The "Dunk of the Year" competition has been so fierce this season that a simple ground rule must be set before wading into the discussion: Only posterizations need apply.
The league simply has too much athleticism, power and creativity for anything except a contested slam to rate. Yes, that leaves out great moments such as Jamal Crawford's between-the-legs alley-oop to Blake Griffin or Terrence Ross' 360, but there's just no substitute for the degree of difficulty -- not to mention showmanship -- involved in finishing over a moving target.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 dunks of the season, as The Point Forward continues its look at the best and worst of 2012-13.
Durant's length and steadily improving handle and strength have transformed him into a ferocious finisher over the last two or three seasons. Though this slam over Brendan Haywood in the 2011 playoffs is probably his best effort, this is pretty work, too. After shaking Suns forward Michael Beasley with a hesitation dribble at the top of the key, Oklahoma City's three-time scoring champion attacks the paint to execute a fling dunk over Gortat, a 6-foot-11 center averaging 1.6 blocks.
Great details worth noting: Kendrick Perkins' fist pump (No. 5 in blue), Gortat's head duck of shame and the reaction from Thunder rookie Jeremy Lamb (on the bench at right), who looks like someone who witnessed a crime and doesn't want to give a statement to the police.
In this early-season stunner, Boston's Green coasted past a confused Paul Millsap of Utah to set up a body-on-body slam over Jefferson that immediately brought the TD Garden to its feet. The taunting technical Green received for the staredown was well worth it, as this was the type of dunk that won't soon be forgotten by all the involved parties. Jefferson, not exactly known for his defensive prowess (he was on the receiving end of another top-10 candidate on Tuesday, from Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook), got an arm up and into a position that would have been good enough to contest most driving efforts. This, of course, wasn't most driving efforts.
Kidd-Gilchrist's initialized nickname -- "MKG" -- sounds like some sort of Soviet weapon, which makes all the sense in the world after you watch the Bobcats' rookie detonate over Detroit's Monroe. The No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft looks like a rim-seeking missile as he saves a bit of a broken play by taking one dribble and launching from the middle of the paint to throw down one-handed over the 6-11 Monroe. The force of his liftoff and the strong follow-through combine to make this fairly terrifying.
The 34-year-old Bryant had a number of dunks this season that left people asking, "Are we in 2013 or 2003?" His slam past Hawks forward Josh Smith was great, but this one was twice as nice, as he managed to get two Nets defenders into his poster. After driving past Wallace into the paint with the shot clock ticking down, Bryant elevated to throw down a thunderous dunk straight over Humphries, as "Crash" tried to challenge from the back side.
Bonus points for the loud "pop" caught on the courtside microphone and for all the cheering the dunk prompted at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. One major benefit of a fan base that travels well is that highlights on the road often feel like they happened at home. Then again, this one should have been cheered if it happened on Mars.
Watching this brings back shades of the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen Bulls. They were nightmare for opposing guards, they made you pay for mistakes and they often did so in highlight fashion. The Heat check off all of those boxes on this one.
Dwyane Wade set the stage by poking the ball away from Boston's Terry. Before anyone could blink, the ball had been flipped to Mario Chalmers, who passed ahead to Norris Cole, who fully understands his role as designated lob thrower in transition. That teed up a barreling James perfectly. With the Heat bench beginning to rise in anticipation, James emphatically dropped Terry to the court as he threw down a one-handed slam.
We're all a bit desensitized to James' above-the-rim greatness by now, but this one stood out from his vast portfolio.
Some of the NBA's biggest stars are on this list. Mullens, alas, is not one of them.
Everything about this is unconventional. For starters, it comes off an offensive rebound of a missed three-pointer against a set Trail Blazers defense. (You won't be surprised to find out that Portland ranks 26th in defensive efficiency and is last at protecting the rim.) Once Charlotte's Mullens corrals his own miss near the top of the key, he takes one dribble into the paint and launches from inside the free-throw-line circle to throw down a go-go gadget one-handed slam over Aldridge. Replays show Mullens' midsection near the 6-11 Aldridge's head. Jaw-dropping.
This is surely the most underrated poster of the season. Toronto's DeRozan, a two-time Slam Dunk Contest participant, is no stranger to high-flying acrobatics, and Denver's Mozgov, of course, is no stranger to getting victimized.
The sequence starts innocently enough, with DeRozan slowly entering the paint as Mozgov attempts to rotate back into position. The acceleration from there is vicious: DeRozan takes off, hangs, hangs, hangs, and finally dunks over the outstretched arm of the jumping 7-1 Mozgov. Full extension over full extension. He pounds it through cleanly, as easy as could be, and pauses only briefly to bounce in celebration with the Raptors' bench before getting back on defense nonchalantly.
One problem with old-school video games: The characters used to unexpectedly and unnaturally jump from one place to another. There was no rhyme or reason to the glitches, which were disorienting at best and game-changing at worst.
Henderson embodies that insane frenetic motion with his soaring dunk over Howard. The Bobcats' guard climbs so high and so fast that it starts to get surreal, and then he climbs even higher and faster. After a shovel pass from Bismack Biyombo, the 6-5 Henderson gets head level with the rim, appearing to rise more as Howard extends an arm to shove him from the hoop. That extra lift came with some bicycle-style leg kicking that made the dunk that much more eye-popping. (The Lakers' bench was impressed, as the clip shows.) He earned the and-one call, too, if anyone watching was still coherent enough to care.
Barnes was pitched as the prototype wing scorer coming out of high school: right size, right athleticism, right scoring ability. This is damn near the prototype poster.
Here was the sequence: The Warriors' rookie cuts into the paint aggressively; receives a nice pass from David Lee at the perfect moment; gets into a two-footed takeoff with no hesitation; extends to maximum height while cocking the ball back for an added aesthetic touch; and then buries the 6-11 Pekovic of Minnesota with a clean finish. The always-excitable Oracle Arena crowd appropriately lost its mind. Speed, power, timing, grace -- everything that you could possibly want.
As Chris Paul set up the offense in the half court, Jordan sneaked around Lamar Odom at the top of the key to find open space in the paint behind a Detroit defense that was flooding the ball side. Paul lofted a pass that Jordan caught outside the restricted circle as Knight rotated into the paint to help. The left-handed Jordan, a 6-11 center, cocked the ball back with his right hand, spread his legs in the air and piledrived the ball through the 6-3 Knight into the hoop cleanly.
The dunk produced a wide variety of responses. The Clippers couldn't help but laugh. Kids in the audience bounced giddily. Multiple Pistons looked horrified. Jordan looked like this. Meanwhile, the Internet reacted as if Knight had been killed, and he indeed lay on the ground for an extended period of time without moving. The Wikipedia pages of Jordan and Knight were quickly edited -- Jordan was called a murderer, Knight a murder victim -- and dozens of fans scurried to Photoshop to craft memes centered on the dunk's brutality. Before long, a debate raged about whether Knight should be the one celebrated for giving up his body.
Nitpickers will say that points should be deducted because Jordan, the bigger player, posterized Knight, the smaller one. Go ahead, take off all the points you want for that, but this remains the year's best dunk. As great as Barnes' slam was, it just won't have the staying power of Jordan's hammer alley-oop finish over the hopeless Knight. Much like James' dunk-jumping over John Lucas III last season, there's a good chance we're still talking about this dunk 10 years from now. That makes this the Dunk of the Year.