Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA's best in-game dunkers

Outside of game-winning moments such as walk-off home runs or last-second Hail Mary passes, no sports incident causes fans to rise from their seats quite like a highlight-reel dunk. The Association’s best in-game dunkers do more than provide fans and sports broadcasts with incidents that go viral on a nightly basis. Just one posterizing slam can flip a game’s momentum and cause an arena filled with individuals who were previously sitting on their hands to become a “sixth man” for the home side. These are today's best in-game dunkers.

 
1 of 25

Pat Connaughton

Pat Connaughton
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

It was back in November 2018 when Milwaukee Bucks forward  Pat Connaughton dunked into our hearts thanks to some unforgettable commentary  from Reggie Miller. Anybody who scoffed when the 27-year-old was added to the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest had to eat their words after Connaughton flew over teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo to demonstrate his hops. As  JR Radcliffe of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel documented, social-media users quite enjoyed Connaughton’s performance. 

 
2 of 25

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

One of the many basketball-related things taken from us in March was the career resurgence of Dwight Howard. Superman may not take flight the same way he did in his prime, but he showed during a second stint with the Los Angeles Lakers that he can still bring the cape out for a ride  now and again. His tribute  to Kobe Bryant at the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest was spectacular.  

 
3 of 25

Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

We have to go back to 2019 to remember a time when Blake Griffin was terrorizing rims and would-be defenders since knee surgery made him a spectator before the start of 2020. Like Dwight Howard, Griffin isn’t the player of old these days, but we wouldn’t recommend attempting to get in either man’s way when they have some steam approaching the basket. Ask the Indiana Pacers about that. 

 
Dennis Smith Jr.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

From the second that guard Dennis Smith Jr. debuted in the fall of 2017, he showed he was a special aerial artist who drew comparisons to LeBron James for his artistic slams. Smith may never be an All-Star, but his 156-game resume is filled with some of the best dunks seen in the league over the past decade, at least. Here’s hoping there is a spot in the Association for Smith for many years to come. 

 
5 of 25

Ja Morant

Ja Morant
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Ja Morant was invited to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest, but the uncrowned 2019-20 Rookie of the Year politely declined. That’s a shame since the 20-year-old routinely finished fearless one- and two-handed jams during what is, as of the typing of this sentence, a shortened debut campaign. Morant’s playmaking abilities weren’t shocking to behold, but he likely amazed even the toughest defenders with his willingness to crash the rim seemingly whenever possible. 

 
6 of 25

Larry Nance Jr.

Larry Nance Jr.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Like father, like son. Larry Nance Jr. first began posterizing opponents while with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he has continued that tradition playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. At the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest, Nance honored his famous pops, but it wasn’t enough to propel him past Donovan Mitchell on that evening. 

 
7 of 25

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

We understand if you missed out on some of DeMar DeRozan's better dunks during the 2019-20 season. After all, the San Antonio Spurs weren’t all that exciting. DeRozan repeatedly  rocked rims in Spurs colors during the campaign, and he humbled poor Chris Boucher  of the Toronto Raptors in January. Mr. Boucher may remain grounded the next time he sees DeRozan driving down the lane. 

 
8 of 25

Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There is plenty to criticize about Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons even if he could win Defensive Player of the Year honors during the opening half of the 2020s. One can’t deny his incredible athleticism coupled with a wingspan that makes him uniquely unguardable once he leaves his feet near the hoop. Maybe one day, he’ll do more than joke about participating in a Dunk Contest

 
9 of 25

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics teammates Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have several things in common, one of which is that both found great success  meeting  LeBron James at the  rim. James isn’t the only player to lose such a battle vs. Brown despite having the size advantage. Giannis Antetokounmpo may still have nightmares about previous encounters with Brown.  

 
10 of 25

Paul George

Paul George
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One couldn’t be blamed for considering Paul George more of a perimeter defender than one of the best in-game dunkers in the league. Sure, George sometimes bends the rules regarding how many steps he can take before a jam, but that takes nothing away from those dunks that count on the scoreboard. His windmill should be admired in a museum. 

 
11 of 25

DeAndre Jordan

DeAndre Jordan
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

According to Bleacher Report’s Leo Sepkowitz , the Brooklyn Nets brought DeAndre Jordan to the Big Apple more because of his relationship with Kevin Durant than because of what he could offer Brooklyn in postseason games. The days of the Lob City Clippers are but a memory, but Jordan can  still shake backboards with the best of them. Just wait until Durant is in the lineup and able to additionally open driving lanes for Jordan. 

 
12 of 25

Andrew Wiggins

Andrew Wiggins
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Andrew Wiggins experiment with the Minnesota Timberwolves was inevitably doomed before the start of the 2019-20 season, he gave the club’s fans  handfuls of positive memories  that didn’t include a plethora of winning. In his first game vs. the Los Angeles Clippers as a member of the Golden State Warriors in March 2020, Wiggins baptized 7-footer Ivica Zubac with a  thunderous one-handed slam that gave Golden State supporters something to anticipate, assuming Wiggins is with the club next fall. 

