Rebounding: How Much is Effort and How Much is Talent?

by npiller88

Kris is practicing his rebounds all over town

Jeeves’ last post about Amare Stoudamire’s overrated MVP bid got me thinking about his true value. But before I rip into him, let’s first look at the case FOR Stoudamire. In his career, it’s usually a good thing when he leads the team in scoring. That suggests that his production is important, and that he isn’t a drain on the team’s production as a whole. His team has won 63% percent of the games in which he was the leading scorer. Now, of course, much of that success can be attributed to Steve Nash with the Suns, who was the best player on that team, and whose game is built upon making the guys around him thrive. In other words, it could be more a reflection of Nash’s skills than Stoudamire’s that the team was successful when Stoudamire was the leading scorer. But we’ve seen with Stoudamire’s recent scoring success with the Knicks (in the absence of an elite point guard), that much of his value should be traced to him alone. We can assume that Stoudamire’s elite size and athleticism help him finish above the rim (where he gets many of his easy buckets), and his strong mid-range jumper is a nice tool as well. He is the best player on a decent team, and he changes the way opponents must scout and defend the Knicks.

So why isn’t he an MVP Candidate? (I mean besides the obvious, that his team is only 2 games above .500, certainly not territory for producing an MVP) Simple. Take a look at his rebounding rate: He is averaging 8.8 rebounds per game while playing nearly 38 minutes a contest, making for a paltry 11.3 per 48 minutes, good for 21st in the league, and behind guys like Ersan Ilyasova and rookie Derrick Favors. How can a 6’10” jumping jack of a player with sinewy muscle to spare fail to grab rebounds at a higher rate?

This got me thinking about what makes a good rebounder. There are plenty in the NBA who don’t exactly scream: “elite athlete.” Look at Kevin Love: Much has been made of his league leading rebounding stats (nearly 16 per game, nearing Dennis Rodman’s class), but what about his total rebound percentage? Love grabs 23.3% (thanks Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference.com) of his team’s available rebounds while on the floor. Love is a “widebody” (around 260 pounds), which helps him get position. But there are plenty of guys with that sort of build who don’t rebound at a very high rate. Glen Davis of the Celtics weighs in at 290 pounds, but grabs only 8.4 rebounds per 48 minutes.

In order to rebound, you need to box out. This involves using your body as a barrier between the defender and the basket. In other words, getting “position.” The guys who do this best tend to be beefier (like Zach Randolph, who grabs 21.4% of his team’s available rebounds, or Dejuan Blair, who grabs nearly 16 rebounds per 48 minutes, good for 5th in the league–each of these guys is around 270 pounds). But what about guys who have tremendous size, but fail to rebound at a high rate? Many (like Andrea Bargnani, Rashard Lewis and Charlie Villanueva), are softer shooting specialists. But others, like Brook Lopez (who drew the ire of his coach Avery Johnson for not rebounding enough–less than 6 per game despite being 7 feet tall, and 265 pounds), seem to have a real problem with boxing out.

So, is rebounding a skill/talent, or is it all effort? I’d say somewhere in between. There’s no doubt that successful rebounders practice boxing out at least as much as Allen Iverson practiced in any way. This can be considered a developed skill, over a long period time. Certainly, athleticism and size often dictate talent, which contributes to rebounding ability. But there are plenty of guys without great athleticism or size who get the rebounding job done, and then some. Apparently, Nets forward Kris Humphries has found enough time to practice boxing out even amidst dating Kim Kardashian, because he checks in at 17.4 rebounds per 48 minutes, behind only Kevin Love in the NBA. Even in playing only 25 or so minutes per game, he still grabs nearly 10 rebounds a game. To top it off, Humphries is fairly undersized for his power forward position (6’9″ and 235 pounds). Like Love (who actually has the advantage of a bigger midsection and leg strength), Humphries is overachieving as a rebounder. My spidey sense tells me a lot of this is effort. Amare should take notes.

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3 Comments to “Rebounding: How Much is Effort and How Much is Talent?”

  1. There are some (kinda) famous anecdotes where people talked rebounding with Rodman. Rodman would explain to them all about angles and knowing which players usually miss in what direction. The people that spoke with him always came away awed at the ‘science’ he put into rebounding

  2. interesing.. sounds like reading the angles and studying the players is an important thing too. Perhaps I should put that careful study into the “effort” column. Or maybe it was Rodman’s God-given ability to anticipate such things.

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