkanen will be a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, many teams could be champing at the bit to give the Finnish forward another shot at being a starter.
7. Russell Westbrook over Bismack Biyombo
Even after playing 11 NBA seasons, undergoing numerous surgeries and losing his jump shot (though not losing his willingness to take them), Westbrook can still fly by guys and put up some jaw-dropping highlight plays.
Case in point is his dunk over Biyombo. Using a hesitation move, Westbrook freezes Gordon Hayward for just enough time to get by him and then elevates over Biyombo for a monster slam. Adding insult to injury, the Wizards guard pulls out his patented mean mug after the play.
6. R.J. Hampton over Cedi Osman
Hampton has shown some good flashes in the brief minutes he has gotten so far in the NBA. Though his jump shot leaves much to be desired, he is still very athletic and quick when he gets the ball in the open court.
A prime example of his transition ability is his dunk over Osman. When he intercepts the pass from Dean Wade, there are two defenders solidly ahead of Hampton. Instead of stepping in front of him, Osman tries to deny the pass to the corner and time a block on Hampton’s dunk at the rim. Needless to say, this play does not end well for the Turkish forward.
5. Nikola Vučević over Draymond Green
Green has made a career off of not letting anyone, let alone a center, get by him off the dribble. The 6' 6" big man is not the most athletic defender in the NBA, but his defensive instincts have previously led to him being Defensive Player of the Year.
On this play, Vučević catches Green off guard by attacking the rim right when he catches the ball. He keeps the ball on his left side, gathers for only a split second—not giving his defender an opportunity to knock the ball away—and hammers it in over Green’s and Kelly Oubre Jr.’s outstretched arms.
4. Zion Williamson over Chimezie Metu
Williamson is so explosive that Metu had virtually no chance of stopping him one-on-one once he got the ball that close to the basket. Williamson faked going baseline, took two quick dribbles before he was already at the rim and threw it in effortlessly.
Plays like this show why the young power forward has been so hard to stop over the past month. Over his last 15 games, Williamson is averaging more than 30 points per game on above 60% shooting from the field. With opposing coaches seemingly throwing their hands up in the air, he could be picking up many more plays like this over the next month.
3. Kawhi Leonard over Deandre Ayton
The fact that Leonard was able to finish this dunk is amazing. He first beats Mikal Bridges off the dribble, zips by the help defense of Devin Booker and Jae Crowder, who were both a step too late, and then slams it in over Ayton.
Leonard, along with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, might be the only one in the NBA freakish enough to make a play like this. If his hands were a bit smaller, Leornard would not have been able to still touch the rim at the end of this play. But, then again, his enormous hands are the reason he is nicknamed “The Claw.”
2. Miles Bridges over Clint Capela
Capela is no slouch when it comes to protecting the rim. He was the paint protector for a really good Rockets defense in 2017–18, and the big man is possibly having the best defensive season of his career, ranking third in the NBA with 2.2 blocks per game.
So Bridges’s decision to decline a clean three-point jumper and then challenge Capela at the rim came as a surprise on this play. However, the Hornets’ lottery pick showed why he has become one of the most exciting dunkers in the NBA this season, posterizing Capela with a monster one-handed dunk.
1. Anthony Edwards over Yuta Watanabe
Edwards’s off-the-bounce explosion is almost unrivaled in the NBA. The way he gets to top speed starting from the three-point line and flies over Watanabe for a vicious slam is just incredible. Even Watanabe’s teammates paused for a second after this play to process the destruction that just occurred before helping him up.
Boom or bust, Edwards’s talent makes him so exciting to watch on a night-to-night basis. If he can get a handle on his shot selection, which has been off-the-charts bad for the past couple of months, the T-Wolves might be very happy someday that they took a chance on him with the No. 1 pick.