By Avi Cohen
All basic sports statistics need to be simple enough for the regular sports fan to comprehend quite readily, allowing them to understand the basics of how a player or team performed without actually watching the game. As a result of this simplicity, most are pretty flawed in some way or another when taken out of context. For instance, a typical stat line in basketball reads points, rebounds, assists – sometimes including steals and blocks. Obviously, some of these reflect a player’s performance better than others. But on the whole, the majority of these stats can be contextualized with other statistics or by effectively watching game action. But it just seems that this is not the case with rebounds.
PPG can be contextualized with FG%/FGA and USG rates. Same could be said for assists. Few people assume that lots of steals and blocks equate directly to good defense – though it certainly helps. And yet, rebounds exist within their own category. They are in limbo between offense and defense, essentially a loose-ball statistic. Granted, it could be argued that defensive rebounds are a component of playing good defense, while offensive rebounds as contributing to your team on offense.
Nevertheless, when we say someone is a good rebounder, we only really look at rebounding numbers. Maybe some will bring up rebound rates to seem smart, but that really is just controlling for minutes/game. Evaluating the offensive and defensive talents of a players often comprises multiple statistics in order to come a conclusion, and yet we typically only rely on the one or two readily available ones when judging rebounding prowess.
All in all, rebounds are all about securing the possession for your team. An offensive rebound gives the team an additional opportunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and as such, conveys more of the in-game contribution. But defensive rebounds? Not so much the case. So many teams often box-out their men specifically with the intention of allowing their designated rebounder to grab the board. The most obvious example of this is Jason Kidd on the Nets during the early 2000’s. All too often everyone else would just box their men out, let Kidd grab the board and immediately go into the fast break. Kidd was certainly a more than competent rebounder, but his numbers were highly inflated by the system implemented by the coaching staff during his time as a Net. There are plenty of others factors that need to be taken into consideration as well. If a big man’s teammates were bad perimeter defenders he would be forced to commit to help on defense more often, resulting in missed rebounding opportunities. Additionally, less offensively talented players may not be deemed a threat, and left unguarded, have no one boxing them out. The loose ball period between the shot release until possession is secured with a rebound is much less structured, and as such, much more difficult to quantify in a simple manner.
It is true that there aren’t many good and simple ways to evaluate defense. Steals and blocks are the only basic defensive statistics available to evaluate defensive contribution, but as mentioned earlier, few seriously equate those two with good defense. However, when discussing rebounding ability, there is almost no discussion beyond the number of sheer boards a player brings down.
Considering that rebounds can really be narrowed down to just securing possession, there needs to be a new method for evaluating presence on the glass. Some sort of system that weighs offensive rebounds more heavily than their easier, less contested defensive counterparts, while also taking into account the amount of times you allow your man to grab offensive rebounds. It’s certainly a considerable challenge to take on, but considering the advances of sports video analysis software, it’s definitely not as difficult as we’d imagine.
Come back over the coming months as we attempt to tackle this challenge.