NBA Dunk Contest 2020: Derrick Jones Jr. finally gets his chance to shine on a national stage
The Miami guard has been jumping out the gym for years, and will take those abilities to Chicago
Though the standout highlight of Derrick Jones Jr.'s NBA career so far came at a rather inconsequential time for his team, it has done an excellent job succinctly describing his style of play. The scene was Miami on March 10, 2019 against the Toronto Raptors.
Down over 24 points at home against one of top teams in their conference at the time with less than three minutes left, the Heat -- specifically Rodney McGruder -- forced a turnover on one end of the court and created a fast break opportunity between Bam Adebayo and Jones. Seeing that Toronto's Malcolm Miller was more closely guarding him than Jones, Adebayo threw up a high lob to his teammate. Though the ball went well above and behind Jones's head, he was still able to control the ball cleanly with enough hang time that made you wonder if he was ever going to come down. With power comparable to some of the greatest dunkers of all time, and height that would make most mere mortals drop their jaws, Jones threw down a jam that got a rather lethargic Miami crowd on its feet during a blowout.
This was by no means an isolated incident. The 2018-19 season was a cornucopia of high-flying acrobatics, rim rattling dunks and it's possible to make other professional athletes look less athletic by comparison in a sport where nearly everyone on a roster is among the best in the world. There's a reason that the NBA was able to put together a six-minute highlight reel of just his dunks.
So it was no surprise that the league invited Jones to this year's All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest in Chicago, where he has +150 odds to win according to SportsLine, in the second season of his NBA career. Jones's first dunk contest happened in 2017 as a member of the Northern Arizona Suns in the then-D-League, where Reggie Miller announced after a between-the-legs dunk "ladies and gentleman, this is the best dunker you have never heard or seen."
The 22-year-old's history of participating in these kinds of competitions perhaps gives some insight on what exactly he could have planned for the Feb. 15 All-Star event. In the 2017 event, he tried to jump over four people -- it took him a couple attempts -- and did two versions of that between-the-legs jam -- one came from a pass off the backboard from Devin Booker, while the other came off a high bounce pass.
What seems to be the theme here is that while the creativity might not be at its peak, Jones seems content showing off his pure athletic talent. That's not a knock. A lot of the entertainment from these things is derived from seeing people perform acts of superhuman strength -- Dwight Howard took this literally in 2008 with his famous Superman dunk. If there's a knock on the small forward it's that he only comes up when talking about dunks, so far in his career. He has career highs in the three major categories this season, but that results in 8.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game. In other words, this will be his shot at making a splash under a national spotlight. Given that the production value of these All-Star dunk attempts have seriously shot up in recent years, when it's Jones's turn to throw down, folks better get their popcorn ready.
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