2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Analytics: Who Has the Edge?

To predict a dunk contest winner, you can study Vines and YouTube videos and give your anecdotal opinion. We try to use analytics.

The field for the Slam Dunk Contest that will take place on February 13th during NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto has officially been released. The high-flying Zach LaVine will be there to defend his title, and he'll be joined by Andre Drummond, Aaron Gordon, and Will Barton.

This is when dunk enthusiasts like to make their predictions as to who will win this year's contest. It's usually an anecdotal undertaking, based on a couple dunks that one saw, either in game or immortalized by way of Vine or YouTube. The one problem is that no can really argue that his or her prediction is any better than anyone else's because it's hard to back up a dunking argument with anything resembling an actual fact.

We here at numberFire, as you probably know, like to use numbers to support our opinions (hence the name and all). Yes, there's a certain je ne sais quoi about what makes a dunk special that can't really be quantified, but we'll be damned if we let that stop us from trying.

Using various shooting statistics from and pre-draft measurements from, we pitted the four participants against each other in a variety of different dunk-related stats, ranked the winners, assigned points based on said ranks (4 points for first, down the line to 1 for last in a given category), then added them up in an attempt to find the best dunker of the four from a statistical point-of-view.

Sure, choosing the categories, how to rank them, and the points to assign are all inherently subjective ways of making a point as well, but...well, it's just a dunk contest prediction and you shouldn't get too wrapped up in all that #WellActually nonsense.

Without further ado, let's crunch the numbers.

Leaping Ability

DunkerVerticalScoreReachPeak (V+R))ScoreTotal

When one tries to describe what exactly it is that makes one dunker better than another, leaping ability is one of the first aspects to come up. When it comes to pure, max vertical leap, it should shock no one who watched last year's dunk contest that LaVine leads the pack, but you might be surprised to find out Aaron Gordon's leap is only 2.5" behind. Vertical leap usually favors the small guys, but Gordon at 6'9" can still get way up there.

In fact, if you combine his max vertical leap with his standing reach (not an exact science, but interesting nonetheless), Gordon has a higher peak than even the 6'11" Drummond. Coming second in vertical leap and first in peak reach, Gordon takes this category, barely edging out LaVine.



When it comes to "experience" and dunking, just looking at the raw number of dunks completed for each player doesn't really do the little guys any favors. A player like Drummond makes his living around the rim (71.5% of his field goal attempts come within five feet of the basket), so it's natural that he has far more dunks on his season-long résumé than the rest of the field. Even so, there's something to be said for a guy that averages 1.7 dunks per contest and has experience throwing it down on a nightly basis under the bright lights and in front of screaming crowds. He should be more than ready to perform come All-Star Saturday.


DunkerDunks MadeDunks AttemptedDunk %Score

There's nothing more deflating in a dunk contest than watching a player blow multiple attempts. For that reason, accuracy in dunking is something worth considering in our rankings. Drummond has missed 13 dunk attempts this season, which feels normal for a guy who has attempted 102 at first glance, but he still has the lowest success rate of any dunker in the contest this season. Meanwhile, Will Barton, the shortest competitor in the competition at 6'5", hasn't blown a dunk all year. Things change when they start tossing the ball up and off things and try to get fancy with it, but Barton's perfect track record should still be commended.

Assisted Rate

DunkerAssist % on DunksScore

If a player records a large portion of his dunks off assists, he might not be accustomed to running in on his own and creating a highlight slam by himself like he'll need to do in the dunk contest. While one might think that naturally the guards would have a low rate of their dunks assisted on as primary ball handlers, you might be surprised to learn that Aaron Gordon actually has the lowest rate of his dunks coming off assists across the field. Some of that likely comes from offensive rebounding, but it's still an interesting number, especially compared to Drummond's rate of 76.4%. It'll be interesting to see if there is a correlation between these numbers and which players make more use of their teammates to help set up their contest dunks.

Style Bonus

DunkerAlley-OopsPutback+Tip DunksOops + Putbacks + TipsScoreReverse DunksScoreTotal

It's hard to quantify style, especially when it comes to dunking, but we've thrown in some bonus points for players based on how many alley-oops, putback dunks, and tip dunks they've connected on this season, as well as how many times they've managed to throw down a reverse dunk in a game (because that data is readily available on Drummond is a clear king of alley-oops and putbacks (largely thanks to his size), but Gordon is no slouch himself. Throw in the fact that Gordon has managed to throw down four in-game reverse dunks this year, and it's clear that he's brimming with style when it comes to rocking the rim.


DunkerTotal Score

You may have already sensed it by now, but our little analytics project points to Aaron Gordon as the winner of the Slam Dunk Contest this year. Zach LaVine is likely to be the odds-on favorite to come out on top after he single-handedly rejuvenated the contest with his high-flying dunk-robatics at last year's event, but Gordon's blend of leaping ability, reach, accuracy, independence, and style make him an interesting dark-horse candidate to pull off the upset.