Phoenix Suns rookie Derrick Jones Jr has played in 6 career NBA games for a total of 20 minutes. He’s also going to be the 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Champion.
Jones Jr accepted an invitation to participate in the 2017 NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest last week. He joins a field including Aaron Gordon and other first time participants DeAndre Jordan and Glenn Robinson III. Notably missing from the field is two-time defending champion Zach Lavine (who unfortunately will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury). With Lavine out of this year’s contest, Gordon is seen as a heavy favorite. However, I think Jones Jr not only has a shot to do well in the contest, but I think he will upset Gordon and win the whole thing.
Jones Jr, appropriately nicknamed “Airplane Mode”, won a 2015 national dunk contest for high school players. If you watch his career dunk highlights (shown below), you’ll see he has no shortage of the hang time and skills needed to win the contest.
Article continues below ...
In fact, compare his highlight reel with the dunks perform by Aaron Gordon in last year’s dunk contest (shown below). Notice that absent a certain mascot on a hoverboard, Jones Jr pulled off many of the same dunks in his high school contest victory. The mere fact that an unknown player like Jones Jr was invited to participate speaks volumes to how surprising and explosive his dunks are expected to be. NBA All-Star weekend is built on star names to attract an audience (see DeAndre Jordan participating for the first time in his career), the NBA wouldn’t have invited Jones Jr if they didn’t think he would stand out on live TV.
Obviously, two there are two other participants outside of Gordon, but I don’t see Robinson or Jordan winning the event. Jordan has power and many insane alley-oop finishes to his name, but I think he’s too big (6’11”, 265lb) to pull off the same aerial acrobatics that Gordon and the others can. He seems to be in the event for his name more than anything. Robinson definitely has hang-time, but you’ll be hard-pressed to see as much creativity in his dunks as you would from Gordon or Jones Jr.
I think the stage is set for Jones Jr to enter the night as a relative unknown, energize Twitter and the crowd with a big dunk early, and steal the night (and trophy) away from the other participants. In an era of Phoenix Suns basketball without much winning, this should at least be fun to watch.