The Minnesota Timberwolves don't have anyone playing in Sunday night's NBA All-Star Game. But the young team impressed early in the weekend, none more so than Zach LaVine, whose performance in the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday elevated him to all-time greatness as a contest dunker.
LaVine, 20, and in his second year in the league, won a second consecutive title in the competition, besting the Orlando Magic's Aaron Gordon in a head-to-head tiebreaker that fans would have preferred to see go all night.
The freakishly athletic Timberwolves guard knew he had to do something new to top his performance from last season — "I've been practicing," he said last week — and didn't disappoint. LaVine took advantage of the fact he can jump out, and not just up. His most memorable jams Saturday all came from at or near the free throw line, the 15-foot benchmark once made famous by Julius Erving and Michael Jordan.
Here's a windmill (!) from the final round, which judges had no choice but to give 50 points.
Earlier, LaVine managed a similarly impressive height-and-distance feat, receiving an alley-oop pass from old man Andre Miller, and throwing home with another leap that started just inside the free throw line. This dunk was judged a 49, with Shaquille O'Neal docking young LaVine for missing his first attempt. To be fair to him, the announcers admitted they'd never even seen anyone try that kind of dunk, let alone convert it.
LaVine finally closed the whole thing out by going between his legs on another huge jump. This one starts a step inside the free throw line, if one's being technical, but is still astonishing. Judges gave the dunk 50 points, and LaVine the win.
Also on Saturday, Timberwolves rookie Karl-Anthony Towns won the skills contest, a weird little stunt where they make players run, dribble, pass, and shoot like they're in some high school practice drill. Towns, also 20, becomes the first 7-footer to win that contest.
LaVine hasn't only been practicing his creative flight paths, either: In an actual — OK, a somewhat competitive exhibition — game Friday night, he led the Americans to a 157-154 victory in the USA Vs. World Rising Star Challenge, claiming the MVP award with 30 points.
LaVine's also one of the league's better in-game dunkers, but Saturday's performance will leave everyone wondering what he might to do top these dunks next year. As he showed Saturday, he can do just about anything from just about anywhere. Please keep the front row clear.