The NBA dunk contest used to feature the best players in the sport, the likes of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler. Now, we're lucky just to get Paul George and Derrick Williams.
From 1984 to 1990, the first seven years of the event, the full-season scoring average of the dunk contest winner was 21.4 points per game. From 1991 to 1997, the last year before the event was canceled, that average had dropped to a pitiful 9.7 points per game. From 2000 (when it was resurrected) to 2011, that average has bounced up slightly to 13.4, but it's sure to go down again this season, since Paul George leads this year's group of four with 12.1 points per game and is the only contestant averaging in double-figures.
It's a hell of a drop-off for an event that pretty consistently featured the premier dunkers in the game. In the 80's, every single dunk contest featured players people wanted to see; even the years when Kenny Walker and Spud Web won, it meant something since they were doing it against the likes of Drexler and Dominique; those were legitimate upsets and were acceptable since Walker and Web were at least proficient at dunking.
But now... Derrick Williams? Jeremy Evans? Chase Budinger? They may be perfectly capable of playing the upset role that Web and Walker did, but a contest made entirely of upstarts is boring, which has been the biggest of problem with the contests the last twenty years. Even when Blake Griffin and Dwight Howard won it, who were they going against? Jamario Moon, Gerald Green, JaVale McGee and Serge Ibaka -- guys casual basketball fans don't even know exist, let alone that they're somewhat decent at throwing it down.
Since the glory days of the 80's, the only time the dunk contest was filled to the brim with big-name players was in 2000, when it featured Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Steve Francis, Jerry Stackhouse, Ricky Davis and Larry Hughes -- six players who would all average 20 points per game within the next three years. (With all due respect to Chase Budinger and Jeremy Evans, it's hard to see those guys making an All-Star team any time soon.) And that field was only able to come together because the event had been dead for three years.
The worst stat I can offer is this: since 1991, more than half of the dunk contest winners had a single-digit scoring average. For an event that's supposed to be the staple of All-Star weekend, that's simply unacceptable. Why LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, John Wall and Russell Westbrook aren't in it is anybody's guess. Perhaps the stature of Jordan and Wilkins and Web is so great that today's players are afraid to even mimic what they did. But if the dunk contest is going to be great again, it has to at least be relevant first. A four-man field of Griffin, James, Howard and Wade would be an awesome attraction that everyone would turn out to see. Alas, we'll just have to settle with Chase Budinger and Jeremy Evans. Yawn.