With the playoffs fast approaching, The Point Forward is taking a look back at the best and worst of the 2013-14 season. Previously: fines and suspensions. Next up: dunks.
Good news, dunk lovers: this countdown of the top 10 slams of the 2013-14 season will not end abruptly halfway through for no good reason, giving it a serious leg up on the disastrous 2014 Slam Dunk Contest. No Nick Cannon, either.
Before we get to the countdown, a few leaderboards that might be of interest.
Here's Basketball-Reference.com's list of the 10 most prolific dunkers, along with their season totals through Monday: Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (234), Rockets center Dwight Howard (191), Pistons center Andre Drummond (173), Clippers forward Blake Griffin (165), Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (146), Thunder forward Kevin Durant (130), Heat forward LeBron James (128), Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (109), Rockets forward Terrence Jones (109) and Thunder Serge Ibaka (106).
Now, here's a list of the top-five most prolific highlight dunkers, ranked by their appearances on the NBA.com "Dunk of the Night" this year: James (16), Griffin (12), Jordan (11), Suns guard Gerald Green (10) and Bulls forward Taj Gibson (6).
OK, let's get on with the show. Narrowing down this year's field to just a top 10 was no easy task, so The Point Forward elected to name a list of 10 honorable mention selections. Here's a link to The Point Forward's Top 10 dunks of the 2012-13 season if you're interested in a little reminiscing.
As with last year's list, degree of difficulty and showmanship weigh heavily in these rankings, and poster dunks score bonus points.
This Jeff Green slam from early November sneaks onto the list because of its gumbo-like mix of various ingredients. Watching a player go from the three-point line to the tin in one dribble is always cause for excitement, and there's no underestimating the skill involved in launching off the right foot and finishing with the left hand for a right-handed player. Although Jason Maxiell isn't exactly Bill Russell, his positioning adds a degree of difficulty for Green, who must stretch out to full extension to finish the flush. Toss in a Jumpman-style spread eagle kick in mid-air, a stare at his conquered poster victim, and an Allen Iverson/Tyronn Lue step-over and this is a really complete work of art. Be sure to stick around for the under-the-hoop replay angle for the full effect.
I distinctly remember watching this dunk in real time and feeling serious concern for Marvin Williams' well-being. There are plenty of holes in J.J. Hickson's game, but he racks up his share of poster victims like few other players in the league. What made this one so impressive was Williams' flight path after contact: he immediately flew backwards and down, like a ball of yarn bouncing off of a brick wall. Hickson's height above the rim, his ability to continue elevating after the contact, the two-handed finish and the little extra twist he put on the follow-through helped separate this slam from the rest of his work.
Think Patrick Beverley is nothing more than a pesky on-ball defender? Think again. Although the final posterization of Chris Bosh actually wasn't that violent, the total degree of difficulty on the play was quite high. Battling the clock just before halftime, Beverley had to lose LeBron James with a strong crossover dribble on the perimeter before he even had the chance to detonate on Bosh. And, really, he wasn't just dunking on Bosh because Chris "Birdman" Andersen tried to contest the shot from behind. The 6-foot-1 Beverley cheekily squeezed between the two taller defenders to finish a smooth slam, which looks fabulous in slow motion. Also fabulous? Dwight Howard's eyewitness reaction which includes raised arms and an excited scream.
The first words you will hear out of Phoenix about Gerald Green, whose resurgent season makes him a strong Most Improved Player candidate, is that he's been much more than a dunker. That's all well and good, but he's an absolutely ridiculous dunker, too.
This deep alley-oop finish set up by Goran Dragic is next-level special, and its list of standout qualities is long: Dragic's pass comes from nearly halfcourt, Green is outside the three-point line when the pass is released, the high-flying Kenneth Faried makes a strong play on the ball while also following through to contest the dunk, and Green's head is essentially level with the rim as he finishes. This one might actually look better in full speed rather than slow motion, as it reinforces just how fast and fierce the sequence was from start to finish. Nobody makes high-difficulty dunks look routine quite like Green: the odds of this play being successful are long, considering all of the variables, but Green's smooth finish makes it seem like the surest bet imaginable.
This was another year of steady rim punishment for LeBron James, whether he was tossing down cock-back dunks in the halfcourt or finishing lobs in transition. His most memorable effort of the year came against the Kings in December, when he lulled Derrick Williams to sleep on the perimeter before putting Ben McLemore to bed with a crazy one-handed poster. The four-time MVP got up so high that his thigh connected with McLemore's shoulder, sending the 2013 lottery pick to the court. That contact barely altered James' momentum, and he was seemingly floating in the air with his head at rim-level as he completed the dunk.
