Rebounding isn’t what we think it is

Having just read this from Marginal Revolution15899410007_68d3927ba1_z, here are a couple of thoughts about rebounding (we are in the middle of March Madness).
The article makes an interesting claim – that the this year’s two best NBA rebounders don’t “block out”. ** Blocking out means making (usually violent) contact with the nearest opponent as soon as you realize a shot has been taken. Coaches from elementary school to the NBA teach blocking out and it’s pretty much accepted as gospel that “great rebounders block out.” Except they don’t – at least this year in the NBA.

In fact, it turns out that the two best rebounders (statistically) in the NBA this year only “block out” 5 and 10 times per hundred shots (respectively). Take DeAndre Jordan (rebounding maestro of the LA Clippers) – his team rebounds better when he’s not in the game. That is,

the Clippers get to more missed shots when the NBA’s leading rebounder is NOT on the floor.

How can that be?

Simple, Jordan doesn’t box out. Around 95% of the time, he goes straight to the glass and grabs the rebound. But here’s the interesting part – he’s taking rebounds from his teammates.

To understand this, consider the ‘ideal rebounding team’. What coaches envision in the ideal rebounding team is one where all five defenders make perfect block out contact with each of the offensive players. 263317276_bfed2f0f74_zThe benefit of this (for the defensive team) is maximum real estate – where the rebound will land. If I or my 4 other teammates control that landing spot on the court, we get the rebound. But that doesn’t happen very often (even though coaches dream about it and even talk as though their team does it every possession. Just go to the Nike coaches clinic in Vegas and listen then watch that coaches’ team on video. There’s a huge gap between reality and desire.)

In fact, it doesn’t happen on the Clippers – when DeAndre Jordan is on the floor. He doesn’t box out, he goes to the glass. And at least some of the time he’s taking rebounds from teammates. This is good for Jordan’s stats, but bad for the Clippers. Why? Because they’re not maximizing their rebounding every possession. It’s great for Jordan, because his agent can say to the Clippers (and other NBA suitors)

“He’s the best rebounder in the game. Pay accordingly.”

But his individual maximization isn’t the Clippers’s team maximization. They would actually be better off if Jordan ‘boxed out’ more than 5 times per 100.

Which brings us to Doc Rivers, the Clippers (future hall of fame) coach.

  • What should he do?
  • What can he do?

These aren’t the same question.
Doc Rivers should try to get Jordan to “box out” more. If he truly wants the Clippers to win more games that will mean getting more Clippers rebounds. ** Rebounds limit your opponent’s extra shots and give you more extra shots.
What he’ll probably do is keep Jordan happy and let him swipe the glass without boxing out more than 5% of the time? Why? Because it looks like Jordan is a great rebounder and it’ll keep him happy.

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