The NBA's Slam Dunk competition is on tap this weekend, and even though every attempt isn't pretty to watch, it still serves as a useful homage to one of basketball's signature plays.
But on the actual court -- one where Nate Robinson is not kryptonite and Blake Griffin doesn't have to hurdle any Kias -- dunks don't carry the same clout as in years past. According to The Wall Street Journal, 17 percent of NBA players logging major minutes this season haven't dunked the ball -- not even once. That's an increase from last year, when the figure was 15 percent.
There's always a segment of the NBA population that simply doesn't have the height or vertical to reliably dunk. In rare cases like Derrick Rose, the fear of injury might dissuade a player from rising higher off the ground than necessary.
Kyle Lowry, an All-Star for the Toronto Raptors, hasn't dunked the ball since 2008. This year and last year, he was the league's leading scorers among guys who never threw down a dunk.
Then there's guys like J.J. Redick. At 6-foot-4, the Clippers sharpshooter has the height and vertical to dunk, and he did -- once. It was in the 2011 playoffs, when he was playing for the Orlando Magic.
Redick is still fully capable of dunking, but he's never been one to throw it down. As a middle-schooler, he broke his wrist going in for a dunk and concluded he'd be better served by avoiding the force and contact of a dunk and instead playing smarter to avoid a possible injury.
He can still dunk, and does -- but only in warm-ups, even though it gets him grief from his teammates, including Blake Griffin.
Griffin is an interesting case because his reputation is built off of his dunking ability. After averaging a career-high 2.9 dunks per game in 2012, the power forward is only averaging 1.4 per game this year.
What happened? Basically, Griffin got tired.
"My first few years in the league, I was relying on my athleticism to get me by, because that’s what got me to the NBA," Griffin recently wrote in The Players' Tribune. "The problem with that is, you end up getting really, really tired by February.
"My rookie year I tried to get out of bed on a road trip near the end of the season and I was like, Am I physically able to walk right now? I went out on the floor that night and ran up and down just trying to look like a real NBA human."
Avoiding dunks is now seen as a way to conserve energy, and during the course of 82 regular-season games, there's a cumulative benefit to taking the less brutalizing road. It might strip fans of some of their coveted dunks, but the result is that, come the playoffs, guys like Griffin are fresher -- and ready to throw down.