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Five best in-game dunkers in the NBA

Feb 23, 2010, 12:20 PM EDT

nba_james2_250.jpgDunking in a game is radically different than dunking in the Dunk Contest. As Eric Freeman pointed out at The Baseline — in game the “how” is often tightly defined as the dunker has a small window and defenders are closing in on him. It’s a race to the basket. The best dunks often come right  on or over that defender who closed out a split second too late.

Part of the problem with the dunk contest is we pick great in-game dunkers and expect them to be able to be brilliant in a totally different setting — one without defenders, where creativity is prized as much or more than athleticism.

Personally, give me the in-game dunks any day. Which leads to the question: Who are the five best in-game dunkers in the league? I’d say:

1. LeBron James, Cleveland. He is athletically gifted like nobody in the league, he gets to the rim on drives nobody else could, and he finishes with thunderous, manly dunks on plays when everyone else would have settled for the pull-up jumper. LeBron would make my all-time, in-game dunkers list (along with Michael Jordan, young Kobe Bryant and Charles Barkley, to start).

2. Josh Smith, Atlanta. The best ally-oop finisher in the league, and maybe the second best athlete in the league. Like LeBron his finishes drives with dunks that nobody else really finishes — and he does it with the left hand, thank you very much. (Smith is the one guy who would make the blocks and dunks top five list.)

3. Shannon Brown, Lakers. He is the prototypical player made for in game dunks, but not the right personality for the dunk contest. But the LetShannonDunk movement started for a reason — this guy can throw down and often does it over people. He loses a couple points because so many of his best dunks come in garbage time, but you can’t hold that against him too much.

4. Rudy Gay, Memphis. Out in transition, maybe the best finisher in the league. When Memphis runs there is building electricity in the air because Gay may get the chance to finish and have the highlight of the game.

5. Dwyane Wade, Miami. He does not dunk as often as some of the others on the list, but his path to the basket is always crowded with defenders, so when he does dunk it is almost always over somebody. Plus, he plays with such a reckless abandon for his own well being that he also dunks balls he shouldn’t.

Honorable mention: Dwight Howard, Andre Iguodala.

  1. Lance Dang - Feb 25, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    Look, it’s not best in game dunkers of all time. They are just refering to the 2010 season and where is amar’e and howard?

  2. booo kobe.. - Feb 25, 2010 at 10:48 AM

    booo kobe

  3. Brian - Feb 25, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Clyde “The Glide” Drexler as one of the all-time best in-game dunkers.
    Perhaps his lackluster efforts in the dunk contest year after year has colored people’s memory of him, but there was a reason he was picked to participate on All-Star weekend year after year. He had both some of the nastiest and the most graceful throwdowns in history.
    His near foul line glide dunk against the Lakers his rookie season is an all-time classic. His viscious facial dunks on the likes of Manute Bol, David Robinson, Chris Dudley, Bill Cartwright and Sean Elliott are highly underrated. And, of course, he actually jumped completely over the head of a defender in college (Andre Turner of Memphis State) to throw down a dunk. (That was college of course. In the NBA, he very nearly jumped over Isiah Thomas in the 1990 Finals, which should automatically give him bonus points.)
    Look him up on Youtube and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

  4. AJ - Feb 25, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    no love for IGGY???

  5. SVT - Feb 25, 2010 at 7:35 PM

    VINCENT CARTER BY FAR THE BEST DUNKER EVER. THOSE GUYS DON’T EVEN COMPARE.

  6. Wes - Feb 26, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    WHAT? Mr. Helin, no VC on your all-time list? How is THAT possible?
    1. Vince
    2. Dominique
    3. Kemp
    4. Jordan
    5. Lebron
    Honorable mentions to be strongly argued for:
    Shaq
    Dr. J.
    Darryl Dawkins
    Young Kobe
    Harold Miner
    Cedric Ceballos
    Scottie Pippen

  7. Keith Brown - Feb 27, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Wes, how could you put Dr. J in the honorable mention category? He is definitely in the top 5! Have you ever seen Dr. J’s in game dunks in the ABA & NBA? While I certainly won’t argue with you about Vince Carter but Kemp and Lebron are behind Dr. J for best in game dunks. He might very well be the best of all-time in terms of in game dunks. No doubt Vince, Jordan and Wilkins make the list.

