ORLANDO Magic forward Aaron Gordon looms as the heavy favorite for the 2017 NBA Slam Dunk Contest while Boston Celtic star Isaiah Thomas and Philadelphia Sixers rookie center Joel Embiid will headline the NBA Skills Challenge, after the NBA announced the participants of the various events on Thursday (Friday, Manila time).
Last year’s runner-up after a classic slamfest with reigning dunk champ Zach LaVine, Gordon will take on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Indiana forward Glen Robinson III and Phoenix rookie forward Derrick Jones Jr.
The Verizon slam dunk contest will have a new winner this year after two-time champ LaVine begged off to focus on helping the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs, disappointing fans who were hoping for a rematch of his epic duel with Gordon in Toronto last February.
Gordon was elated to compete again to thrill the fans with his aerial assaults to the rim and top his memorable performance last year.
"It’s incredibly special just to be out there,’’ Gordon said.``You have to trust your skills. To grow up wanting to be in the dunk contest and then to finally be doing it, performing at a high level, it’s an incredible feeling.’’
For the 2017 NBA Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Thomas and Embiid will banner a group that includes John Wall, Gordon Hayward, Anthony Davis and Kristaps Porzingis.
The event will be similar to last year’s bigs vs. guards format won by Minnesota Timberwolves' star Karl-Anthony Towns.
Both events will be held during State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 18 at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Arena.