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Top 5 Dunks in January

With All-Star weekend coming up, a common topic to debate is always the best dunk contests of all time. The slam dunk has many forms, where it can be a soft dunk that’s essentially dropping the ball into the net, a finesse dunk that looks extra fancy, or a simple poster where a defender is completely humiliated.

The art of the dunk in a contest differs the art in game. Opposed to a contest when players have plenty of time to create an idea, practice, and then execute in front of an arena full of fans (or hopefully execute, remember Chris Andersen?), in game dunks give the player a split second to analyze the situation, make the decision, and make sure that their body executes well.

No. 5 – Donovan Mitchell splits the lane

In this dunk, Mitchell, who was drafted number 13 in the 2007 draft, gets a pick from Jonas Jerebko. The Kings defenders (Buddy Hield and Kosta Koufos) attempt to trap him at the top outside the perimeter, but don’t close the gap. Mitchell splits the gap, takes two quick dribbles, and explodes to the rack from the dotted line. The dunk had crazy extension, power, and a landing that says that he knows he just did something special.

No. 4 – Terrance Ferguson hurts himself

In this game, the OKC Thunder are well on their way to an easy W with just less than 6 minutes left. It’s full garbage time and fans in Staples are in for a treat. They probably didn’t know who this kid was before the night, but they’ll definitely remember him. Off a steal, Felton leads the break and gives Ferguson a bounce pass which he smashes through the rim. The word “smash” was chosen very carefully here as he’s seen holding his wrist after the dunk. Easy glide through the air and lots of power behind it, Ferguson shows us that he wants in the Dunk Contest this year.

No. 3 – De’Aaron Fox for the win

This dunk was just really impressive. It’s easy to show that you’ve got hops when the lane opens up, or if you’re on a breakaway. It’s really different to have a monstrous put-back slam with 3 seconds left on the clock. That’s exactly what Fox did, after the Bogdanovic miss. He came in from the wing perimeter position, and just glided right of Dragic for a two handed putback slam to win the game for the Kings. Now if you don’t like that, you don’t like NBA basketball.

No. 2 – Andrew Wiggins going Back to Back

I’m sure even Drake likes Wiggins going b2b against the Raptors in Minnesota. Wiggins, who is often criticized for not showing a lot of emotion, completely hammers it down on Jakob Poeltl twice in the first half of their first meeting this year. In the first one, he just beats his defender off the dribble and soars over Poeltl at the rim. In the second dunk, he gets the ball off a pick and roll, side steps, and then explodes on Poeltl, making this a double whammy.

No. 1 – Embiid mean mugging

Joel Embiid is possibly the NBA’s funniest follower on social media. From his antics of trying to hit on Rihanna over Twitter, to now chirping his opponents (and father’s of opponents) on Instagram, Embiid continues to amuse his fans and reminds them to #TrustTheProcess. In this dunk, Embiid pump funks a three that makes Steven Adams bite (showing Embiid’s versatility that a really good defender would actually jump at a pump fake), takes two dribbles towards the net, and then jams it over reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, while gliding through the air at a 45 degree angle. Versatility, smooth, elevation, and down right attitude give Embiid the dunk of the month for January.

Deeetroit Basketballl

Dunk Listt | Pistons Tip Off

Anyone who’s talked to me about the NBA knows that I have very strong feelings about certain teams in the league, such as my hometown Raptors. They’ll also tell you that my fandom stands with two teams: the Detroit Pistons and Denver Nuggets. I know, it’s super random but I chose to follow the Pistons in 2003 in Tayshaun Prince’s rookie year, when I saw him go 3/5 on three pointers in a playoff game. This has lead to years of joy and turmoil as a fan of the team, but there’s something going on in Detroit this year.

The Pistons are doing something that we haven’t seen them do in years. As a matter of fact, it’s been around a decade since the Pistons stood amongst the top tier teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s easy to look at the stats where the Pistons rank 4th in the league in terms of win percentage (68%), defensive rating (104), and offensive rating (106.2) (stats all courtesy of NBA Stats). Although ranking in the upper half of defensive rating and top 10 in offensive rating, the Pistons are doing the small things to make sure that they’re able to capitalize against their opponents. They’re beating teams that they’re supposed to beat by emphasizing internal development.