  8. bassman32276 - Mar 11, 2010 at 1:17 AM

    in game dunkers all time?
    #1-vince carter
    #2-dominique wilkins
    #3-michael jordan
    #4-julius irving
    #5-clyde drexler
    no question. if you don’t agree, perhaps you need to do a little research.

  9. Andre Miller - Mar 18, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    If only for the shock factor, Andre Miller has to be on this list… “The Dunk” in Denver was hilarious, especially the reaction from the bench.

  10. Shawn Kemp Fan Club - Mar 19, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    I give props to all the people who have been mentioned on the list.
    VC had some amazing hops but dunking over a 7 foot Cambodian or Australian that can’t even make a USA high school basketball team doesn’t make you the greatest in game dunker. The same goes for anyone who got one on Manute Bol or Shawn Bradley.
    Dr. J was great in his time because like Wilt he was a freak of nature at the time. The only person who had a realistic chance of guarding and shutting him down one on one was Michael Cooper.
    MJ is my favorite all time player and he has his fair share of posters. BUT I always thought MJ’s most amazing plays were where he didn’t dunk. He had some multi-misdirection moves with the hand clap english that were simply amazing. (It amazes me why even today people don’t use hand clap english after he demonstrated it to perfection)
    Lebron – TBD. I like Lebron and he is a freak of nature but I actually think dunking is just simply too easy for him. He also hasn’t demonstrated to me that he has the necessary killer instinct to be on the all time list. But losing out on championships is a good motivator. We will see.
    Kobe – Shouldn’t be mentioned here. He’s had some posters but his hands are too small. Sorry KB24.
    For the old schoolers… and people who claim they know basketball to omit Chocolate Thunder – Darryl Dawkins, the original rim ripper is a tragedy. Still he isn’t number one on the list.
    And the all time number one in-game dunker..
    Shawn “The Rainman” Kemp – If you don’t know then you better ask somebody. I’ve never seen anyone dunk with as much force and reckless abandon as this man. For quite a few years when he was in his prime it was clear the f’n lane when Shawn had the ball because A. you were getting dunked on and taking the foul or B. Stick your hand up there and run the risk of getting your arm broken off. What an absolute waste of talent he turned out to be but there was nobody who could one or two step take off with the quickness and power he had. And he played in an era where the league wasn’t pussified like it is now. Back then you could expect to get the business when you came in the lane unlike now.
    And there you have it… Listen and learn. Break out your Youtube and do your research. Otherwise sit down and away with your thirst clowns.
    Before I post.. I forgot about two of the best little man in game dunkers… Kevin Johnson and Spud Webb!
    and for the token white guys… Thunder Dan Majerle (sp?) and Tom Chambers.

