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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. Justin K - Feb 23, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    No love for Jamario Moon?

  2. Darius - Feb 23, 2010 at 1:36 PM

    Very nice list, Kurt. Your top 5 and honorable mentions would pretty much be my list and it’s splitting hairs with any player from that group. They’re all just fantastic at throwing it down. I too prefer the dunks that come in traffic, so Wade and Lebron are two of my top choices, along with Shannon just because they’re the guys that put the most defenders on posters. If this was only judging alley-oops, I’d say it’s Smith, Howard, then Lebron – those guys just seem to have a great feel for tracking the ball in the air and then following through with power. On a side note, I applaud the choice of Rudy, his athleticism is off the charts and I love those double pump reverses that he does on fast breaks and on openings to the baseline when the help defender doesn’t show (and I don’t blame the help defender for not rotating when he’s coming along the baseline with two steps on his defender).
    My all time list would be Jordan, ‘Nique, Barkely, young Kobe, and Kemp. Those guys were devastating in any game situation – open court, break away, in traffic, whenever.

  3. Tim - Feb 23, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    Vince still shows it off (i.e. Sunday against the Cavs).

  4. rK - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:06 PM

    I think one of the greatest and ofeten most overlooked in-game dunkers of all time was Shawn Kemp…check him out on YouTube, his top 10 in-game dunks destroys anyone past or present!

  5. damon williams - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:12 PM


  6. BC - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    Best dunker ever:

  7. CV - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Pippen used to have some monster dunks in traffic and on the break too…

  8. BC - Feb 23, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Shawn Kemp was incredible before he got fat and had 17 kids.

  9. Brandon Edwards - Feb 23, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    Derrick Rose…. Have you guys seen that Phoenix Suns clip?

  10. Tsunami - Feb 23, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    Excellent list although I would have
    had Iguodala 2nd and Rudy Gay hm

  11. Tsunami - Feb 23, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    Excellent list although I would have
    had Iguodala 2nd and Rudy Gay hm

  12. bv - Feb 23, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    no love for a young shaq? c’mon the guy used to bring down rims, glass, entire hoops for that matter.

  13. dt - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    garbage list

  14. R13 - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    GERALD WALLACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. j - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:36 PM

    Yay! let’s put lebron number one on every list

  16. Matt - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    Since “best dunker” seems pretty arbitrary, it sounds like you’re picking more for style than volume.
    Given that, how on earth is Lebron not on the list with Josh Smith as a top dunker? Have you not seen all the chase downs? Did you not see him block a breakaway 360?? Who else pins Dwight Howard’s shots to the backboard?

  17. KneeJerkNBA - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    LeBron and Wade for sure. Dwight Howard and Amare deserve some love too. They’ve posterized every front court player in the league at least once.

  18. rums - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:49 PM

    Vince Carter had the best in-game dunks…. his single year highlight films from 1999-2004 were better than most peoples CAREER highlights… though now he’s not… but all time… Carter has to be number 1

  19. brian - Feb 23, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    WHERES THE LOVE FOR GERALD WALLACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

  20. caligirl - Feb 23, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    I agree bv! He’s not called shaq diesel for nothing…

  21. DR - Feb 23, 2010 at 6:20 PM

    Shannon Brown can dunk. Even in contests (look up Lebron’s High school dunk competition with Brown in it). I still don’t know what happened to him (or the others in that contest) but the guy does put people on Posters. I want a Brown over (long list) poster.
    Also I agree with the guys mentioning Kemp. Some guy gave Kemp props moments after getting dunked on by him lol.

  22. Anonymous - Feb 23, 2010 at 6:32 PM

    LeBron does top the list, he’s just listed before the video.

  23. Isaac - Feb 23, 2010 at 6:44 PM


  24. Tsunami - Feb 23, 2010 at 7:43 PM


  25. Chappelle - Feb 23, 2010 at 7:57 PM

    Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, AND Dylan!

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