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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. Brown - Feb 23, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    Julius Erving AKA Dr. J must be named among the top 5 in game dunkers of all time. If you leave him off of the list then either you have never seen his dunks or you really don’t know what you are talking about!

  2. derrick - Feb 23, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    the doctor has to be in mix DR J

  3. carl - Feb 24, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    FTW… Nate Robinson..

  4. Jay - Feb 24, 2010 at 12:12 AM

    You’re a biased idiot. Obviously in the Phoenix area.

  5. dumzky - Feb 24, 2010 at 1:17 AM

    VC.. are u nuts.. in his prime VC can dunk over 7 footers.. DUNK OVER.. VC is argublly the best dunker of all time, revolutionize how to dunk, does anyone in the league can do a reverse 360.. or those anyone in the league dunk over people in a game.. OLYMPICS REMEMBER what he did..

  6. Sham - Feb 24, 2010 at 1:47 AM

    Amar’e, pre-micro-fracture, was one of the best.

  7. Man - Feb 24, 2010 at 2:27 AM

    real list:
    1. LBJ
    2. D.Rose
    3. D.Wade
    4. Josh Smith
    5. D. DeRozen

  8. Fr5nk - Feb 24, 2010 at 4:40 AM

    all-time in-game dunkers without VC? come on..
    1.VC
    2.Nique
    3.MJ
    4.Kemp
    5.LBJ
    young kobe? what about young VC..

  9. OldTimer - Feb 24, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    All-time greatest in-game dunker: Julius “Dr. J” Erving. Period. If you don’t know this I feel sorry that you missed him. You must be too young. No one, not Shaq, Nique, Lebron, Kobe, Jordan, Connie Hawkins, whom ever…, comes close to what Doc could do. He changed the game single-handedly, especially regarding dunks.

  10. milo - Feb 24, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    Lebron does not belong on that list. He is one of the most boring in-game dunkers ever. All he does is throw em down hard – no style or “flashiness”. Same goes for Dwight Howard (and I’m saying this as a Magic fan). And yes, I know that all Lebron-nuthuggers will deny this but it’s true. Face it, Lebron’s pre-game antics are more “spectacular” than his in-game dunks.
    I agree with everybody else on that list and would probably round it out with D.Rose, G.Wallace, A.Iguodala, N.Robinson or R.Westbrook (who’s very underrated).
    If you’re talking all-time then cleary names that come to mind are: Jordan, Kobe, Kemp, Carter and Wilkins.

  11. milo - Feb 24, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    It is getting boring, isn’t it?

  12. The Truth - Feb 24, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Darvin Ham wasn’t even the best dunker in his 1996 class in college. That honor belonged to Purdue’s Justin Jennings or Memphis’ Michael Wilson.

  13. Znamga Petrov - Feb 24, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    I hafta agree! Dr. J was a one-man highlight reel, when it came to dunking, and I’m not even sure Jordan had him beat in that category. I can remember (yep, I’m old enough to do that) a number of “foul-line to rim” dunks that he did that were simply jaw-droppers! The Dude just didn’t seem to understand the concept of “gravity.”

  14. Znamga Petrov - Feb 24, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    I’m with you on that! Lebron produces POWERFUL dunks, but they come off as almost mechanical. Dr. J produced dunks that seemed to incorporate some of the flair and style of Olympic figure skating. They were not just awesome athletic moves: they were almost like choreographed works of art!

  15. Jimmy - Feb 24, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    sorry but D-rose has better dunks than d-wade.

  16. B for Boss - Feb 24, 2010 at 12:07 PM

    ???
    no love for iggy? dude posters kids everyday.
    terrance williams has had huge dunks this year, in-game.

  17. really - Feb 24, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    jason richardson lays down nice game dunks..

  18. papfankon - Feb 24, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    LOL,nice list,but the all time is funny.Those guys you mentioned are not even top 3 in game all time dunkers.VC,Dr J ,Dominique.That is it.NO MJ,no Barkley,definitely no Kobe.How about David Thompson?You just throw in there the some of the best players of all time.Being the best in the game,doesnt mean you are the best in every possible little thing.Mainstream blogging just to please the little fanboys.

  19. lenny - Feb 24, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    1. Dr J
    2. MJ
    3. Nique
    4. Vince
    5. S Kemo

  20. lex - Feb 24, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    The list is best in-game dunkers IN THE LEAGUE. Nobody said anything bout all-time.

  21. htwinone - Feb 24, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    You got three people on your list that have been quoted as saying Vince Carter is thier all time favors, But you don’t have VC on your list. Child Pleaseeee

  22. Anonymous - Feb 24, 2010 at 3:51 PM

    he is #1 on the no ring list :)
    (heheheheheheheh)
    Kobe

  23. Noah - Feb 24, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    If Andre Iguodala is not your #1 or #2 (allowing for the LeBron factor), you simply are not watching him. As a life-long fan of the game, I’ve never seen anybody throw down as often, as consistently, or as hard as Dala. Dismiss that as a 76ers bias if you will, but keep in mind that as a Sixers fan I’d rate him higher than Dr J or Sir Chuck.

  24. aria - Feb 24, 2010 at 6:29 PM

    what is that? were is nate robinson were is demar derozan were is eric gordon were is vince carter were is j-rich why isd-wade on the list he sucks at everytin were is amare were is gerald green damn that list is worst than hell

  25. Jim Beam - Feb 24, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    CHARLES BARKLEY??? GTFO! WHAT A JOKE! View dunkers before you were in diapers- idiot! Then compare Stoudamire with Kemp and for GODS SAKE, have you seen or even know ‘the human highlight reel’? DOMINIQUE WILKENS COULD SLAM WITH HIS FOOT IN LEBRON OR KOBE’S MOUTHS!!! (Is this guy a writer, for real?)

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