The 2013 NBA Sprite Slam Dunk Contest is going to be everything the 2012 competition was not—epic.
Though last year's slam dunk contest was far from the worst we've seen, it lacked that explosive flair. Some of the jams were creative, yes, but there wasn't one moment where you were brought out of your seat.
But this year is going to be different.
The names aren't the biggest and brightest in the business, yet the docket is brimming with plenty of up-and-coming athletic freaks. Kenneth Faried, Eric Bledsoe and Terrence Ross have some of the sickest hops we've ever seen, Jeremy Evans is now familiar with the workings of the contest itself, Gerald Green has already won one as well (2007) and James White is the best dunker you've never heard of.
Last season's lackluster competition was definitely missing something—perhaps a big name or six.
Paul George and Derrick Williams were easily the most recognizable names in the competition, yet after watching Blake Griffin jump over a car just a season before, the personnel was disappointing. Save for George (and maybe Williams), there was no one contestant you looked at and saw a future star in.
The same case cannot be made against this year's crew, though. Bledsoe, Faried and Ross all appear to have star potential, and there's no arguing that watching future pillars adds some flavor to the narrative.
Admittedly, though, sometimes star power means very little. The 1997 dunk competition was one of the worst ever seen, but the field included two high-profile youngsters in Kobe Bryant and Ray Allen. So, while the absences of LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, among others, are disappointing (again), it's hardly the end of the world.
This year's field is easily more athletic than last year's as well. Evans' double-dunk was an able-bodied masterpiece, but Chase Budinger and Gordon Hayward weren't what you would consider athletic fiends.
These guys aren't following up Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins' battle in 1988, they're following a mediocre showing that saw Williams jump over a motorcycle one year after watching Griffin clear a midsize sedan.
Tapered expectations coupled with the ability to learn where some of last year's participants went wrong is not to be undervalued.
Also not to be undervalued?
The judges are back.
Fan participation is a great aspect of this event, but when the NBA did away with the panel of judges and their sleek number cards, it took some of the joy out of the competition.
Let's also not forget that this is the deciding round of the league's new East vs. West theme. Each conference will earn points throughout all of the night's events, and the one that wins gets $350,000 to donate to the charity it's representing. The losing conference gets $150,000 to donate as well.
As the final competition of All-Star Saturday night, the dunk contest could prove to be the deciding factor between a conference win and loss, adding even more purpose to the event.
Reverting back to the use of judges coupled with the attempt to intertwine all of All-Star Saturday's events only increases the hype surrounding this one; it's already more of a hot topic than last year.
And if that's not enough, all we need do is take a look at some of the contestants' highlight reels.
The New York Knicks' James White isn't a household name by any means, but he can dunk. Like really dunk.
He's racked up plenty of highlights over the years despite moving in and out of the NBA. He even has some free-throw line cred to his name as well. White recently told SLAM's kicks blog (h/t Yahoo! Sports) that, "I have about five dunks where I’m absolutely certain that I will get a 50 on those."
Moving on, the Utah Jazz's Jeremy Evans proved to be the most creative dunker of last year's competition.
From the use of comedian (and Celebrity All-Star game MVP) Kevin Hart as a prop to dunking two balls at once, Evans has the length to make just about anything happen.
The fact that he's looking to win his second-straight dunking title only adds to his motivation.
Gerald Green isn't foreign to this contest either.
He won the dunk competition as a member of the Boston Celtics in 2007. His professional career, not unlike White's, has been marked by inconsistent employment, but he's still made the most of any opportunities that allow him to showcase his hang time.
The Denver Nuggets' Kenneth Faried is also someone to keep our eyes on.
Easily the most bulky of the bunch, he boasts near unmatchable explosiveness. I'm not sure if he can generate the same lift or hang time as some of his peers, but remember, if a Dwight Howard-type can make some noise, so can Faried.
It will be intriguing to see what the 6'8", 228-pound sophomore has in store for us here.
Much of the same can be said for the Los Angeles Clippers' Eric Bledsoe. In him, I see a taller version of three-time dunking champion Nate Robinson.
At 6'1", Bledsoe's lack of size is more of a decoy than anything. He generates some serious air when catapulting off the hardwood, and his fearless (bordering on reckless) demeanor when approaching the rim is just nuts.
The key for Bledsoe will be to see if he can get enough height to effectively integrate some mid-air movements. Even Robinson struggled to do crafty things with the ball at times, instead opting to accentuate his lift with self-oops and people-clearing maneuvers.
Such trepidation doesn't exist when looking at the Toronto Raptors' Terrence Ross.
As the lone rookie in the competition, Ross undoubtedly has something to prove. If his in-game accolades are any indication, though, he's up for the challenge.
Part of the problem when it comes to rookie dunkers is their ability to choreograph their slams. Are they just in-game slammers or do they have the composure to rehearse and play off a script?
Once again, this isn't a problem for Ross, whose practice dunks have gone viral before.
The neophyte will also be donating $2,000 to the"Dunk Cancer" charity for every round he advances in the competition, which is another incentive for him to dunk at a ridiculously high and creative level.
Will this year's contest surpass the grandeur that was the 1988 competition? Probably not, but we can't give up hope on this one.
This pool is stockpiled with athletic gems and compelling storylines; it's guaranteed to be an epic showcase of rim-rocking.
Thus, knowing what we know about the included athletes and the revamped format, the chances of disappointment are slim to none.
No Westbrook? Griffin? LeBron? Kevin Durant?