2018 Slam Dunk Contest: Dennis Smith Jr.
Check out Dennis Smith Jr.'s best dunks so far this season ahead of the 2018 Slam Dunk Contest on February 16th at 7 PM CT, airing on TNT.
The first time Dennis Smith Jr. dunked was in the eighth grade.
When most eighth graders were worried about who they’re taking to the junior high dance, Dennis was in a gym having his friends throw him alley-oops until he finally caught one with two hands for his first dunk.
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Six years later, Smith Jr. is one of four players competing at NBA All-Star weekend for the rights to be called slam dunk champion.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet. I am humbled by it,” Smith Jr. said as we chatted a day after he was officially named a participant.
On February 17, he’ll join Donovan Mitchell, Victor Oladipo and Larry Nance Jr. in the slam dunk contest as the headline event of All-Star Saturday night.
“It is great man. I think it will be really big for the city of Dallas,” Smith Jr. said. “I think it will be big for the organization. The last guy to do it was Michael Finley in 1997. I think it will be a show for our city.”
Finley, and his infamous cartwheel dunk, finished third that year in Cleveland. Tony Dumas gave it a go in 1995, but failed to make it out of the first round. Smith Jr. will be the third player in franchise history to compete in the event.
Even though this is Smith Jr.’s first time competing in an NBA dunk contest, it will technically be the third dunk contest he’s participated in. As for the first two that took place during his time in high school … he won them both.
The unprecedented leaping ability at such a young age became evident when Junior registered a 42-inch vertical his sophomore year. But for him, leaping was innate.
“It was natural. I wasn’t in the weight room or nothing crazy like that so I say it was natural,” Smith Jr. said.
It wasn’t until he tore his ACL in 2015 that he began really working on his legs due to the extensive rehab.
“I actually had to work on my legs and develop strength in my legs,” he said.
Almost two years after tearing his ACL, Smith Jr. would record his highest vertical to date during a pre-draft workout with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“48 inches … yeah, that is the highest ever,” Smith Jr. said when I asked him about that Lakers workout and his personal-best vertical.
The leaping ability has always been there, but the most underrated part of dunking is something that Smith Jr. never really had and it’s something he never will have either.
“Hand size. Unless I tell them, they don’t know, but I can’t palm the ball,” Smith Jr. said. “So people wonder how I dunk … I think that is the most underrated part of dunking.”
It doesn’t look like hand size is bothering him too much, though.
Mavs Rookie Flying High!
Dennis Smith Jr. is playing above the rim for the Dallas Mavericks this season.
Standing at 6-3, with a 48-inch vertical, Smith Jr. has always been the most explosive pound-for-pound player on the court. As we talked about the adrenaline that comes from dunking on an opposing player and the confidence that exudes from it, his initial response pointed right back to the impact it has on the team, not just himself.
“It gets the team going,” Smith Jr. said. “It can be a momentum shifter whenever you get a poster so I think there is a ton of adrenaline involved in that.”
On if there is someone in the league he would really like to dunk on, Dennis went with an answer that made us both laugh and one I didn’t see coming.
“Yeah, Dirk,” Dennis said as he laughed.
Growing up in the mid-2000’s in North Carolina, Smith Jr. just missed Michael Jordan’s glory days … but it was another North Carolina high schooler that’s his favorite dunker of all-time.
“Probably T-Mac,” Smith Jr. said when I asked him about his favorite high-flyer. “I like Jordan too though, but I only saw his highlights. I saw T-Mac’s live.”
As he mentioned Tracy McGrady as his favorite dunker, I instantly thought back to my personal favorite dunk contest in 2000 when Vince Carter stole the show in Oakland. As I reminisced with Dennis about my memories of that night, I asked him if he recalled that classic contest.
“I was three,” Smith Jr. said as we both shared a laugh. “But I’ve seen highlights of that. They’re running it on NBATV all the time. That was crazy.”
As for his personal favorite, Smith Jr. went with the recent battle between Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon in 2016.
My last question for Junior: If you could compete in a four-man dunk contest against any three dunkers in NBA history, who would you want to go against?
“Michael Jordan. Vince Carter and Nate Robinson … you got to show love for Nate. He was amazing,” Smith Jr. said.
Dennis on the dunk contest
Dennis Smith Jr. dishes on playing in the 2018 slam dunk contest and rising stars challenge.
Dennis might not be going up against Jordan or Carter in Los Angeles on the 17th, but the group of contestants surrounding him hold their own when it comes to throwing down.
Victor Oladipo was a contestant in 2015 when he came in second to Zach LaVine. As for Larry Nance Jr., it might be his first time participating, but the contest has history throughout his family. His father, Larry Nance, won the event in 1984 when he defeated Julius Erving. Donovan Mitchell, another explosive rookie, replaced Aaron Gordon after he was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Smith Jr. knows he will have to come prepared, so he’s formed a team to help get him ready for the event.
“I have some things up my sleeve. I have a nice little team working with me,” he said. “We have a couple of dunks that we know that I am fully capable of doing and they should be 50s.”
The brightest lights on the biggest stage will be shining down on Dennis Smith Jr. in Los Angeles Saturday, but for the 20-year-old young man, this is all just a dream come true coming from Fayetteville, North Carolina.
“You know where I am from man. I haven’t been to L.A. man outside of basketball,” Smith Jr. said as he thought about the magnitude of not only going to the event, but participating in it.
In fact, this is the first NBA All-Star weekend he’s ever attended. You couldn’t ask for a better stage to keep that undefeated streak alive.
Now go win that thing, Junior.