  11. Shawn Kemp - Mar 19, 2010 at 4:40 AM

    I give props to all the people who have been mentioned on the list.
    VC had some amazing hops but dunking over a 7 foot Cambodian or Australian that can’t even make a USA high school basketball team doesn’t make you the greatest in game dunker. The same goes for anyone who got one on Manute Bol or Shawn Bradley.
    Dr. J was great in his time because like Wilt he was a freak of nature at the time. The only person who had a realistic chance of guarding and shutting him down one on one was Michael Cooper.
    MJ is my favorite all time player and he has his fair share of posters. BUT I always thought MJ’s most amazing plays were where he didn’t dunk. He had some multi-misdirection moves with the hand clap english that were simply amazing. (It amazes me why even today people don’t use hand clap english after he demonstrated it to perfection)
    Lebron – TBD. I like Lebron and he is a freak of nature but I actually think dunking is just simply too easy for him. He also hasn’t demonstrated to me that he has the necessary killer instinct to be on the all time list. But losing out on championships is a good motivator. We will see.
    Kobe – Shouldn’t be mentioned here. He’s had some posters but his hands are too small. Sorry KB24.
    For the old schoolers… and people who claim they know basketball to omit Chocolate Thunder – Darryl Dawkins, the original rim ripper is a tragedy. Still he isn’t number one on the list.
    And the all time number one in-game dunker..
    Shawn “The Rainman” Kemp – If you don’t know then you better ask somebody. I’ve never seen anyone dunk with as much force and reckless abandon as this man. For quite a few years when he was in his prime it was clear the f’n lane when Shawn had the ball because A. you were getting dunked on and taking the foul or B. Stick your hand up there and run the risk of getting your arm broken off. What an absolute waste of talent he turned out to be but there was nobody who could one or two step take off with the quickness and power he had. And he played in an era where the league wasn’t pussified like it is now. Back then you could expect to get the business when you came in the lane unlike now.
    And there you have it… Listen and learn. Break out your Youtube and do your research. Otherwise sit down and away with your thirst clowns.
    Before I post.. I forgot about two of the best little man in game dunkers… Kevin Johnson and Spud Webb!
    and for the token white guys… Thunder Dan Majerle (sp?) and Tom Chambers.

  12. Iggy the best 2k10 dunker - Mar 28, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    hahaha….VC didn’t dunk on an australian or a cambodian , he dunked on frederick Weis who is french and played fot the new york knicks.
    just in case you’re not con”vinced” here is something for you:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0jAPQb_dNw
    Good luck finding a cambodian…..LMAO!

  13. JESSE11368 - May 6, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    ***J.R. SMITH***…………..C’MON SON !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. KiwiBird - Jul 7, 2010 at 1:49 PM

    The guy who made this article must have a mancrush on lebron.
    How else could lebron be number one. Whilst he may be difficult to stop in his tracks he ain’t that gifted a dunker at all. If you go to youtube, and type in any, and i mean any nba’er with a little bit of name, and then type in lebron, you’ll notice the difference right away. The guy is a one-trick pony. I find all his lovers to be hilarious, these guys are going mental after watching 10 of the exact same dunk. Whilst i’m thinking, when o when will there finally be some creativity, some real skill instead of athleticism. After 30 seconds of watching i was completely bored out of my skull. In my mind he had already obtained the title of most boring dunker ever. When he was going to enter the slam dunk contest I thought that maybe at long last he’s gonna prove he has some real dunking skills after all. I guess he must have realised this not to be the case. he must have realised that his dunking ability is in truth limited to athleticism without real skill behind it. After all people saying that it is only natural that he doesn’t participate is because he has got nothing to gain and everything to lose. But that’s not the case. Especially after his defeat to the boston celtics. He lacked determination, he lacked belief n that series, and not entering proves that yet again. Whilst he calls himself a king, he does in fact not have the mind of a king. A real king would have stayed true to his word, a real king would have shown that world he owned that dunking contest from the moment he entered it. But he didn’t. He wussed out. This to me is just more prove that lebron is at least not yet a real king, and unless he gains that mentality, the mentality that says i’ll do what i say i’m gonna do, and there is nobody who can stop me, no matter what they throw at me, he ain’t ever gonna be a real king. Not even should he win a championship. At least not to me. Bill Russel was a king, Michael Jackson was a king, Bryant at the age of 31, now that he finally left some ghosts behind has established himself as king. lebron has not. It takes more then being a freak of nature to set yourself apart. Look at Wilt Chamberlain,a great player, he had everything going for him, but stood in the shadow of Bill Russel, the true king of the era. Lebron lacks certain intagibles to be the king.

  15. KiwiBird - Jul 7, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    Edit previous post:
    Ofc. i meant michael Jordan, strange how the mind thinks one thing, and the body does something else when you do/typ things quickly.

  16. KiwiBird - Jul 7, 2010 at 1:53 PM

    Edit previous post:
    Ofc. i meant michael Jordan, strange how the mind thinks one thing, and the body does something else when you do/typ things quickly.

  17. KiwiBird - Jul 7, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    Edit previous post:
    Ofc. i meant michael Jordan, strange how the mind thinks one thing, and the body does something else when you do/typ things quickly.

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