“It sucks that it’s him, because I like him,” James said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. "I knew I could get to the launching pad.” Plus, who could forget Chris "Birdman" Andersen's hilarious staggered zombie reaction?
Yes, Gerald Green is the only player to appear on this list twice. It's worth noting that his "highlight dunks to total dunks" efficiency ratio is unmatched: he won NBA.com's "Dunk of the Night" 10 times this season, even though Basketball-Reference has him completing just 54 dunks on the year. Green makes it count with dunks like this double-clutch finish over Nets rookie center Mason Plumlee, who coincidentally pulled off a game-saving block of a LeBron James dunk attempt on Tuesday.
Warning: Do not rush to judgement on this Green dunk after watching the sideline view, as it looks fairly routine. The baseline angle reveals the poetry in motion: Green brings the ball way back away from his body and over his left shoulder as he rises, hanging in the air long enough to rid himself of the 6-foot-10 Plumlee. The snap-through finish and the "no hands" reaction are the icing on the cake. Just watch the Phoenix bench explode to get a full appreciation for this gravity-defying act.
Even though he's only 25 and in just his fourth NBA season, Blake Griffin's dunking career has already seen so many chapters. There was the discovery phase, the Timofey Mozgov stage, the Kia phase, the "it's his world and we're all living in it" phase, the poster victim accumulation stage, the over-saturation phase, and now, perhaps, the under-appreciation stage. Griffin is almost becoming a victim of his own success: by dunking so frequently, so violently and so spectacularly, it's easy to get a bit desensitized to his greatness as a dunker.
His best effort of the year was a Mozgov Sequel -- a "throw dunk" delivered over the top of Kris Humphries from well outside the protected circle. Any time an NBA player can essentially recreate Dwight Howard's "Superman" Slam Dunk Contest effort over a defender during a regular season game, it's going to be special. Here, the best reaction comes from DeAndre Jordan, who instinctively turns away from the carnage, puts both hands on his head, and walks away like he's trying to find the nearest shower to cool off.
There's not a ton to say here: Xavier Henry simply annihilated rookie Jeff Withey. Oh, so fierce. Henry set things up with a fake pass on the perimeter and then hesitated briefly as the paint parted. Once he kicked into gear, though, it was all over in a matter of seconds. The 7-foot Withey got his "Welcome to the NBA" moment from a fellow Kansas Jayhawk, as Henry uncorked a strong, one-handed finish after his lower body made contact with Withey's upper body. The clean finish and the stare applied a bow to a textbook posterization, and the backboard camera provides an amazing look at Henry's deep concentration throughout the play.
2. Paul George
This transition slam from Paul George is the only non-poster dunk included in The Point Forward's top 10 lists for 2012-13 and 2013-14, so you know it's something special. There was a time, a few months ago, when George could do no wrong.
Stepping into the passing lane to grab a steal against the Clippers, George took off for the races with no one in hot pursuit. He didn't quite have all day to set up, but he still had enough time to make up his mind about doing something special. What did he come up with? A spin-the-wrong-way 360 windmill dunk, the same slam that made Shaquille O'Neal lose his mind when Vince Carter pulled it off during the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest.
While there wasn't a defender to add a degree of difficulty, it's not like this dunk is lacking in complexity. So many things could have gone wrong: George could have failed to complete the rotation, he could have over-rotated, he could have taken off from too far out, he could have gotten stuck underneath the hoop, he could have lost the handle on the way up, he could have easily snapped his attempt off the rim by missing wide left or right. Instead: absolutely flawless and totally precise, plus a smooth landing to boot.
The 2013-14 Dunk of the Year -- with a week left in the season, anyway -- comes from Terrence Ross, a two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion (if you count the 2014 team title he won with East teammates Paul George and John Wall). The 6-foot-6 wing understands better than almost anyone how helpful it can be to cock the ball back before delivery. His transition obliteration of Kenneth Faried -- a two-time victim on this list -- was a perfect example of this approach.
After collecting a deflection, Ross took off on the break in a quasi two-on-two situation. As he passed at halfcourt, he seemed to reluctantly decide that it was time to challenge Faried one-on-one. That reluctance was gone by the time he hit the three-point arc, as he picked up steam and looked to get his stride right. Taking off from well outside the protected circle, Ross leaped powerfully towards Faried's body before stretching his right arm way back so that the ball would be out of harm's way. Faried showed excellent hang time, though, so Ross still had to finish the one-handed dunk over a contesting effort. He somehow managed to do just that, even though his body seemingly corked and uncorked throughout the process. The clean finish made this one that much more amazing.