NBA dunk contest 2021: The best dunks of the night, ranked

The dunk contest can’t be a classic every year. While last season’s contest in Chicago produced some terrific moments from Derrick Jones Jr. and Aaron Gordon, this year’s dunk contest was something of a dud. Even Magic Johnson — who typically loves everything and everyone — wasn’t impressed.

If there’s one thing we can count on every year in the dunk contest, it’s a judging controversy. Last year gave us the Great Dwyane Wade Conspiracy that ultimately led to Jones’ victory over Gordon. This year, it seemed like everyone was confused by the scores given out. Ja Morant even said that the inconsistent judging is the reason he doesn’t plan on participating in the event in the future.

Since no one is happy with how the dunk contest was judged, we figured it’s our duty to re-grade every dunk from the event. Disagree with our rankings? Feel free to tell us your favorite dunks of the night in the comments below.

Last. Cassius Stanley’s botched second dunk

Actual grade: 37

Stanley originally tried to go under both legs off a self-lob, which is a dunk we’ve seen him land in warmups before. It would have been the best dunk of the night, but he just couldn’t get it down. After missing a couple attempts, he pretty much just gave up and did a little Karl Malone homage.

7. Anfernee Simons kisses the rim

The winner of the dunk contest wasn’t decided by a score — the judges watched one dunk from Simons and Obi Toppin and wrote down who they thought the winner should be. Simons won the event with this dunk, but it felt like a disappointing note to end on. Simons was trying to kiss the rim, and while he did come damn close, he didn’t quite pull it off.

Simons certainly showcased his serious hops, and Toppin’s final dunk (more on that in a minute) wasn’t completed as intended either. Ultimately, Simons victory is fine even if it feels uninspired.

6. Obi Toppin’s first dunk

Actual score: 48

The first dunk from the Knicks rookie was the second of the night and seemed to set a solid foundation for the rest of the contest. Toppin threw a bounce pass lob to himself, went under his leg before the catching the ball, and flushed it home with a reverse. It wasn’t amazing and would have looked better from someone who was shorter than 6’9, but this was still a perfectly okay start to the contest.

One thing working against Toppin? Zach LaVine — one of the contest’s all-time great contestants — pulled off a similar dunk in warmups last week. Kenny Smith even mentioned it on the broadcast.

5. Anfernee Simons’ T-Mac tribute

Actual score: 49

Tracy McGrady’s dunk contest performance in 2000 was completely overshadowed by his Raptors teammate Vince Carter putting together arguably the most impressive display in contest history, but apparently today’s NBA players haven’t forgotten it. Simons put on the McGrady jersey and did a throwback dunk that was not quite as impressive as the original linked in the video above.

Simons was born in June of 1999, so he was less than a year old when that seminal 2000 dunk contest went down. We’d possibly rate this lower, but we’re always here for the current generation remembering how great T-Mac was.

4. Obi Toppin dunks over his dad and Julius Randle

Actual score: 46

Toppin’s dad was a streetball legend known as Dunkers Delight who once participated in the old And1 tour. Toppin brought out his father and Knicks first-time All-Star Julius Randle, lined them up and dunked over both of them with a windmill. While we’ve seen similar dunks many times before in this contest, it’s still impressive to dunk over a 6’9 guy in Randle and another person while doing a windmill.

If you were following Twitter during the night, it seemed like half the tweets were about the All-Star Game and the other half were about Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. This tweet summed things up perfectly.

3. Anfernee Simons dunks off the top of the square

Actual score: 46

Simons’ first dunk showed creativity and his ridiculous vertical hops, but the judges weren’t feeling it. That’s their mistake. Simons placed the ball at the top of the box on the backboard with the help of a Nerf hoop, and then went up to slam it.

This wasn’t exactly Gerald Green’s iconic cupcake dunk, but we appreciated the innovation and confidence from a 6’4 guard that he could pull it off. This should have been scored higher.

2. Obi Toppin under the legs dunk from near the foul line

No, it wasn’t from behind the free throw line (is it ever?), but Toppin pretty much did the same dunk that Zach LaVine won the 2016 contest with. From a step inside the foul line, Toppin soared through the air for an under-the-legs dunk. The judges liked Simons’ missed kiss dunk better and gave him the win, but for our money this was one of the best dunks of the night.

This is another example of how Toppin was hurt by being a big man. If a smaller player does this, it looks a lot cooler. It isn’t fair, but it’s the truth. Toppin put on a good show, and hopefully will be invited back again.

1. Cassius Stanley goes under the legs on first dunk

Actual score: 44

Stanley started the dunk contest off on a great note, but the judges immediately sucked the air out of the room by giving it a 44. That’s a shame because this might have been the best dunk of the night. Stanley had better dunks in his bag — his failed second attempt would have been even better if he landed it — but this opener still showed off why he’s been considered an elite dunker since his prep days at Sierra Canyon.

We predicted Stanley would win the contest coming into the event, and he has pledged to do it again next year if he’s invited. It’s only disappointing because he’s capable of so much better.

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