We love watching dunks in games because, well, that’s what we wish we could do. It’s exciting. Shannon Brown throwing it down in a game is way better than Shannon Brown in the dunk context.
In 08/09, the average team dunked the ball 310.4 times in an 82-game season. Of the 13 teams above that mean, 9 of them made it to the playoffs (69.2%). When looking at the 17 teams below that average, only 7 of them made it in (41.1%). Going deeper, the mean winning percentage of those 13 teams (0.550) was nearly 9% better than that of the 18 below (0.462). These numbers are even more drastic in 09/10, with the average number of dunks per team dropping to 292.1. Out of 16 teams above the 292.1 threshold, 12 made the playoffs (75%), with only 4 of the 15 below qualifying (26.67%). The difference in winning percentage is even greater, at a 14% advantage for the dunking teams (0.569 vs. 0.421).
Conventional wisdom would assume that the reason for this disparity is because good teams not only dunk more than bad teams, they score more than other teams as well. However, when factoring in dunking as a percentage of a team’s scoring, the same differences exist: a difference of 69% vs. 41% in 08/09 and 75% vs. 26.67% in 09/10.
There’s a simple logic to this — teams that win are the ones that are efficient in scoring. No shot is more efficient (meaning shot at a higher percentage) than the dunk. Also, dunks tend to happen in efficient scoring situations, such as fast breaks or offensive rebounds. Ergo, teams that dunk a lot tend to be efficient on offense and win more because of it.
Unless Travis Outlaw is involved. Then this whole theory goes out the window.