The NBA slam dunk contest is for little guys. That’s the prevailing thought. But it’s not entirely true.
That’s the good news for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s second year forward who was officially announced as a participant in the slam dunk contest yesterday, alongside Mason Plumlee, Victor Oladipo and the favoite, Zach LaVine. Why is Lavine the favorite? We’ll discuss in a moment. But let’s start with the little guys.
No, the slam dunk contest is not for little guys, because only a few of them are really impressive dunkers. Only a few of them can really dunk at all. There’s a reason it was special when Spud Webb or Nate Robinson dunked. It was the rarity of the event. Only three players under 6-foot-1 have ever won the dunk contest. Webb, Robinson and Dee Brown. So this isn’t a little man’s event.
But it isn’t a big man’s event either. It’s even more rare that a player 6-foot-10 or taller wins the dunk contest. Three guys have done it once each. Larry Nance won in 1984, Dwight Howard won in 2008 and Blake Griffin won in 2011. That’s the list of big men.
Every other winner was between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-9. A bunch of swing men. The dudes who attack the basket from the wing and jump over or power through their defenders. The guys who throw it off the backboard in games or can windmill specifically avoid a blocked shot. Those are your dunk contest winners.
The average height of a dunk contest winner from 1984-2014 is 6-foot-5. The average winner is Harold Miner or Jason Richardson or Cedric Ceballos. They combined grace and power in a way that awed the judges. How tall is Zach LaVine? 6-foot-5. Not only is LaVine 6-5, but he does stuff like this:
That’s where Giannis may struggle. He’s so damn long that a 360 dunk off the backboard or a free throw line dunk isn’t going to seem quite as impressive. And he doesn’t have the power – or the showmanship, quite frankly, which makes me sad to say because, wow Dwight Howard is not funny – of a Dwight Howard. When he dunks, people are more impressed with how far away from the basket he is, rather than how hard he threw it down.
So distance from the basket may be where Giannis needs to make his mark. The NBA’s first slam dunk contest was won by the aforementioned Nance, whose dunks really seemed to emphasize his length. Look at the extension he gets on his arms. Look how far away from the basket he is when he throws in that first two-handed dunk off the backboard.
The dunks Giannis has completed that have drawn the most attention fall in line with Nance’s first dunk. He dunked a skyhook and people went crazy. Google isn’t sure if it takes him two or three dribbles to go the length of the court, but it’s impressive either way.
So that’s his big shot. If Giannis can jump from the 3-point line or do something absurd that demonstrates how long he is and how much control he has over his terrifying length, he’ll have a chance. But LaVine is going to be hard to beat.