Every year, State Farm All-Star Saturday Night is main evented by a showdown of the best swingmen in the league.In recent years, the trend has shifted towards younger players looking to make a name for themselves on one of the biggest nights for social media in the sport. Some gain momentous amounts of notoriety from memorable dunks, while others suffer ridicule from failed attempts (typically including props).
The contest has been revitalized in recent years, propelled back to prominence by a new crop of players hoping to leave their stamp on the sport.
With NBA All-Star heading to Chicago for the first time since 1988, the stakes are higher than ever.
Here are our dream predictions for contestants in the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest.
Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City Thunder
Dunk Contest crowns are meant to be defended.
If you don't believe that — you're wrong.
Some of the greatest performances we've ever seen at the Dunk Contest have come from players who won the year prior, pulling out all the stops to one-up their previous outing.
Michael Jordan's 1988 performance went down as arguably the greatest collection of dunks ever and Zach Lavine's double in 2015 and 2016 breathed new life into a competition that was treading water for years.
The point? Hamidou Diallo is a lock for the 2020 Dunk Contest.
Diallo's 2019 outing combined the perfect mix of flare and skill, whether it was teaming up with Russell Westbrook, honey dipping over Shaq or launching himself over Quavo. Diallo recognizes that showmanship is half the battle when it comes to this competition and he'll likely bring some inventive, new ideas to the table if he gets the invite to Chicago.
Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia 76ers
Most players on this list are a known (is this meant to be unknown?) commodity, making Zhaire Smith the most exciting Slam Dunk prospect in recent memory.
Smith came into his rookie season in 2018-19 as a dynamic playmaker but wasn’t able tocouldn’t showcase his athleticism after suffering several injuries that restricted him to only six games.
A year later, we don't know where he'll fit into the Sixers plans, but we do know that, if healthy, he'll be one of the most requested participants in the 2020 Dunk Contest.
Typically, one dunk doesn't complete a full resume, but take a look at what Smith did while at Texas Tech during the 2018 NCAA Tournament:
If he's pulling off 360 alley-oops during a game, just imagine what Smith will cook up in front of a raucous crowd in Chicago.
For the sake of some fresh blood and the chance of a star-making performance, expect the explosive Smith to be in the final lineup at NBA All-Star 2020.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
The perfect stage is set for the return of Zach LaVine.
Already a two-time champion, LaVine has the chance to go for the triple crown in front of a home crowd in Chicago.
He already paid homage to the city's only other Slam Dunk champion in the 2015 contest, donning a Michael Jordan "Toon Squad" jersey before delivering a between-the-legs reverse jam.
LaVine was a member of the Timberwolves at the time, but now as a Bull, he could honor 'His Airness' and the Windy City one more time by competing in front of them at the United Center.
A return for LaVine would bring a prominence back to the competition that it's been missing since he last competed. His legendary duel with Aaron Gordon at NBA All-Star 2016 won over a global audience, but the competition hasn't reached that level of significance since.
If he enters, LaVine would be aiming to become the second player ever to win three Slam Dunk Contest — Nate Robinson won thrice over the span of 2006-2010.
Derrick Jones Jr. , Miami Heat
What will be lost in the history books is that Diallo's spot in the 2019 Dunk Contest originally belonged to Derrick Jones Jr.
The South Beach swingman suffered two right knee bone bruises just weeks before 2019 All-Star Weekend, forcing him out of a second appearance in the competition — he made it to the finals of the 2017 Slam Dunk Contest as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
Jones' is aided above the rim by his ridiculous 7-foot wingspan, making him one of the most dangerous in-game dunkers in the sport. Just check out this putdown from last March:
With the creativity that Jones shows in-game, there's no telling what he'll come up with if he's given another go at the Slam Dunk crown in February.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Jaylen Brown might not be the first name to come to mind when you think of candidates for 2020, but his highlight reel is becoming something you can't avoid.
Entering his fourth season, Brown has cemented himself as an integral part of the Celtics core going forward but has also put together an insane resume of in-game dunks that have forced his name into the discussion.
Last year, Brown dunked on reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo three times and attacked the rim at every chance he got.
Heralded for his creative and exploratory mind off the court, we imagine that Brown can cook up something special if he's given a chance in Chicago.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Before we even get started on this one — Zion Williamson has publicly stated that he doesn't plan on participating in the Dunk Contest this year. That is why he's at the bottom of this list and we didn't title this "Zion Williamson and other contenders for the 2020 Dunk Contest."
However, Williamson did leave room for the possibility of changing his mind and we're going to run off that.
The New Orleans Pelicans' No.1 pick has the weight of an entire city, and the expectations of a whole league, on his back — so adding a dunk contest bid to that may break the camels back. But Williamson has dazzled before in this setting, dominating the competition in the 2018 McDonald's All-American Game Dunk Contest when he was still in high school.
If Williamson lives up to the hype through the mid-way point of the season, we may see a change of heart from the 19-year-old who is looking to increase his stock with a Slam Dunk Championship.
With his physicality, athleticism and freakish size, Williamson would skyrocket to the favorite the second he declared that he wanted in on the All-Star Weekend highlight.
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