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Ranking the dunks

Feb 20, 2011, 12:39 AM EDT

JaVale McGee double dunk

The 2011 All-Star Dunk Contest was one of the best  dunk contests in recent memory. There was pageantry, creativity, innovation, and some of the most memorable dunks we’ve seen in years. Blake Griffin won the contest with a dunk that was more about theater than amplitude, but the dunks that led to that point were almost uniformly strong. Without further ado, let’s rank each of the twelve dunks that made up the 2011 Dunk Contest:

#12: JaVale McGee, Off-the-backboard alley-oop

After Blaker dunked over a car, JaVale McGee needed to do something special to pull out a win. He didn’t. McGee was apparently planning to do a stuffed-toy based dunk for his finale, but Ibaka had done one earlier in the evening. After doing a weak imitation of Vince Carter‘s reverse 360 windmill, McGee simply threw the ball off the backboard to himself and threw down. It would have been impressive on a fast break, but it wasn’t the type of dunk that wins dunk contests.

#11: Blake Griffin, Side-of-the-backboard windmill

After a couple of misses on his second dunk of the first round, Griffin finally put home a windmill home off a Baron Davis pass from the side of the backboard. It was thrown down with force, and would have been one of the better dunks in most other contests, and a 46 wasn’t a terrible score for it. But the fact that a gospel choir and a Kia were both waiting in the rings for Griffin does raise some questions about why Griffin’s dunk got a better score than DeRozan’s first slam. I mean, it’s hard to find that much outrage about something as entertainment-focused as the dunk contest, but Blake was definitely making it to the second round.

#10 Serge Ibaka, stuffed animal-grab reverse dunk

Ibaka’s dunk was impressive enough, although missing it the first time required the dunk clock to be stopped so that the stuffed animal could be re-attached to the rim. Ibaka’s mix of theatrics and pure athleticism was more than enough to silence the people wondering why he was invited to the contest in the first place, but it wasn’t quite enough to get him to the second round.

#9: Blake Griffin, the Kia dunk

This was the most controversial dunk of the night. The novelty of rolling a car out onto the stadium, bringing in a gospel choir, and having Baron Davis throw an alley-oop pass through a moonroof made the build-up to the dunk one of the most electrifying moments in dunk contest history — everybody at Staples Center was holding their collective breath. However, the dunk itself was (understandably) pretty plain, and it was hard to shake the feeling that Ibaka, McGee, and DeRozan all could have done the same dunk without much trouble if they had gone to the trouble of getting the props.

#8: JaVale McGee, Reverse rock the cradle dunk

McGee has a special combination of height, wingspan, and leaping ability, and his first dunk of the finals round showed just how physically gifted McGee is. McGee took off from one side of the key, ducked under the backboard, then reached back to dunk the ball from where most big men are setting up for a jump hook. Absolutely amazing stuff.

#7: DeMar DeRozan, East Bay Funk Remix

Believe it or not, this dunk got the lowest score of any dunk on Saturday night. It’s hard to know why — DeRozan missed his first few cracks at this dunk, but he still threw down a through-the-legs dunk on a pass that was thrown behind the backboard. That’s an incredible slam, and the 44 it ultimately received did not do it justice.

#6: JaVale McGee, three-ball dunk

Major, major points to JaVale for his innovation on this one. The degree of difficulty was high, and he gets bonus points for bringing out his mother. However, McGee took more than a few events to finish this dunk, and it didn’t have the sheer power that the night’s best dunks did. JaVale’s dunk is easy to appreciate, but the best dunks are a more visceral experience.

#5: DeMar DeRozan, “The Show Stopper”

Almost everything about this dunk was clean. Good toss, high degree of difficulty, excellent power, completed on the first try. And Darryl Dawkins’ coaching job was beyond reproach. Not a life-changing dunk, but a very good dunk that was perfectly executed.

#4 Serge Ibaka, Free-Throw line jam

Somebody tries to dunk from the free throw line every year, and it’s almost always disappointing. The dunk has been done before, and players are simply bigger and more athletic than they were in the heyday of Dr. J or Michael Jordan, which takes a lot of the novelty away from the dunk. Just because MJ’s free-throw line dunk was the most memorable dunk of all time doesn’t mean that duplicating it will bring instant adoration.

Still, Ibaka’s free-throw line jam was the best one in recent memory. Ibaka, the underdog of the field, came out followed by people holding flags for South Africa and Kanye West’s “Power” blaring over the loudspeakers, and the theatrics made Ibaka’s dunk more interesting without distracting from it. Ibaka took off from well beyond the free throw line, with his toe barely grazing the white line, and his dunk was one of three dunks that were completed on the first try. James Worthy somehow saw fit to give the dunk an eight, and three other judges gave it a nine, but Dr. J himself recognized just how impressive Ibaka’s slam was when he gave him a perfect 10. (Note: the choice between this dunk and DeRozan’s “show stopper” was the hardest on the list — I could easily see them being switched.)

#3: Blake Griffin, Tornado Dunk

After McGee pulled off his incredible double dunk, some people began to wonder how Griffin could follow that jam and live up to his hype as the most exciting in-game dunker since Vince Carter. They quickly got their answer. Griffin went up with one hand like he was trying to pull off a standard 360 jam, then switched to two hands, sped up his rotation in mid-air, and attacked the rim with force. Even though Blake missed his few attempts of this dunk, his misses were enough to show just how much explosion, amplitude, and power he puts into every one of his dunks.

#2: Blake Griffin, Off-The-Backboard Elbow Dunk

The height. The power. The timing. The precision. The fact that he threw it down successfully on his first try. The moment you realized he was still hanging on the rim after throwing it down. The ice pack he’s going to need for that elbow tonight. What a dunker. What a dunk.

#1: JaVale McGee, Double Dunk

JaVale McGee’s wingspan and leaping ability allow him to do dunks that should not be possible. How did he get the idea to put two hoops alongside of each other? How did he time an alley-oop while dunking another ball? Is anyone else in the league physically capable of pulling off that dunk? Most dunk contest “props” are there to hinder the contestant and distract people from the fact that the dunk is relatively simple — McGee used a prop to give himself an opportunity to show what he is capable of.

Blake’s body of work in the dunk contest was better than McGee’s, and the power he put into his dunks was something to behold. However, McGee’s first dunk was an incredible athletic feat that also redefined what is possible, and that’s why it was the best dunk of the evening.

  1. nowathand - Feb 20, 2011 at 1:10 AM

    I think your #8 should be #3. Javele Magee did a great job of adjusting his head and showing off his athleticism. He still had the force, going away from the basket, to throw down that dunk with authority.

    I agree about #5. I don’t think the failed attempts took away from the absolute artistry of the dunk.

    The Slam Dunk Contest was great theater with the coaches, the props, the judges and the celebs and it was nice that nobody went home feeling bad about their dunks.

    It’s surprising how some of these dunks are better in real time and others better in slow-mo. Same with angles.

  2. smokehouse56 - Feb 20, 2011 at 9:54 PM

    So this is what NBA basketball has turned into. A circus.

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