Strong lineup for NBA Dunk Contest could signal sagging event's revival

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The NBA Dunk Contest has waned in popularity since its golden era in the late 1980s, when Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins were putting on iconic aerial displays. But if it were ever going to make a comeback, this could be the year.

The signature event of All-Star Weekend -- let's be honest: the game itself is a snoozefest -- got a much-needed infusion of star power this year. Among the contenders are: the defending champion, who won it as a rookie; the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year; a former No. 1 overall draft choice; an additional top-10 draft pick from each of the past two years; and, oh yeah, the guy who did this in a game and pretty much rendered the Dunk Contest a moot point.

Check out the dunk-porn video above to see the contestants in action, and learn more about them in this handy slideshow:

Strong lineup for NBA Dunk Contest could signal sagging event's revival

Pacers star Paul George, the best player on what is arguably the NBA's best team, has developed into an elite player in his four years in the league. Already he's a two-time All-Star at age 23.



George has steadily blossomed since the Pacers drafted him 10th overall in 2010, culminating in being voted the league's Most Improved Player last year, when Indiana surprisingly pushed eventual champion Miami to seven games in a hard-fought Eastern Conference Finals.



While his game is refined, with smooth ball handling and a sweet shot, George is also freakishly athletic for a player who stands at 6'9". He's not bashful about showing it off, either, having thrown down a number of flamboyant jams in games. Most recently, he pulled off this insane reverse-360 windmill dunk.


Paul George throws down a two-handed slam vs. the Trailblazers on Feb. 7.
Paul George finishes a two-handed dunk against the Lakers.

Damian Lillard might be the unlikeliest superstar in the NBA, let alone the unlikeliest Dunk Contest participant.



Lillard was something of a surprise as the sixth overall draft pick coming out of Weber State in 2012. Though he didn't boast much name-brand cache, he nonetheless took the NBA by storm last season, winning Rookie of the Year honors while establishing himself as a dazzling all-around offensive player. 



At 6'3", Lillard is the shortest participant in the Dunk Contest, but suffice to say he doesn't have any trouble playing above the rim. Also partaking in the 3-point contest, Lillard is an assassin with his shot, to boot. Add it up, and he looks like he should be an All-Star Game staple for years to come.


Damian Lillard takes off for a one-hand slam against the Denver Nuggets.
Damian Lillard rises up for a dunk against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If there are doubts about the legitimacy of Terrence Ross' Dunk Contest title from last year, well, this is his chance to put those doubts to rest.



Ross, then a rookie, beat out a respectable field last year -- including James White, Eric Bledsoe and former winner Gerald Green -- but one that pales in comparison to this year's. Among the jams that helped Ross win last year: this homage to former Raptors Dunk Contest winner Vince Carter.



Now in his second year after the Raptors took him eighth overall in 2012 -- two picks after the Blazers took Lillard -- Ross' game has been slow to develop, and the Dunk Contest win remains his most notable feat as a pro.


LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 7: Terrence Ross #31 of the Toronto Raptors dunks during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers at STAPLES Center on February 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON - JANUARY 15: Raptors forward Terrence Ross (#31) dunked in the fourth quarter. The Boston Celtics played the Toronto Raptors at the TD Garden during a regular season NBA game in Boston, on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The No. 1 overall draft pick out of Kentucky in 2010, John Wall's game is catching up to his incredible athleticism, which will be on full display in the Dunk Contest.



Wall, on pace to set career highs in points, assists and steals, is the total package athletically. His speed stands out, and he's big and physical enough to outmuscle smaller point guards.



When Wall has a lane to attack the rim, watch out. He throws down spectacular dunks, and especially seems to prefer his ferocious tomahawk.


John Wall rises up for a two-handed dunk against the Cavaliers.
John Wall readies to stuff a two-handed dunk.

Another member of the well-represented 2012 draft class, Harrison Barnes looked like a superstar in the making with a standout performance against the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs in last year's Western Conference Finals.



Barnes hasn't quite carried over that momentum so far this year, but he remains a player to watch based on his age, athleticism and exciting skill set.



Barnes is big at 6'8" and 222 pounds, and he's aggressive and explosive attacking the rim.


Harrison Barnes throws down a dunk against the Clippers.
Harrison Barnes rises up for a one-handed dunk against the Wizards.

Ben McLemore, only 21, is no stranger to the spotlight. His recruitment as a prep player, which culminated with him attending Kansas, was widely covered. He was a one--and-done at Kansas and was drafted eighth overall by the Kings last year.



Though McLemore's game hasn't caught up to his physical skills, the rookie's athleticism is off the charts. Already in his young career he's had a handful of must-see dunks, and looks like a savvy dark horse pick to take home the Dunk Contest trophy. If McLemore can pull it off, he'd be the second rookie in as many years to win the Dunk Contest.


Ben McLemore throws one down against the Miami Heat.
Ben McLemore takes off for a dunk.
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