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What Shelden Can Bring: Offensive Rebounds

Picture 2Two of the finest hoops writers out there—Kevin Pelton and Henry Abbott—have brought us an interesting discussion of whether young players are better rebounders. After some back-and-forth, Kevin produced this post over at Basketball Prospectus that shows a player’s defensive rebounding skills follows a fairly predictable trend, with players improving up to about age 29 and getting worse after that. 

Offensive rebounding, though, is different—young guys are better at it than older guys, and the deterioration in a player’s offensive rebounding skills starts almost the minute they enter the league. As they age, they get “worse.” I put “worse” in quotation marks, because Kevin speculates—and I think he’s onto something—that what might really be happening is that as young players refine their jump-shooting and passing skills, they spend less time in the lane going after offensive boards.

Why does this matter for the Celtics? Because they lost their best offensive rebounder (Leon Powe) and replaced him with one of the worst offensive rebounding big men in the league (Rasheed Wallace). Check the stats: Leon Powe (age 25) grabbed about 15 percent of all available offensive rebounds while he was on the court last season—tied with Kevin Love for the best mark in the league, according to Basketball Reference. Sheed (age 35) got his hands on just 3.1 percent of all available offensive rebounds, the “worst” mark of his career and a number that ranked dead last among centers who qualified for the scoring title and tied for 69th (with Andres Nocioni) among 81 forwards eligible for the scoring crown. 

I put “worst” in quote marks again, because ‘Sheed has developed other skills, such as three-point shooting, that have dragged him out of the paint. 

But still: The Celtics will be worse a offensive rebounding team this season with Sheed playing Powe’s minutes (and more). 

Now, I’m not convinced this matters. The C’s ranked 8th in offensive rebounding rate  last season and 18th in 2008, when they won the title. (Note: Offensive rebounding rate measures the percentage of available offensive rebounds a team gets. Measuring the raw number of ORBs is less useful, because teams that shoot well—like Boston—will get fewer ORBs because they miss fewer shots. It’s the percentage that matters). I’d be willing to bet that a thorough study would show that team defensive rebounding correlates more strongly with winning percentage than offensive rebounding. And the C’s will be fine in that category this season. They ranked 3rd overall in ’09 in DRB rate (up from 8th in ’08), and ‘Sheed, despite rarely grabbing an offensive board, is an elite defensive rebounder. 

But still: Offensive rebounds are important. They get you extra possessions. They’re sort of like the opposite of a turnover, and we all know the Celtics commit a ton of turnovers. So getting some extra ORBs would be nice. 

You know who could help in that regard? Shelden Williams.

Shelden Williams is a very good rebounder on both ends of the court. His offensive rebounding rate would have ranked about 12th among the 81 forwards who qualified for the scoring title last season. We don’t need Shelden to do much, and he’s not going to be asked to do much. But this is one way he can help—by getting the team one or two extra possessions in a key game. 

The question remains: Where will Doc find him minutes? It’s clear that Doc is committed to a Baby-Sheed front court on the primary second unit. (In a recent WEEI interview helpfully transcribed at CelticsBlog, Doc talked about how Davis and Sheed would use the floor on screen/roll plays, with Baby screening and rolling to the hoop while Sheed pops to the three-point line). Shelden is clearly fifth on the big man depth chart (and possibly sixth, depending on how you classify Scal), and sixth big men don’t typically have a regular spot in the rotation. 

But we’ve got room for a big-time offensive rebounder. Everyone will talk about how Shelden can get minutes by playing defense and setting screens. That’s true, but it’s also true that the team’s other big guys do those things just fine (excepting, perhaps, the Great Perk Illegal Screen Conspiracy). Offensive rebounding is another matter. Shelden may be the best offensive rebounder on the team. That has to be worth a few minutes a game. 

But where and when?

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