Why OKC’s rebounding technique is a proven winner and why one of the best rebounders in the NBA, isn’t even averaging the most rebounds on his team.
A couple of weeks ago, a tweet from The Ringer overlord Bill Simmons caught my attention:
Can anyone top this entry for THE WEIRDEST NBA STAT OF THE SEASON?
Right now, Steven Adams is averaging 5.1 offensive RPG and 9.1 RPG.
No NBA player has ever averaged 5+ offensive RPG but less than 10 RPG.
THAT IS SUPER WEIRD
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) February 28, 2018
If you have followed Simmons’ work as closely as I have, you realize that this is yet another thinly veiled criticism of Russell Westbrook and how he became the MVP last season. I’m not gonna go further into how BS has harbored ill will towards OKC ever since they got the team from Seattle and how the Westbrook vs Harden debate is the perfect vessel to throw dirt on them though, that’s a story for another time.
Instead, I’m gonna go into why this is. I’m gonna explain why this is not “SUPER WEIRD”, how Steven Adams is the ultimate team player, why OKC rebound differently than everyone else and show you how effective it is.
Firstly, let’s go through exactly what OKC typically tends to do on defensive rebounds when Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook are on the floor.
It happens in basically every game. A shot is about to go up, Adams locates the opposing team’s most likely rebounder, boxes him out and Westbrook grabs the board. I only had to look at their last game to find an example:
How smart is Steven Adams? Many players would unsuccessfully try to close out on Lowry’s shot, leaving Ibaka open for the rebound. Adams quickly realizes he won’t be able to affect Lowry’s shot however and instead bodies up his former teammate and gives OKC a better chance of getting the ball back should Lowry miss.
Compare how quickly Adams realizes what is happening and boxes out, compared to Defensive Player of The Year candidate Paul George. If Pascal Siakam in the corner was as good at rebounding as Westbrook, he might have been able to sneak past PG13 and gotten the rebound himself.
A lot of the responses to Bill Simmons’ tweet, bemoaned that Adams boxing out for Westbrook is only a way for Westbrook to get his precious triple doubles. They say the only reason Westbrook had more rebounds than Harden, and subsequently got the MVP last season is because of this tactic. But you look at this clip and you look at that claim, you can see that statement is not true:
James Harden has good instincts on rebounds as well, but there is no denying that Russ has the advantage on athleticism and just pure tenacity. While Westbrook is known for patrolling his own paint, waiting for a miss and an easy rebound, you’d be foolish to think that Harden never does the same. They both pad their stats, but there is an argument to be made that your best fast break option getting the rebound might be a good idea.
OKC have regressed to 13th in fastbreak efficiency this season, but finished the 3 seasons prior 3rd, 2nd and 1st respectively. Why not let Westbrook be the foundation of your fast breaks?
Anyway, back to rebounding. OKC have averaged the most rebounds in the league every single year since the 2014/2015 season. What happened in the 14/15 season you ask? Steven Adams became a starter and a vital part of OKC’s rotation.
Still, Adams has never averaged more than his current 9.0 rebounds per game tally, which ranks him as the 13th best rebounder in the game. Anyone who has seen Adams play, know that he is far better at rebounding than that. He is 2nd in offensive rebound – a stat that is more about pure rebounding ability – only slightly behind Andre Drummond. On defensive rebounds on the other hand, he utilizes another great skill he has; boxing out.
It doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, but it is hugely important. NBA are still sorting out how to track them and have temporarily removed it from advanced stats after it was introduced in February. Back then and most certainly now, Adams is the clear leader in box outs. He was averaging 11.3 per game before the All-Star Break, almost 2 more than fellow “Stache Bro” Enes Kanter in New York. They both know the value of boxing out.
If the 6 feet tall, 195 lbs Fred van Vleet can do that to one of the league’s premiere rebounders in Karl-Anthony Towns, imagine what the 7 feet tall 255 pounder from New Zealand does with his 11.3 box outs per game.
While Adams has a defensive rebounding rate of 13.7%, almost the same as J.J Barea, OKC grab defensive boards on a much higher rate when Adams is on the floor. 78.2% when Adams is on, 75.9% when Adams is off, per NBA.com’s official stats. Adams cares more about getting possession for his team than individual numbers.
“My whole thing is we need to get onto the next possession,” Adams said. “Because I don’t want to play defense. It’s so f**king difficult, mate. So, as long as we get the ball and we can stop playing defense, that’s great.”
Westbrook doesn’t need to box out his man, who is already running back to stop a fast-break by last year’s MVP. He is also as we have established, a great rebounder, who gets 2.1 contested rebounds per game, which leads all guards and is the same as LeBron James. Again, why not let Westbrook take care of rebounds?
Sure, Russell Westbrook hunts for rebounds from time to time, especially late in games that are already decided. Sure, there are numerous instances of teammates avoiding a rebound so Westbrook can take it. Sure, Steven Adams gives up a whole lot of personal glory when he is made to box out the opposing big. But why wouldn’t you when you have a fast-break phenom who is a great rebounder and the strongest guy in the league to hold off any offensive rebounding threat?