Declining Quality of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

by Nick Jaroszewicz and Ben Blatt

When the NBA Slam Dunk Contest was created in 1984 to be a part of the NBA All-Star Weekend it featured basketball legends Julius Erving and Clyde Drexler.  The following year Michael Jordan took part. Compare those headliners to the players in this year’s event: Paul Geroge, Chase Budinger,  Jeremy Evans, and Derrick Williams. It’s hard for a fan not to be upset that the big names aren’t playing.

The above graph plots the average PER of the top four players in each year’s contest. Clearly the quality of the players has gone down over the years with a few exceptions. Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin are both players that have participated in recent years that qualify as a huge draw. One important factor to consider is that since 2002 only four players have been in the contest. This is perhaps the greatest indication that the NBA feels it would have trouble fielding more than four marketable players in the contest. While the qualities of the dunks themselves may not be declining, the star power of the dunkers certainly has.

About the author


View all posts


  • Who cares how good the players are? Wouldn’t you rather see the 4 best and most creative athletes/dunkers than the 4 best players? Plus with most original having already been done, there’s nothing for most of those guys to gain by doing it.

  • That analysis is very misleading. Back in the eighties, there were sometimes 8, 9 contestants, so picking the top four skews the results as there are only four chosen in the past few years. You can say if they cut it down to four guys then they’ll always pick the biggest stars, but that’s not true. Many of the high PER guys aren’t great dunkers and wouldn’t be chosen if only four were — Michael Finley, Ralph Sampson, etc. That brings me to one question: Are you using career or single season PER?

    I did something similar to this, but much more in depth a few days ago:

    The dunk contest has had no-name guys since its inception. The first couple years were pretty star heavy, but that’s because it was a new contest. Guys couldn’t turn it down on the basis that they did it in the past because it didn’t exist in the past. You see a similar pattern with the 2000 contest because it hadn’t been held in the past two seasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *