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The 2013 Boston Celtics: Now with Offensive Rebounding?

“Obviously we would like to get some offensive rebounds, and if we’re under there we’ll take them, and we didn’t get any, but that ain’t why we lost. Let me just say that. Offensive rebounds is the least of our problems.”  
– Doc Rivers after Celtics grabbed one offensive rebound in loss to Spurs on November 21st

Offensive rebounds have never been a priority for Doc Rivers while he’s coached the Boston Celtics. The man has a philosophy when it comes to hitting the offensive glass and it has him putting the team’s transition defense first. Rivers has voiced his case for this line of thinking several times over the past few years, but did it most recently after the Spurs game in November, after being questioned by a Celtics reporter about the team’s lack of second chance opportunities.

“You’re a big believer in offensive rebounds I think; I’m not,” Rivers continued. “Listen, like I said, you can pick on that all I want.  That is a number I rarely look at, is offensive rebounds.  Statistically it holds up.  I can tell you, you don’t offensive rebound, you stop transition, you win more games than when you get offensive rebounds. I can guarantee you that on those stats.”

Doc’s track record speaks for itself. His teams have finished in the top-5 in defensive efficiency for five years and counting now. The C’s getting back on defense (most nights) is a major reason why. With that said though, there is a fine line between not focusing on offensive rebounds and just flat out ignoring them altogether. The latter can have a very damaging effect on a team’s offense.

Even as the worst offensive rebounding team in the league, the Celtics still grab an offensive rebound once out of every five opportunities, or 20 percent of the time. In that nine-point home loss against the Spurs a couple months back, Boston managed to grab one rebound during 36 opportunities that night or just 2.8 percent total. It may not have been the difference in the game that night, but you’re rarely going to keep pace with the Spurs offensively with that kind of ineptness on the glass.

The Celtics aren’t rebounding that poorly anymore, but the heart of the matter is that for the third straight season, the Celtics are lingering in the basement of the NBA in offensive rebounding rate. In fact, before the team’s recent six-game winning streak, the team was on pace to break the league record for worst offensive rebounding rate in a season, grabbing just 19.5 percent of potential second chance opportunities.

This comes despite the fact the team has added one of the most talented offensive rebounders (Jared Sullinger) the team has seen since the days of Leon Powe. Figure that one out. They ADDED an offensive rebounder and still had been worse as a team this year (Despite maintaining almost every other piece on the roster).

And who holds the current record for worst offensive rebounding team in NBA history? That would be the 2011-12 Boston Celtics, which grabbed just 19.7 of their misses last year.

Unlike Rivers, Danny Ainge finds the C’s paltry offensive rebounding percentage less than palatable. He had some sharp words on the C’s rebounding last year on WEEI (January 12, 2012)

“For three years now, we have been the worst offensive rebounding team in basketball. I don’t necessarily know why that hasn’t happened. It’s not just personnel, because we’ve had a lot of good offensive rebounders on this team.

“I just don’t understand why we’re last. We don’t have to be first,” he added. “It’s not based on shooting percentage. When we talk about offensive rebounding, we’re talking about offensive rebound percentage. If we shoot 40-for-80, there’s 40 rebounding opportunities when we miss and we get eight of those, that’s 20 percent. That’s what we’re playing at. It’s not enough. We’ve got to get up to 25 percent, to the middle of the pack.” – Danny Ainge on WEEI January 12, 2012

Doc likes to protect and defend his players regarding rebounding, but Danny speaks like most Celtics fans probably would. The C’s don’t have to dominate the league on the glass. They don’t even need to be “good” at it. But setting records as the worst team ever? That’s unacceptable.

With that said, there has been a sea of change recently with this team’s offensive rebounding. It’s been a quiet, almost unnoticeable change, but a change nonetheless. Slowly, but surely, the Celtics have improved their offensive rebounding over the past 20 games.

Celtics Offensive Rebounding Percentage

Last 20 games: 23.1 (24th)
Last 15 games: 24.8 (22nd)
Last 10 games: 25.4 (21st)

As you can see, the Celtics have been trending upward. The jump in ORR may not have not been dramatic, or probably even acknowledged on most nights by NBA fans. The Celtics have still been a BAD offensive rebounding team during this period, just not as bad as usual. Boston has obviously struggled in the win column in many of those past 20 games, so it’s not like you can point to an impact this change in ORR had on the team’s performance. That is until recently.

Let’s fast forward though to the team’s recent six-game winning streak where the C’s have been a ::gulp:: ABOVE-AVERAGE offensive rebounding team over that six-game stretch. Don’t believe it? I barely did either. Let’s inspect the numbers.

Celtics offensive rebounding Percentage

Last 6 games: 30.1 percent(!!!)

That my friends is quite the jump. While the small sample size warnings must apply here, that is a very dramatic jump. Just how measurable has the impact been on the Celtics offense. Let’s take a look.

