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2023 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Preview

Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Chronicle

William Shakespeare famously quipped that “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Nowhere in the world of sports is this more true than during the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

Witnessing some of the greatest basketball players on Earth seemingly jump out of the gym will always captivate even the most casual of hoops fans despite the waning fanfare in recent years.

Four newcomers will attempt to etch their name in dunk contest history: Kenyon “KJ” Martin Jr. (Houston Rockets), Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans), Mac McClung (Philadelphia 76ers), and Jericho Sims (New York Knicks). Let’s take a look at each participant and evaluate their case to bring home the Slam Dunk title.


Why KJ Martin Can Win


The son of former first overall pick and one-time All-Star Kenyon Martin hasn’t found much prolonged success in his career thus far. There is no denying however that he possesses otherworldly athleticism which contributes to an assortment of high-flying highlights from the second-year forward.

Martin Jr. already has enough poster-worthy dunks to last a career. Whether that is a ferocious left-handed tomahawk on a fast break or a two-handed put-back slam reminiscent of his father, the man can jam. The California natives vertical leap alone is enough to make him the betting odds favorite (he can get his head above the rim!), but KJ’s sheer power in throwing down the basketball hopefully leads to some all-timers today.


Why Trey Murphy III Can Win


Trigga Trey is really starting to find his role with the Pelicans, presently in his sophomore season. Murphy III could have arguably been a contestant for the three-point contest as well, shooting over 40% from behind the arc this season. The Virginia alum has been able to prove himself as an elite dunker despite playing on the same team as high-flyers like Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes.

What is most impressive about Murphy III is his ability to make highlight-worthy dunks look so effortless. The North Carolina product makes catching crazy lobs in transition and double pumping mid-air to avoid a block just look like business as usual. It makes you wonder if he’s waiting to pull out some of his best dunks out of his bag during the contest, and we will look forward to him making the near impossible look like a walk in the park.


Why Mac McClung Can Win


McClung definitely sticks out a bit here in terms of NBA resumes. The guard stands at only 6’2’’, has played a total of two NBA games in the last two years, and only just signed a two-way contract with the Sixers last week. So what’s the deal?

Well, if we remember this is a dunk contest, then McClung has more than enough reason to be involved. McClung posted an unreal 43.5 inch max vertical leap at the G-League Combine in 2021, good enough for seventh best all-time. The Virginian was an internet sensation in his high school days, racking up millions of views online of him throwing down some insane slams both mid-game and in national dunk contests.

If you look up his name on YouTube today it will still return results like “Best White Dunker Ever?” (they clearly haven’t seen me on a Little Tikes hoop). And even though he’s only stepped on an NBA court twice, McClung will still gave fans a show, throwing down that dunks like above even though he’s only stepped on a NBA court twice.

The former Hoya puts his passion and personality into his throw-downs. McClung has been doubted every step of the way, and he’s always attacked the rim like he’s thinking of those doubters in every slam. If he brings that same energy into tonight, he has more of a chance to win than many are giving him.


Why Jericho Sims Can Win


Originally, this final spot in the contest was for Portland Trail Blazers rookie Shaedon Sharpe, a fan favorite who is not afraid to try and put your favorite player on a poster. Sadly, Sharpe withdrew from the contest and was replaced by Knicks center Sims.

Sims is more than worthy to get the nod to participate here however, to the surprise of many. The days of rim-grazing big men are long gone, the 6’10’’ Sims jumped an otherworldly 44.5 inches at his draft evaluation. That ties for the second-best in the entire history of the combine, almost unheard of for a guy his size.

Sims has had dunks in-game where he’s literally looking down at the top of the rim, which you’d have to imagine is downright frightening for a player to try and go up against. The former Longhorn is still searching for a consistent role on the Knicks.

Mitchell Robinson will be out for another few weeks so Sims should expect to see some more time in the starting role (hopefully more time for dunks too!) Sims is no doubt a dark horse candidate in this year’s dunk contest, but his raw leaping ability gives him the highest ceiling (no pun intended) out of anyone this year.


Who Will Win?

With no clear-cut favorite, predicting the Slam Dunk champion is quite the difficult task. Anything can happen, but all four of these guys have the potential to go out and have an absolutely historic performance.

That being said, we are taking Martin Jr. to take home the crown. Junior’s explosiveness, bounce, and aggression at the rack will help him put on a show that no one else can match. Happy All-Star Break to all those who celebrate!

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