It’s been 12 years since the last time a member of the Phoenix Suns participated in the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest.
You can’t possibly have forgotten Amare’s awesome night:
While the Nash-Stoudemire connection in the 2004 contest was fun because it cashed in on the Nash passes that made Stoudemire’s dangerous jams so spectacular during that time, this year’s Suns representative, Derrick Jones Jr., has no obvious partner to stand as the other half of his dunking duo. We can only hope any of the stunts Jones tries tonight will be as impressive as Steve Nash’s footie flick to Amar’e Stoudemire, regardless of the disappointing two-handed throw-in to finish it off. For the most part, however, his performance will be a complete surprise, because we really haven’t seen anything the rookie all year.
In fact, Wednesday’s game against the Lakers was the first time all season that we’ve seen Jones dunk in an NBA game. First, a sweet alley-oop over fellow rookie Brandon Ingram. Then, this classic throwdown from just outside the paint:
Tell me that doesn’t look exactly like so many highlights you’ve seen from great dunkers throughout the years, from Dominique to Blake. In a competition based only on athletic ability and creativity, Jones will have an advantage. He hasn’t dazzled in the NBA yet; fans outside of Phoenix have no idea who this guy is. The show Jones has up his sleeve is going to be a world premiere for the entire audience.
Based on an extensive YouTube rabbit hole, I’ve created a classification system for Jones’s dunks. Thus far in his professional career, most every hoop he’s destroyed came at the end of one of three types of slams: putbacks, alley-oops, and traditional sprints through the paint.
The rules for the Dunk Contest are simple: Two rounds, four dunkers, three tries each. Each dunk is graded on a scale of 6-10. Two dunks for Jones to show off exactly what he thinks makes him special and impressive as a dunker. To beat Glenn Robinson, DeAndre Jordan and Aaron Gordon, I think Jones designs jams based on Exhibits B and C above. No one (except perhaps Gordon) is in Jones’s atmosphere as a leaper or rim-smasher.
I have a hunch that a Suns teammate (probably Devin Booker or Marquese Chriss, who are already in New Orleans for the festivities) will be involved in one of them, lobbing a pass up to Jones or else being jumped over. As for the second, I think Jones continues the trend that finalists Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine started last year by staying simple in technique and just wow-ing us with athleticism and creativity. Jones has the ability to dazzle on his own more than any of his competitors.
Jones enters the dunk contest as an unknown, special only because of the legacy, created by Stoudemire, that he continues for young Suns in the contest. But by the time the night’s through, NBA fans are going to know this guy’s name, and might be calling him the champion.