Offensive rebounds per game: (Before streak) 7.6 (During streak) 11.7
Second chance points per game: (Before streak) 9.8 (During streak) 13.3
Shooting percentage: (Before streak) 46.1% (During streak) 48.2%
Points per 100 possessions: (Before streak) 100.2 (During streak) 106.1

That jump in points per 100 possessions is most important. During the team’s recent hot streak, Boston has been turning the ball at about the same rate as they have all year, and are getting to the free throw line even less than usual. Yet somehow, they’ve have a six-point jump in points per 100 possessions over that stretch. Improved shooting is one reason why, but the added possessions, thanks to offensive rebounding is the other clear-cut factor.

How have they done it as a team over this hot stretch? Let’s take a look at some key individual offensive rebounding rates

Before streak: Sullinger 13.4, Bass 7.9, Collins 7.7, Garnett 3.9, Pierce 1.9

During streak: Sullinger 17.9, Collins 10, Bass 7.6, Pierce 6.5, KG 4.7

The numbers to circle here are Sullinger and Pierce. For some perspective, Sully’s percentage over this recent streak would be good enough to lead league if he continued in over a full NBA season. Right now he’s a staggering 13th overall right now in offensive rebounding rate. He’s not just good for a rookie folks, he’s one of the best rebounders in the NBA right now.

As you can see though, it hasn’t just been Sullinger that has accounted for the jump. Bigs like Jason Collins and KG have seen slight, potentially sustainable upticks on the offensive glass. Pierce, who has done tremendous work rebounding on the defensive end of the floor, has chipped in far more than usual as well.

Despite these improvements, the larger question remains. Is this sustainable? The 30 percent number during the team’s six-game streak is probably not. However, Boston does have the horses to stabilize and become a middle of the pack offensive rebounding team, grabbing 25 percent of their second chance opportunities. Chris Wilcox, due to return from injury later this week, is above-average on the glass and should help. Sullinger’s additional minutes on the floor will be a big boon to the team’s production as well. If Pierce, Garnett and Collins can continue to chip in a bit more than usual, Boston can continue to pull themselves out of the basement (currently 29th overall in ORR ahead of the Heat).

Make no mistake, it’s been the improved defense overall which has been the biggest factor in this team’s resurgence. They’ve played out of this world defense since Avery Bradley has returned. The offense has been and will continue to need to be better though. If the offensive rebounding can continue to be a helpful, instead of a damaging part of that equation, it would be a great change for the C’s.

All stats in this article can be found at NBA.com/Stats

  • doctondi

    Still we are just in front of Miami and just behind San Antonio for OR% but the Spurs are 7th for DR%, so they are at the moment a top team.

  • Josh_5

    Hey Brian, great article. At the end of it you mentioned the defense. We can all point to factors as to what has caused this 6 game winning streak, but I must agree with you that the number one reason is defense. Since Avery Bradley's return, opponents are averaging 86.3 ppg on 40.9% shooting. Thats nasty.

  • JR99

    You know, it's all one game, with every part affecting every other part. One of the reasons our off. rebounding has improved is that our DEFENSE has improved. Sounds far-fetched, but it's not: better defense means, on average, faster, better offense — where opponents have less time to set up THEIR defense. When that happens, our shots go up before the other guys are ready for it, and so naturally it gets easier for our guys to get the rebounds when their shots miss.

    Doc's right, offensive rebounds are not very important, so I don't know why it's worth a whole article. I think our offensive rebounding is actually more of a symptom/result of other improvements in the team — better D, better overall rebounding, more aggression, faster offense, better focus, etc. — than something that the team specifically focuses on…. or even CAN specifically focus on. I.e., I don't think they will ever discuss or plan "how to get more offensive rebounds." what they do is plan how to play better defense, and decide to play harder, more aggressively, faster…. and one SIDE-EFFECT of all that is better offensive rebounding.

    • Phil725

      It's important because 2 points per 100 possessions is the difference between a bottom 5 and a league average offense. It's not unreasonable to think offensive rebounding could make up a lot of that difference. No team is a title contender with a bottom 5 offense, elite defense or no. Bumping the offense up to league average (like the Celtics have begun to do recently,) is enough to get into the conversation.

      The numbers don't lie; 30.1% ORR isn't an accident or side effect of a few transition shots. That's a top 5 number in the league, and shows a schematic shift over the last few games. Whether that's all because of Sully, matchup based, feeling better about transition D, or just because Doc has realized that this offense needs something else to get it out of the basement, I don't know. The team is sending more guys to the offensive glass, and they're reaping the reward of an improved offense.

