The dunks. Oh man, the dunks.
One of unknown blessings about the Thunder when they tipped off in Oklahoma City five years ago was that they’d rapidly become one of the most exciting, most enjoyable and most dynamic dunking teams in the league. With so much youth, athleticism, length and general Don’t-Give-A-Sh** on the team, the Thunder have postered, crammed, punched, hammered and stuffed just about everyone in the league.
With five seasons to choose from, narrowing the list was quite difficult and I’m positive I omitted some really, really good ones. But here are my top 15 dunks from the last five years:
15. Uncle Jeff baptizes Josh Smith
Two things that made this dunk so great: 1) It was essentially a game-winning poster and 2) this was when even in January, it was still surreal that the Thunder were winning games. Each victory felt like a miracle. But on the road on MLK Day against a really good team, the Thunder went and pulled off what felt like a huge upset, and did it with Jeff Green throwing down at the buzzer.
14. Russell Windmill
It just came out of nowhere. And it was sooooo pretty.
13. Nick Collison puts back
“I didn’t think he had that much vertical but obviously he does.” Don’t think that one is going in Brian Davis’ portfolio of greatest dunk calls.
12. Seek and destroy Asik
This might’ve been the definitive Westbrook poster had he been able to punch it through cleanly (the ball sort of gets hung on the rim for a second) and if Asik had fallen down. What’s incredibly impressive about it was the Russ basically jumpstopped and elevated off of two feet. That’s hard to do.
11. 94 feet of poster
I mean really. That’s just ridiculous.
So it was in Summer League. But heavens, was it something.
9. The Durantula Hammer
The nastiest part of this dunk wasn’t even what he did to Marcin Gortat, it was what he did to Michael Beasley first. That hesitation dribble was filthy.
8. Westbrook lights Oklahoma City on fire
The dunk itself was pretty excellent, but it’s what the dunk sparked. With a poster of Lamar Odom, Russell Westbrook set the Ford Center on fire. Down eight before he threw down, the Thunder had played from behind all night in Game 3 against the Lakers, the first ever playoff game in OKC. The arena was absolutely dying to explode. And when Westbrook crammed, the floodgates opened. Two 3s later and it was an 8-0 run and the Thunder were on their way to their first ever playoff win.
7. Westbrook charges over Shane Battier
The five best parts of this dunk: 1) The way Russ hangs on the rim for just a split second with one hand; 2) the way Russ struts away; 3) that it was on Shane Battier; 4) that you can hear the “ooooooooohhhhh!” so perfectly and 5) that it was on Shane Battier.
6. Game over for Mario
I kind of wish I could go back and relive Westbrook’s rookie season where he was entirely insane and had no idea how to play basketball except for running as fast and as hard as he could everywhere. This dunk on Mario Chalmers was when all of it came together perfectly for a split second.
5. Harden embarrasses Hickson
My favorite part of Harden’s dunk over Hickson is still the reaction after. He knew how dirty it was.
4. Off the backboard
It’s a shame this dunk involved Earl Watson, but it could be worse, I guess. It could be Derek Fisher (I kid).
3. Heads up, Hibbert
On a few of KD’s best posters, he’s fallen down, which has kind of taken away from them a bit. This one, in challenging 7-foot-2, 275-pound Roy Hibbert, Durant did not fallen down. He didn’t dunk over Hibbert. He dunked through him.
2. The time Russell Westbrook flew
Allow me to recount my reaction when I saw this live from my seat on press row: I remember kind of having my head down, not paying too close attention to the game at that point — come on, it was the Kings in like March — and I looked up right as Durant was letting go of the ball. Westbrook was blocked from my view and I just saw what I thought was a horrible oop from KD that was headed over the backboard. Then I saw Westbrook. It literally — LITERALLY — looked like he jumped off a trampoline. It wasn’t how high he got up. It was how fast he elevated. The word “explosive” is overused in basketball, but that leap but Westbrook was truly explosive.
1. Durant over Haywood
The moment, the significance, what happened after, the surprise, the everything about it. My favorite Thunder dunk ever.