“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