Blake Griffin will not be back to defend his All-Star Dunk Contest crown, and you can bet no Kia cars will be on the court this time.
He wasn’t the only big name to stay away — all the stars are staying home. There are some quality dunkers in the field but all the names casual fans would know — and would draw good television ratings — are staying away. No Griffin, no LeBron James, no anybody.
But the field is set. As first reported by the reliable Marc Stein of ESPN, here is the official NBA All-Star Weeekend Dunk Contest lineup:
Iman Shumpert (Knicks): The rookie guard out of Georgia Tech was a dunking phenom long before he got to the NBA and he has put on a show under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. I make him the early favorite because he gets to have another Knicks rookie — Jeremy Lin — will be lobbing him passes during the contest (you knew the NBA would find ways to get Lin into the weekend).
Derrick Williams (Timberwolves): The No. 2 pick in last year’s draft has thrown down some huge dunks this season — which you get when Ricky Rubio is throwing you lob passes. The one thing Williams does consistently at an NBA level is finish with authority.
Chase Budinger (Rockets): One of the better, more unheralded athletes in the league. This guy was heavily recruited out of high school as an elite volleyball player but chose to take his huge vertical to college (Arizona) and the NBA. Dark horse to win this thing.
Paul George (Pacers): Another guy who may not get a lot of pub but has had some of the best in-game dunks this season.
For the record, I’m disapointed to not to see the human pogo stick that is Jeremy Evans in here, not to mention the Clippers DeAndre Jordan. But this is still a good field, just not filled with names the casual fan knows. It’s also guys who are great at in-game dunking, but that is different from the exhibition that is this contest. We will see.