Tobias Harris started the year scorching hot from behind the arc. After 5 years in the league, Harris topped out her 3 point percentage at 38% in the 2015-2016 season. This year, Harris is shooting a whopping 47% from behind the arc. Although this level of shooting is unlikely to maintain for the entire season, it has established himself, and Detroit as a whole, as 3 point threats and has expanded the floor for inside play.

Andre Drummond has taken his game to another level this year as well. A story came out last year that Drummond was trying something new and innovative to improve his free throw shooting, he started using virtual reality equipment. This allowed him to practice shooting in game-like simulations, where the eyes of the crowd, announcers, and all players would seemingly be on him, at the loneliest place on the court. Drummond is a career 39% free throw shooter (on pace to be the worst in history). This year, he’s shooting 60.5% on 4.5 attempts (the same number of attempts as last year).

The assumption is that this would only equate to around 2-3 points extra a game, but similar to Harris’ shooting from beyond the arc, it creates a threat that opponents don’t want to deal with. The Hack-A is not as beneficial on a 61.89 shooter as it is on a 39% shooter. Coaches are not relying on the strategy as much and Drummond is able to keep the same flow and rhythm throughout the game rather than being hacked. Most importantly, he’s getting playing time in the 4th quarter now that Aaron Baynes is in Boston and his free throw shooting is not detrimental to the team.

Combine the internal developments of Drummond and Harris, with the overall improvement of players such as Stanley Johnson and a healthy Reggie Jackson, and the Pistons have made themselves a team to be talked about in the East. To say that they’re a contender is extremely optimistic, but the Pistons are trending upwards in all the right places and continue to grow as a core and as a unit.

 

Dunk Listt | Detroit Basketball

Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Raptors 905 Coaching Clinic and Open Tryout

DunkListt | Raptors 905 Coaching Clinic and Open Tryout

For two consecutive weekends earlier in September, I had the privilege of getting an insiders’ perspective to some events hosted by the Toronto Raptors 905 G-League team.  The first event I attended was the Raptors 905 Coaching Clinic hosted by head coach and reigning Coach of the Year Jerry Stackhouse. With special appearances from Toronto Raptors Assistant Coaches Nick Nurse and Rex Kalamian, the 905 coaching staff ran clinics with a slew of offensive and defensive plays.

Using local youth players and the members of the coaching staff, Coach Stackhouse emphasized defensive tactics and positioning, as well as offensive drills and strategy. Having never played organized ball growing up (I grew up playing pick up ball all day though..) lessons like this went a really long way. I consider myself a student of the game, and hearing the coaches explain situations like defending a 3-on-2 break or running the motion offense made my understanding a lot clearer.

It’s not every day that someone can say that they heard lessons from professionals but I was priveleged enough to having a front row seat to go to school.

DunkListt| 905 Coaching Clinic

DunkListt | Raptors 905 Coaching Clinic

DunkListt | Raptors 905 Coaching Clinic

The following weekend featured the Raptors 905 Open Tryout.  With open tryouts, you’ll likely hear about guys like Jonathon Simmons who turned his $150 tryout with the Austin Toros into a 3 year/$20 million conract with the Orlando Magic. The Raptors 905 invited local baller Negus Webster-Chan to training camp last year, where he helped the team capture the G-League Championship.

Open tryouts often consist of local talent, but this tryout had players from NCAA programs attending looking to make a name for themselves. The morning consisted of drills including running 3 man-weaves and then defending 2-on-1 breaks. With around 70 attendees, the 905 coaching staff broke the players up into teams for the afternoon scrimmage to see how players faired in game situations.

 

DunkListt | Raptors 905 Open Tryout

 

DunkListt | Raptors 905 Open Tryout

DunkListt | Raptors 905 Open Tryout

 

The experience was one of a kind as I got an inside look to how the pros operate. From theoretical aspects such as  Stackhouse explaining pros and cons of zone D, practical visuals like seeing local ballers going 100% against each other, I was able to learn so much about the game that has taken over my life for the past 15 years.