I've had a little trouble getting behind this story. I mean, it's been more or less a given that Blake Griffin was going to be in the dunk contest since he confirmed his interest back in early December. Here's what I said at that time:
He says, "If they ask me, I’ll do it." They will definitely ask. It’s in LA, he’s the biggest thing to happen to the sport in a while, and he’s had more highlight reel dunks in a month than most players have in a career. He’s in.
So when the word leaked last night that Griffin was indeed headlining the field, it was just confirming something I already knew was going to happen. The other guys in the contest (JaVale McGee of the Wizards, Serge Ibaka of the Thunder and Brandon Jennings of the Bucks) are the only breaking news in that story.
Still, it's been pretty interesting what has happened that last couple days. You probably already saw (as it was posted on Ball Don't Lie) that the guys at Get Banged On dug up a video of Blake's greatest hits on NBA.com marked "Do Not Publish".
The video features Reggie Miller interviewing Blake and Ralph Lawler and some teammates talking about Griffin's dunking and his presence in the contest. In retrospect, I remember a reference by Ralph several weeks ago to all the buzz about Blake, and specifically to the fact that Reggie had been around taping something. Reggie's interviews with Rudy Gay indicates that they were taping while the Grizzlies were in town, back on December 11. So that tells you how long the NBA has known that Blake was going to be in the contest - given that, I guess they've done a decent job of keeping the news relatively under wraps.
According to Broderick Turner's scoop in the LA Times last night, the official announcement will come this Thursday on TNT at 5 PM. They'll no doubt premier that video on the big screen at that time.
The question remains, how does this field shape up for a dunk contest?
Griffin: We'll start with Blake. The problem with choosing a dunk contest participant based on in game dunking is that these are two very different disciplines. Griffin's dunks are awesome BECAUSE they are in game, against opponents who are ostensibly trying to keep him from dunking. Just look at the names we've given them: the Mozgov, the Gallinari, the MBenga. Those dunks don't exist if the defender isn't there and you can't really have a dunk contest dunk against a defense (although it might be interesting to try). Still, I was in the building in May 2008 when the Clippers brought Griffin in for his pre-draft workout, and I'll say this: he is such an anomaly, so patently unexpected as an athlete, that he can certainly do well in a dunk contest format. Usually the little guys have an advantage in dunk contests, because by definition they're getting further off the floor. Griffin's freakosity may mitigate that advantage, or even eliminate it. With Griffin, he's just as high in the air, and yet he weighs 250 pounds, making it both spectacular and terrifying at the same time. Just watching him make relatively standard dunks in an empty gym at his workout was jaw-dropping - with a little prep time, I have a feeling that he'll more than live up to his status as the pre-contest favorite.
McGee: As a quick aside, I decided this summer in Las Vegas that JaVale McGee has the highest percentage of capital letters to total letters in his name (4 in 11, 36%) of any player in the NBA, narrowly edging out DeMar DeRozan (4 of 12, 33%). (Obviously, we're not counting initials like O.J. Mayo and T.J. Ford. Nice try.) Given that DeRozan was in last year's competition, maybe having a lot of capital letters is an advantage for getting selected. McGee is crazy long and quite athletic for his size. Clipper fans will be able to understand McGee in the context of DeAndre Jordan. They're more or less the same height, and according to the pre-draft measurement database at DraftExpress, McGee has the same 7'6" wingspan as DJ, a better standing reach, and a significantly better vertical jump (32.5" to 26"). So yeah, he can get up. According to DraftExpress, he measured the same jumping vertical reach of 12'3" as Dwight Howard. He actually attempted a free throw line dunk a few weeks ago in the final seconds of a blow out loss to the Kings. He lost the ball in mid flight; it was NOT one of his prouder moments.
Ibaka: One gets the impression that the folks responsible for choosing the slam dunk field just went down the list of dunk leaders this season. Griffin is first in the league at 81, McGee is seventh at 55, and Ibaka is 13th at 41. Many of the other names on the list have participated in the past, and probably declined if they were even asked. These three are essentially the three most prolific young dunkers in the league, less DeAndre Jordan, and they weren't going to have two Clippers in the contest. But as we've already stated, in game dunking and dunk contest dunking are two different animals, and I'm far from convinced that Ibaka has the requisite showmanship. I love his game, but I've never noticed the type of preening that seems necessary to excel in this sort of competition. (It's the same reason that I thought Eric Gordon was a strange choice last season.) One interesting sidebar of Ibaka's participation is the fact that he was born in the Congo. Rudy Fernandez is the only other foreign-born dunker in the contest that I can recall, and dunking for show is such a seemingly American phenomenon that you wonder if a foreign born player can excel at it. Did young Serge impress the other kids on the playgrounds of Brazzaville with his highlight reel jams? Did he hone his dunk contest routine in the second division of the Spanish League? Rudy's jersey tribute to Fernando Martin (the little known first Spanish player in the NBA) fell so flat two years ago that it makes you wonder if someone who isn't from here really gets it, if they understand what works and what doesn't work in this pointless spectacle. Serge is a terrific player, but my expectations are low for him in the dunk contest.
[Note by Steve Perrin, 01/05/11 3:32 PM PST ] Note that after watching this video of Ibaka in a Spanish league dunk contest (a) he gets it even if he is from Brazzaville, (b) he's got the requisite showmanship and (c) my expectations are now MUCH higher.
Jennings: Does anyone else find it strange that the NBA would choose a guy to compete in the dunk contest who had foot surgery on December 19 and is expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks? I mean, if this were a Clippers player, we'd be doubling that estimate and assuming he'd be gone until long after the All Star break. Besides, isn't it a little disrespectful to schedule a guy with a broken foot to participate in an exhibition while the fanbase is watching the team struggle through a difficult part of their schedule while shorthanded? Strange of the NBA to ask him, strange of him to accept. Only not so strange on that second part, as Brandon Jennings has never been one to miss a chance to promote himself. If the NBA was looking at the list of leading dunkers on the season for the first three names, they went a different direction on this choice, as Jennings does not have a single in game dunk this year, nor could I find a highlight on youtube of any NBA dunks (plenty of AAU stuff). Of course, as we said, the dunk contest is a different thing, and it's not like Nate Robinson does a lot of in-game dunking. Besides, little guys from Robinson to Dee Brown to Spud Webb have done well for themselves in the dunk contest, and we certainly know that the 6'1" Jennings has the swagger that I fear Ibaka may lack.
On the whole, I have to say it's a strange group. In a contest that has only ever had one champion over 6'10", the NBA gives us a field of not one, not two, but three bigs in a four man field. Stranger still, while the vast majority of the best dunkers over the years have been wings in the 6'4" to 6'7" range (champions like Wilkins and Jordan and Carter and Kobe and Richardson and even Harold Miner), we don't have a single player in the field who fits that profile.
Blake Griffin's presence makes the contest relevant this year. But only barely so, given the rest of the field.