Written By: Jack Gray
At some point this season, we overlooked a wild stat: Blake Griffin had not dunked the basketball since December 12th of 2019, a drought spanning nearly 15 months.
This year’s NBA postseason has been full of many entertaining, important storylines that will determine and guide legacies for teams and players for years to come, but I would like to instead spotlight something interesting happening that mustn’t go unnoticed—Blake Griffin has relearned the ability to dunk the basketball.
For the past few years, the 32-year-old superstar has not been in headlines because of his steady decrease in production on the floor. He also had been playing for the Detroit Pistons since 2017, one of the worst teams in the league who never finished above .500 during his tenure there. The combination of his receding stats and the lack of team success pretty much kept him off SportsCenter entirely for the past few years. In the back of our minds, however, he remained revered as one of the most prolific and fiery dunkers to ever play the sport.
At some point this season though, we overlooked a wild stat: Blake Griffin had not dunked the basketball since December 12th of 2019, a drought spanning nearly 15 months. During his last two seasons with Detroit, his Minutes Played had hardly dropped at all; he was clocking roughly 30 minutes per game on the floor just as he had done his entire career, and his Usage Percentage did drop from a career 29% to 19.3% in 2020, but that USG% is still a high mark compared to a league average player. During his last eleven games in Detroit, he had 31 shots inside the 2-foot mark (at the rim)—yet he did not dunk a single time. Perhaps we had accepted the idea that Blake Griffin was no longer an agile superstar in the NBA and was aging into something of a less explosive role player. Nobody seemed to notice that he was not dunking the basketball. Did he himself even know he was in an unusual dunk drought? Maybe there was simply no inspiration to dunk when the team you’re playing for has a 43% Win Percentage.
In March of this year when he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets, the NBA’s most star-studded electric cast of offensive talent, many viewers thought okay..? Is he going to even help them? And sure—a big reason he was signed by the Nets was to improve their defensive depth, as Blake Griffin provides a brick-like defensive frame and experience that would help the Nets throughout the playoffs. He was no longer expected to play in the superstar role, and perhaps that made the transition to a new team easier for him.
Fast forward to his first game in a Brooklyn Nets jersey. Anybody want to guess what he did in the very first game? Yeah, a dunk. The dunks continued too. In a sense, he has gone on a dunk rampage with the Nets. In 26 games, he has totaled 23 dunks. With Brooklyn, 31.9% of his shots from within 2 feet have been dunks; this compares to a 5.9% Dunk Rate from close range with Detroit since November of 2019. This is not to say the Nets have been giving him more opportunities at the rim. In his last 30 games with the Detroit Pistons, he averaged 2.27 Rim Opportunities per Game, and this compares to 2.77 Rim Opportunities per Game in his 26 games with Brooklyn.
His lack of dunks at the end of his tenure with Detroit appears inexplicable on the surface, but we must remember he was Detroit’s #1 guy on the floor most of the time, so he was naturally guarded mostly by an opposing team’s best defender. In his new city of Brooklyn, he is a role player, often sharing the court with guys like Kevin Durant who draw the whole attention of defenses and guys like Kyrie Irving and James Harden who are elite ball handlers and passes who can better supply Griffin with open looks in the paint. Zero dunks in 11 games with Detroit is hard to justify. 23 dunks in 26 games with Brooklyn might be even more difficult to justify given Griffin’s apparent decline from stardom. Alas, it is nice to see an acclaimed dunker rediscover his bounce. His dunks may not have any effect on playoff results at all, but I’m sure Blake Griffin finds joy in seeing himself on the SportsCenter Top Ten nightly again.