Lakers’ Rebounding Woes Go Beyond the Big Men

Darius Soriano —  January 29, 2014

The list of things the Lakers don’t do very well is long. You don’t end up with one of the worst records in the league if this weren’t a true statement. But if we were looking for the thing the Lakers do worse than any other team in the league, rebounding would be it. If you don’t want to take my word for it, here are some simple numbers:

  • The Lakers are dead last in rebounding differential, getting out-rebounded by 5.9 a night
  • The Lakers are dead last in total rebound percentage, grabbing only 46.8% of the available rebounds a game
  • The Lakers are 29th in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing only 71.3% of the their opponent’s misses
  • The Lakers are 27th in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing only 21.7% of their own misses

These numbers essentially back up what the eye test tells us. When a shot misses, the other team grabs it more often than the Lakers do. It really is that simple.

The question, though, is why?

If you look at the comments of any game thread on this site (or, I’d imagine, any other Lakers-centric one) the blame will be placed squarely at the feet of the head coach and his rotation decisions. Fans wonder why Chris Kaman languishes on the bench while Robert Sacre plays. Fans wonder why Ryan Kelly gets more minutes than Jordan Hill. These are coaching decisions, after all, and they seem to dramatically affect the Lakers’ ability to rebound well.

Those claims aren’t totally without merit. Per Basketball-Reference, Kaman and Hill have the team’s 2nd and 3rd best defensive rebound percentages (defined as the % of defensive rebounds a player grabs while he is on the floor) at 26.1 and 23.8 respectively (1st is Pau Gasol at 26.4, by the way). Meanwhile, Sacre (15.8) and Kelly (12.5) lag far behind. Kelly’s number seems especially shameful, sitting at less than half the rate that Pau and Kaman’s are at.

Those are the individual numbers of the players, however. What about how the team rebounds with these guys on the floor? These numbers give us another layer of information and get us a bit closer to the root of the issue.

Per’s stats tool, Sacre still scores low with the team grabbing posting a defensive rebound percentage of 67.9% when he is on the floor. This is the worst number on the team. You would think, then, that if Sacre rates poorly in this area that Ryan Kelly would too, but that’s not the case at all. When Kelly is in the game, the team has a defensive rebound percentage of 73.4%, 3rd best amongst players who have played 350 minutes. More head scratching comes when looking at the team’s numbers when Hill is in the game. Though he is, overall, the team’s best rebounder in terms of total rebound percentage and third best defensive rebounder the team only grabs 70.5 of the available defensive caroms when he’s on the floor (which is the 9th best mark of players who have played over 350 minutes).

The story that these numbers start to tell is that you really can’t just pin the Lakers’ rebounding problems on the big men. Sure, they are part of the problem as we’ve all seen them miss box outs, not hustle to grab rebounds that are out of their immediate area, and, in general, simply get beat on the glass too often — especially on shots taken outside of the paint where classic rebounding technique (bodying your man and reading where the ball is going) matter most. They, as a group, must be better to hold down the glass and can’t just point the finger in another direction when the team continues to get hammered on the backboards.

That said, if we’re really looking to assign blame, the guards and wings deserve more than what they’ve received to this point. The Lakers defensive woes on the perimeter are a major factor in how poorly the team performs on the glass. When guards get beat off the dribble, the big men often have to slide over to help and challenge shots. When they do, the guards and wings must rotate to the paint to “help the helper” and body up the opposing big men who their teammate left behind. This isn’t just true on standard straight line drives, either. When the ball is penetrated and kicked out, that triggers defensive rotations that, when the ball is swung from side to side, often result in a big man rotating to the perimeter to contest a jumper. When that occurs, the Lakers wings must be better not just in seeking out a big body to box out, but in closing down the FT line area and grabbing the rebounds that carom out beyond the paint.

Too often what I see are wings who are either hopeful that their athleticism will get them to a ball or, worse yet, don’t even make the effort to move into the proper position to be factor in recovering a miss. Rather than fight and try to do the dirty work, they’re more than content to either leek out or stand and watch while a loose ball gets claimed by the other team. This, as much as the bigs getting beat, is a huge problem that needs addressing. And it has little to do with the big men and even less to do with the coaching and substitution decisions.

In the end, the big men will be the ones who get most of the flack since they’re the players whose job descriptions are “rebounding”. And as long as two of the team’s better rebounders (Kaman and Hill) don’t play as much as they could (or in Kaman’s case at all), D’Antoni will also catch heat. But, in reality, the perimeter players need to take more ownership of this issue than they have to this point and start to do the fundamental things more often to help the team. Because rebounding isn’t just the responsibility of the big men, it’s everybody’s.

Darius Soriano

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