Rebounding is Our Business, and Business is Good

Rebounding, for most NBA players, can be a thankless job. It’s not always flashy, it’s not always graceful, and more often than not, great rebounders don’t receive the respect deserved for such an important facet of the game. Magic made passing fun, and Jordan made scoring sexy. But rebounding has never made it to the highlight reel, and most fans as a result under appreciate its value.

But most fans do appreciate winning championships. And I can tell you this: no rebounding equals no championship. The common saying goes that defense wins championships, and while that is true, it only matters if you get the ball back for your efforts. Taking the ball out of the opponent’s hands is the best kind of defense there is.

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Take, for example, Game 7 of the Lakers-Celtics series in 2010. In a game where nearly every player shot poorly (notable shooters Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kobe Bryant combined to shoot 26.4 percent from the field, Allen being the worst at 21.4 percent on 14 shots), rebounding was the difference. Many argue that Kobe’s 6-for-24 shooting performance proved that he choked in the most important game of his career, but I would suggest otherwise. Consider these facts:

  • The league average rebounding rate for shooting guards last year was 6.4 percent, meaning that of the teams total rebounds, the shooting guard grabbed 6.4 percent of them. When you compare that to the average center’s rebounding rate of 15.5 percent, there’s a big discrepancy.
  • During that ’09-’10 season, Kobe averaged 7.7 percent of the Lakers’ rebounds. Quentin Richardson led all shooting guards in the league (adjusted) with 10.6 percent of his team’s total rebounds.
  • During that Finals Game 7 in 2010, Kobe grabbed 15 boards, totaling a staggering 28.3 percent of the Lakers’ rebounds. During that year’s playoffs, Kobe was averaging 8.7 percent of the team’s rebounds. A 20% jump for shooting guards is rare.

Despite shooting poorly in a game that was characterized by poor shooting, Kobe (along with Pau, who grabbed 18 hard fought boards) did the dirty work, and as is the case for those who commit to rebounding, received very little credit for it outside of Los Angeles.

This season, the Lakers are demonstrating the same grit and effort in rebounding that it took to win that last championship. The Lakers are ranked second in the league in rebounding at 45.8 a game, thanks largely in part to the twin towers of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Together they feature two of the top ten rebounders in the league, and with coach Brown’s commitment to defense being a major staple of this year’s team, the effort is certainly there on most nights.

With the addition of a very good rebounding point guard in Ramon Sessions, the Lakers now have a lineup that could feature Pau and Bynum, an offensive rebounding specialist in Matt Barnes, and Kobe, who ranks ninth this year in rebounding rate for shooting guards. When the Lakers close out good defensive possessions with a rebound, the chances for winning are magnified greatly.

Friday night, the Lakers played a very good rebounding team in Minnesota, ranked third right behind the Lakers. And while the Lakers are quite comfortable playing in their home arena, there were moments when the game proved more difficult than it needed to be, due solely to rebounding. The Timberwolves gobbled up 18 offensive boards, a total that is too high for a rebounding team of the Lakers’ caliber.

When the Lakers defend and rebound well, despite all of the turmoil this team has seen this season, there is always a chance to win it. When we make it our business to work for rebounds, we make it out business to win. And winning is something that the Lakers know a little bit about.

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