National Basketball Association

NBA Dunk Contest features three little-known, young high-flyers

March 3

The good news: The NBA has three young studs lined up for this year's Slam Dunk Contest.

The bad news: Some fans might have never heard their names. 

The league announced participants for all of its All-Star events on Tuesday, but per usual, the focus was on who would participate in the fabled Slam Dunk Contest, which will take place at halftime of Sunday's All-Star Game.

The contest will feature New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin, Portland Trail Blazers third-year guard Anfernee Simons and Indiana Pacers rookie guard Cassius Stanley

In other words, it's three high-flying guys most fans probably don't know much about. 

Toppin is probably the most well-known of the trio. He was a star at Dayton last season before the Knicks selected him with the eighth pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

He has yet to start a game and is averaging 12.7 minutes in 26 games this season. He's putting up 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per night.

On the season, Toppin has 18 dunks, tied for 67th in the NBA.

Simons has spent the most time in the league among the participants, playing 120 games so far in his NBA career and starting five. This season, he's averaging 8.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per game. 

He has two dunks on the year. 

Lastly, Stanley was selected 54th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. He's averaging 1.1 points in eight appearances this season.

Stanley is 0-for-2 on dunks this season.

In case you didn't do the math, that's 20 dunks this season among this year's Slam Dunk Contest participants. 

Arguably the biggest blow to the contest was when All-Star forward Zion Williamson reportedly turned down the opportunity to participate.

This season, Williamson is tied for seventh in the league with 67 slams.

Experience aside, Toppin, Simons and Stanley have some hops. The tape don't lie. 

The greater question is why do the league's brightest star athletes no longer value participating in the once prestigious event?

The past five Dunk Contest winners were Derrick Jones Jr. (2020), Hamidou Diallo (2019), Donovan Mitchell (2018), Glenn Robinson III (2017) and Zach Lavine, who won the event in 2015 and '16.

However, while both Mitchell and Lavine are All-Stars this season, only Mitchell could be considered a star at the time of his winning the contest, as he averaged 20.5 points in his rookie season in 2017-18.

Lavine won during his rookie and sophomore seasons and averaged 10.1 and 14.0 points, respectively, in those regular seasons.

Only four times since 2000 has an All-Star won the Slam Dunk Contest: John Wall in 2014, Blake Griffin in 2011, Dwight Howard in 2008 and Vince Carter in 2000.

On Wednesday's "Undisputed," Shannon Sharpe gave his thoughts on why the Dunk Contest has lacked star power in recent years. 

For him, it's simple: The league is now about the deep ball, not the rim-rocker.

Still, there's a chance that memorable performances from Toppin, Simons or Stanley on Sunday could establish them as household names by weekend's end.

Maybe that memorable performance could entice a guy such as Zion to give it a go next year.

Bring on halftime.

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