Charting Lob City: Analyzing Dunk Numbers

Rowan Kavner

MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra succinctly summed up the predicament he found himself in during the Clippers’ victory Thursday.

“I don’t necessarily know if the league has figured out how to contain Chris Paul on a pick-and-roll and limit those lobs,” Spoelstra said.

There’s a reason the Clippers earned the nickname “Lob City,” and it starts with Paul’s ability to weave through the lane. Stop the Clippers’ athletic bigs, and Paul creates his own shot. Help out on Paul, and he’ll lob it up to DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin for highlight-reel dunks.

When the Clippers’ big three are operating the way they were against the Heat, when Paul went 8-of-13 from the floor and Jordan and Griffin combined for nine dunks, they can frustrate defenses more than any offense in the league.

“When you have two dynamic bigs like DJ and Blake, it’s up to me to put pressure on the defense,” Paul said. “Doc (Rivers) and Sam (Cassell) have been on me about coming downhill, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do, put as much pressure on the defense and hit Blake on that pocket pass. You’ve got to pick your poison. When we’re playing like that, I think we’re tough to beat.”

The issue for the Clippers is it hasn’t always looked that way early this year.

The Heat game marked the second time this season both Griffin and Jordan made at least three dunks apiece in a game. The first time was against the Lakers in a game the Clippers also won.

That’s not to say Jordan’s dunk numbers are down. In fact, Jordan is second in the league with a 75.9 field goal percentage, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that 70.7 percent of his field goal attempts this year have been dunks. That’s up 17 percent from last season.

Overall, Jordan has 36 dunks this season and Griffin has 13. Jordan’s recorded six games this year with at least three dunks, while Griffin has three. With Griffin relying more on the mid-range game this year, only 6.5 percent of his field goal attempts this season have been dunks, compared to 14.2 percent last year. Never has Griffin fallen below the 10 percent mark for an entire season.

A Clippers team that’s 7-4 overall is just 2-3 when Griffin hasn’t recorded a dunk. Griffin has 10 dunks in the seven games the Clippers have won; he has three in the four games they’ve lost.

There are clearly a lot more reasons for losses other than whether or not Griffin’s showing off his vertical game, but it has been a point of emphasis for him to find more of a balance offensively as he works to incorporate his shot with the athletic vertical displays he’s known for.

“I tried to just take what was available,” Griffin said after the Heat game. “I probably can watch the film and find a few places I can mix it up a little bit more and keep the pressure on them a little bit more, but I’m starting to find that rhythm.”

The encouraging sign for those wanting Griffin to attack more often is nine of his 13 dunks this seasons have come in the last five games. That was on full display against Miami, as Jordan logged six dunks and finished four alley-oops, while Griffin threw down three dunks and two alley-oops.

“The lob is a weapon for us,” said Jamal Crawford, who finished with a season-high nine assists against Miami. “It’s not just two points. It gets our bench into it, it gets the crowd into it, it gets us fired up. When we do that, we get good results.”

As Griffin made clear, “Lob City” is not forgotten.

“When it’s there, it’s there. We’re not going to stop one of our highest percentage plays,” Griffin said. “If it’s there, we’ll take it, but if not, we’re not going to force it.”