      • JR99

        No question it's good to get them. But I don't think there's been a "schematic shift," not only for the reasons I gave, but because Doc did say: "That is a number I rarely look at" plus several other juicy quotes clearly conveying that he doesn't consider the acquisition of off. rebounds important at all. It's hard to believe that he went from that to suddenly laying out a scheme to focus on offensive rebounds.

        Plus, remember who else is really bad at off. rebounding: Miami, and the Spurs. Those two and Boston are the bottom three. If off. rebounding were important to the ultimate result everyone wants — more wins, fewer losses — then these clearly-great teams wouldn't be clearly great. Right?

        • Phil725

          It's one factor, not the be all end all. San Antonio and Miami are the two best teams in the league by eFG% (they make the highest percentage of shots when accounting for 3s being worth an extra point.) Miami's top 10 in FT rate, and San Antonio has other stuff going for it. They can more effectively pull off the strategy of getting back in transition. They also have to because their defenses aren't as good.

          Boston doesn't have those kind of peripheral things going for them. They're bad by just about any way to look at offense, so they need any advantage they can get. Doc is from the Popovich school of offensive rebounding, but he's also a good coach who's going to change if he determines his team needs it. I think the 30% number is a fluke, but I think getting out of the basement is a schematic change spurred by the fact that Sullinger is an elite offensive rebounder.

          What's the easier way to improve the team by a few points, start hitting a bunch of 3s and layups, or send Sully and someone else to the boards a few times a game?

          • JR99

            I'm gonna guess, based on Doc's various statements, that he probably didn't talk much about the offense at all, prior to the recent (vast overall) improvement. I think he probably focused almost exclusively on defense. And all good things flowed from that…. easier, faster, better offense, better offensive rebounding, etc. Then, once confidence sets in, shots started to fall more too. And so it goes.

            Did Doc TELL Sully to go get more offensive rebounds? You might be right about that…. Sully clearly tends to hang around offensive boards a lot now. Maybe that's cuz Doc told him to. Or maybe it's just his instinct. Anyway, it's a moot question, isn't it… just something for us to toss around while we wait for their next victory.

            Btw, I expect our offense to continue to improve, probably reaching around average to a-little-better-than-average, by May. And we're owed some health (directing this to the basketball gods now) after 4 straight years of getting the short end of the damned stick. And if we're healthy…. well, anything's possible then.

  • Phil725

    I for one am very happy to see the uptick in offensive rebounding. Doc can talk all he wants about preferring transition defense over offensive rebounding, but they didn't just reach the point of diminishing returns, they flew right past it. They were completely ignoring offensive boards before to the point of absurdity; there were times when Bass would fight over a guy and tip the ball back… just to have it bounce three times to the 3pt line before someone else on the other team picked it up. That's a turnover right there. You got an extra possession, and gave it right back because everyone was already on the other half of the court. No team is that lethal in transition that you need 4 or 5 guys inside your own 3pt line by the time the ball is rebounded.

    The offense isn't good enough to pass up any potential advantages to help the D. In fact, the defense needs to be good enough to give some of it's strength to the offense. To truly contend, they need to be like the Bulls and play great transition D while also going for offensive rebounds.

    I agree with pretty much everything here about the trend in general: 30% probably isn't sustainable, being just bad is, and should help, Sully's a monster, everything about the streak is encouraging going forward.

    Just as an aside, isn't it weird how little the first two months seem to mean now? Does anyone even factor those in?

  • skeeds

    It's not the offensive rebounding itself that is important, it's what it indicates for the way the team functions in general. Sure, Doc can say that he doesn't care about offensive rebounds all he wants, but truth is, us not getting them tells a lot about how we play.
    First of all, our bigs are (were) jump shooters. More often than not, KG and Bass aren't in position to fight for an offensive rebound, so getting back on D is the only logical option. It's no coincidence that we also score so few of our points in the paint.
    Off course Doc would love to have a big banging down low, making life hard for opposing defenders and giving him the occasional easy put backs or 2nd chance opportunities. Does anyone think that if he had Kenneth Faried on his roster, he'd want him running back the moment a shot hits the rim? That's absurd.
    We haven't had players athletic, big and agile enough to fight for position and recover fast enough if the possession is lost. Same goes for the Spurs. When you have those kinds of players on your team, you play for the offensive rebound. (enter Sully). The Heat are a different case. They're not old, they definitely aren't slow, but they play small. They couldn't get those rebounds if they wanted to, just as our long line of devastatingly unathletic frontlines couldn't.
    Finally, unfortunately in our case, our low offensive rebounding numbers match quite nicely with our defensive numbers. I'd be willing to buy the whole "by design" thing, if we were a good defensive rebounding team.

    No, offensive rebounding isn't always an important stat by itself. It is directly linked with the overall level of athleticism and size of a team though. Either you're good enough to win without these elements, (as the Heat proved last year), or they become your undoing. (us, since 2010)… (spurs didn't have much fun against OKC either last year for that matter)…