September 29, 2011
One of the biggest joys of the NBA last season was watching L.A. Clippers rookie forward Blake Griffin(notes) dunk on opponents, cars, and pretty much anything that ended up in his immediate area. He was relentless, playing with fury and passion that defined his every move on the court. Griffin's game expanded as the season progressed, but his dunks were always the biggest draw.
Yet, for all the attention he got, he didn't dunk as regularly as two other players, one of whom was his own teammate. At the Warriors blog Golden State of Mind, the writer Evanz ran the numbers to figure out which players produce the most dunks, lay-ups, tip-ins and hook shots in the league (via PBT). Except, instead of using the raw totals, he did a little statistical work to figure out which players attempt the most dunks per 100 possessions of playing time. You can check out the full list at GSOM, but the top 10 is as follows, in order: DeAndre Jordan(notes), Dwight Howard(notes), Blake Griffin, JaVale McGee(notes), Tyson Chandler(notes), Ryan Hollins(notes), Hakim Warrick(notes), Andrew Bynum(notes), Kenyon Martin(notes) and LaMarcus Aldridge(notes).
The startling placement here isn't that Griffin didn't finish first -- Howard had 227 dunks to BG's 214 in 2010-11. Instead, it's that Jordan, a limited player who had a mild breakout campaign, outpaced his teammate by a margin of 4.45 to 4.04. For all the attention Griffin got for attacking the rim, Jordan actually did so more frequently.
In part, that's because Jordan is one of the most athletic centers in the league. Then again, it's hard to say he's any more athletic than Griffin -- the truth is that he's just more limited and relies on dunks to score. The takeaway here isn't that Griffin is somehow not as relentless a dunker as we previously thought, but that his game is more varied than we often suggest. He's an athletic freak, but he's also a really talented basketball player.
Griffin's young, so we have plenty of time to appreciate his many gifts. Still, we may have to start that process sooner rather than later. Rookies don't average 22.5 ppg on 50.6 percent shooting just because they're great at jumping. They have to approach the game as thinkers as well as athletes.