 
13 of 25

Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Terrence Ross cemented his name in history when he won the 2013 Slam Dunk Contest. As great as Ross was vs. air that night, he has also caused defenders to clear the way and concede buckets rather than end up on the wrong end of poster slams. How do you stop somebody who appears to float above the paint? 

 
14 of 25

Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is a basketball cheat code, a 7-foot center who has a strong perimeter game and who can also dunk on any defender in the league if given only a step in the right direction. “The Process” may not want to “do a 180” during a competitive contest, but that shouldn’t let guys such as John Collins believe they can stop Embiid down low. Embiid should, however, do well to avoid certain post-dunk celebrations

 
15 of 25

Kelly Oubre

Kelly Oubre
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t feel bad if you found yourself unable to keep up with everybody Kelly Oubre dunked on over the past several years. Tsunami Papi has torched many big names in the Association. Paul GeorgeJaVale McGee and Giannis Antetokounmpo are among the handful of the players on Oubre’s list. 

 
16 of 25

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Back at the start of 2019, Anthony Davis was a 6-foot-10 future MVP entering his prime. That was before he joined the Los Angeles Lakers and became teammates with LeBron James. The Brow was a “SportsCenter” segment unto himself on a monthly basis during his first season in LA-LA Land, and there’s no reason to believe he wasn’t just getting started when the NBA suspended play. 

 
17 of 25

Hamidou Diallo

Hamidou Diallo
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Even before Oklahoma City Thunder guard  Hamidou Diallo flew over Shaquille O’Neal and hung inside the rim en route to winning the 2019 Slam Dunk Contest, he’d already built an impressive compilation of dynamic dunks. Unsurprisingly, he added to that list throughout 2019-20. Marquese Chriss won’t fondly remember this slam after he calls time on his playing career. 

 
18 of 25

Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell
Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody should have needed to watch Donovan Mitchell win the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest to know he’s one of the best in the business. "Spida" opened the 2019-20 campaign with a dominant showing vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he soared vs. a variety of other opponents  until the league’s premature break. Nikola Vucevic made the right business decision in a one-on-one vs. Mitchell in  December

 
19 of 25

Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a scary thought for fans of teams other than the New Orleans Pelicans: What if  Zion Williamson is even better than advertised? The rookie hit an impressive 6-of-13 three-pointers in 19 outings, and he often looked like a grown man playing against younger fellas during his best dunks. There’s plenty more of this in Williamson’s future. 

 
20 of 25

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls fans have  good reasons to feel disappointed these days. Guard Zach LaVine isn’t one of them even if he could be traded by the club during the upcoming offseason. The two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion deserves to be on a Mount Rushmore of the best NBA in-game dunkers of the 2010s, and the fact that he turned 25 years old in March tells us he’ll remain near the top of such lists for the foreseeable future, barring injury setbacks. 

 
21 of 25

Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

As Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob on Twitter) has documented over the years, the battles between Russell Westbrook and NBA rims are fascinating to follow. It sometimes seems as if Russ is angry at the buckets meant to house his slams, particularly when he puts extra oomph into his finishes. How did Mitchell Robinson or the New York Knicks and the rim hurt you, Mr. Westbrook? 

 
22 of 25

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

What do you do to stop a 6-foot-11 reigning MVP who can play any position, including point guard, and who isn’t even yet at the height of his powers? It turns out not all that much. Giannis Antetokounmpo once jumped over a human to complete a dunk. The Greek Freak is unfair

 
Derrick Jones Jr.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

We won’t try to take away the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest title won by Derrick Jones Jr. in this portion of the piece. Besides, it’s not as if Jones wasn’t a worthy champion. Each of the previous few years provided Jones with ample opportunities to dunk all over the G League and NBA, and he has more than answered the challenge.

 
24 of 25

LeBron James

LeBron James
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to forget LeBron James turned 35 years old in December. You wouldn’t know that by watching his dunks from the past season-and-a-half. Whether he is emulating Kobe Bryant or throwing the hammer down on overmatched opponents, the King proved in 2020 that he isn’t planning on abdicating the throne while in his 30s. 

 
25 of 25

Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

We end with (who should’ve been) the rightful winner of the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest . Aaron Gordon may never become his generation’s Blake Griffin. It’s possible the forward and the Orlando Magic both would benefit from a clean break. Nevertheless, Gordon deserves to be recognized for his creativity, athleticism, strength and eagerness to attempt  slams others would only envision when playing a video game. It would be a shame if he retired without at least one dunk trophy

Zac Wassink is a football and futbol aficionado who is a PFWA member and is probably yelling about Tottenham Hotspur at the moment. Erik Lamela and Eli Manning apologist. Chanted for Matt Harvey to start the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2015 World Series at Citi Field. Whoops. You can find him on Twitter at @ZacWassink

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