Offensive Rebounding: What's the Deal?

Looks like Russell Westbrook is just as confused as I am. - USA TODAY Sports

What makes the Thunder good or bad at getting offensive rebounds? I attempt to provide an answer.

Sunday's win against the Bucks might be the last thing on all of our minds right now, but one statistic from that game sticks out like a sore thumb. The Thunder were destroyed on the offensive glass, 19-10. This allowed the Bucks, who shot 38% from the field, to stay in the game well into its' final minutes. The problem might not look that bad on its' own, but consider this. Out of the top 10 Rebounding teams in the NBA*, the Thunder are one of only two to have a lower offensive rebounding differential than their opponent. In laymen's terms, the Thunder are a good defensive rebounding team, but a terrible offensive rebounding one.

Rebounding is one of the enigmas of modern basketball. You'll hear countless colour commentators spout off about how rebounding comes down to nothing but sheer effort. As true as that might be, some of the league's best rebounders, like David Lee and Kevin Love, are criticized for sacrificing defense so they can be in position for the board. Offensive rebounding is an even trickier subject. They're particularly hard to get because you're called for a foul if you reach over the back of a defender. It's even harder to determine whether an offensive rebound turned the tide of a game, because there's no stat showing how many points were scored off of the extra possessions. Moreover, things like wild taps near the basket and putbacks will be counted as offensive boards, and you can get 2 or 3 of those in one possession, further skewing the stats.

Nevertheless, it's clear that offensive rebounding is a problem for the Thunder. You can tell because despite being the league's highest scoring team, they still manage to take the league's second lowest shots per game. Obviously, the Thunder's high turnover rate accounts for a good chunk of that bad ball control, but their terrible rate of offensive rebounding, particularly in relation to other teams, really puts them at a disadvantage.

Obviously, offensive rebounds happen on two ends of the floor, and how well the Thunder do is totally unrelated to how the other team does. Still, given the Thunder's relative weakness in both regards, I thought I'd take a look at both areas and see how they could be improved. (MySynergySports.com was extensively used for this article.)

Why the Thunder Can't Get Offensive Rebounds

The bigs take lots of 12 foot jumpers. This problem is the biggest, but it's also the hardest one to get around. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison can both shoot deep two pointers really well, and they make them at an extremely high percentage. It's a go-to offensive option, because it's relatively easy for a power forward to get an open shot in that range. Unfortunately, having the bigs hang around the perimeter gives your team less chance to grab an offensive board. There's no real solution or work-around for this that wouldn't hamstring the offense, but there are those that have suggested cutting down on these types of shots in the past.

The bigs set too many picks. Again, this is another problem that's hard to get around. The Thunder love to set high pick and rolls and play the two man game. This results in the trio of bigs (Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison) often standing away from the rim on that particular play.

We're a jumpshooting team. I never thought I'd be paraphrasing Charles Barkley in a serious analysis piece, but it's true. The Thunder take a ton of mid-range jumpers, and they don't really have any post threats. It's true that a lot of players do go into the post, but the Thunder don't feature a single back-to-the-basket player, nor do they have a player who shoots primarily in the painted area. As a result, there's lots of long rebounds that will easily go to the defense.

Why the Other Team Can Get Offensive Rebounds

Defensive Switching. The Thunder like to switch on their defenders a lot, often leaving one player mismatched on another. This leads to guards having to defend bigs, and that's bad news when the Thunder are trying to get a rebound in the paint.

Paint Pressure. The Thunder are a team that definitely prides itself on interior defense, to the point where they almost play a zone. Perkins and Ibaka have excellent interior communication, and do a good job of covering for each other. Moreover, the Thunder will often refuse to let another team run an iso play, putting a big behind the pirmary defender and away from his real matchup. The result, sometimes, are easy rebounds for a unguarded paint player at the other end of the paint.

Perk doesn't box out. There's a lot of thought that goes into why Perk's rebounding numbers don't stack up with his minutes played. Obviously, he's not very athletic, and he often gets rebounds stolen from him by overzealous guards. But he also doesn't box out half of the time, and it's really frustrating. Opposing centers will frequently get over their average of offensive boards against him, and that loss of possession can turn out to be critical. (His offense, on the other hand, is fine. Read more here.)

But Wait, There's More!

As of a few days ago, I was ready to post this article. But I knew something was missing: solutions. The picture I had painted seemed all-encompassing and complete. The Thunder are a bad offensive rebounding team, and that's just how it's going to be. Fortunately for me, the Thunder provided an antithesis to their performance against the Bucks on Sunday by totally obliterating the Pacers on Friday.

Let's put it in context. The Pacers are the best overall rebounding team in the NBA*, and are in the upper-echelon when it comes to offensive boards. The Thunder outrebounded them offensively 15-9, and overall 53-31. What was the difference? How were the Thunder able to get the offensive boards?

More inside shots. The Pacers are the best perimeter defense team in the NBA, so it was smart for the Thunder to concentrate their efforts in the inside. In fact, during the entire first half, they took only three 3-point shots, an abnormal low for them. The reasoning here is simple. The Thunder took closer shots, so their players were able to get easier rebounds. Badda bing, badda boom.

Serge "The Vaccum" Ibaka. It's a shame that this guy doesn't have more offense near the basket, because he's a hell of a offensive rebounder. He's got great sense as to where the ball's going to end up, and his athleticism and willingness to go up with two hands make him stand out in a crowd of mostly flat-footed NBA big men.

Hustle. Cop-out, I know. But really, that's what a lot of boards came down to. How else to you explain Russell Westbrook running in from half-court, tipping the ball out of Roy Hibbert's hand, onto the backboard, and back into his hand? It's just the will to power out of bad situations.

Alright, let's go to the other end of the spectrum. How were the Thunder able to keep the Pacers off of the offensive boards?

The Thunder defensively switched, and used a lot of paint pressure. Yes, they were basically doing the same things that led them to offensive rebounding ruin. Contradiction? No. The difference here is, the Thunder's defense actually worked. The defensive switching and perimeter pressure constantly kept the Pacers on their toes, making them unwilling to throw risky passes down low. The paint pressure only compounded the problem. Thus, the Pacers took more perimeter shots, particularly in the third quarter, and couldn't grab the offensive boards when they needed them.

What does it all mean?

Here's the long and short of it: At its' heart, offensive rebounding comes down to hustle. Both ways. If you're trying to prevent the other team from getting offensive boards, you've got to play some mean defense. If you want to get offensive boards, you've got to put in the effort.

But that's not the totality of it. Nothing's ever in black and white. There's not much the Thunder can do to prevent the other team from getting offensive boards, other than playing a strong interior D, forcing Perk to box out, and hopefully forcing the other team into outside shots. But in terms of getting their own offensive rebounds in order, there are things they can do. They can concentrate on getting into the paint, particularly against stingy defenses who won't let them shoot high percentages. They can send Serge Ibaka out less on picks, so he's available for more rebounds. Most of all, they can up the hustle.

In conclusion, offensive rebounds are wierd, they don't occur often enough to be consistent, and they should be taken on a case-by-case basis. You can make small tweaks, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to what type of game it is, and who wants it more.

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What do you think woes the Thunder in terms of offensive rebounds? Let us know in the comments!

*When I mention the top rebounding teams, I'm naturally referring to the teams with the best overall rebounding differential. It's not a perfect measuring stick, but it's more effective than total rebounding numbers. Those indicate how fast a team plays more than anything else.

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