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Danny

On Rebounding and Outliers

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(Photo Credit: Andrew Bernstein)

The HEAT’s shift towards unconventional basketball has been met with many questions over the first month of the NBA season. Outside of defense, which has been addressed here, the biggest question mark that continues to surround the HEAT is rebounding. Can a team that rarely plays two traditional big men keep opponents off the boards? Can a championship team be built without a “go-to” rebounder? One would think that last season’s playoff run quelled any of those worries, but that hasn’t been the case.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a team contending for a championship needs to have someone who does the dirty work and cleans the glass. So far this season, the Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Knicks, Spurs and Nets all have players in the top-20 in total rebounding percentage. No Thunder players make the leaderboard, but Kevin Durant represents them on the defensive rebounding percentage leaderboard, coming in at 16th in the NBA. The HEAT are absent from both leaderboards. That doesn’t surprise HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra.

“We’re not built that way. We don’t have a guy that we say, ‘OK, you just get us 15 rebounds,’” Spoelstra said. “We emphasize our defense and finishing the backline of our rotations to the block outs, and the rebound will be made by whoever is closest.”

That philosophy has worked well for the HEAT since Chris Bosh and LeBron James arrived. In the 2011 season the HEAT had the third best total rebound percentage and fourth best defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA. Last season the HEAT finished sixth and tenth in the respective categories. The HEAT have been successful without a traditional rebounder because of its approach and lineup versatility.

“The way we rotate on defense, sometimes it forces our perimeter guys to have to block out bigs. Our perimeter players are very important to the success of our rebounding,” Spoelstra said. “If they get over 20 rebounds, we usually win the rebounding game. But it all works together. Each guy has to sacrifice for each other, putting bodies on them and then we have to have multiple pursuits, even for balls that aren’t necessarily in your region.”

Over the last 20 years there has been a devaluation of offensive rebounds around the NBA. The league-average offensive rebounding percentage in 1992 was 32.9 percent. That was down to 28.9 percent in 2002 and 27.0 percent in 2012. Coaches would rather their teams get back on defense than fight for an offensive rebound.

The HEAT have followed this trend and have not finished with an above-average offensive rebounding percentage since 1998. That’s not to say the HEAT completely disregard the offensive glass, it’s just not a priority.

“We have rules to try to get our defense back and set. But, we also want our guys being aggressive. If they have an opportunity in the paint to get us another possession, we encourage that,” Spoelstra said.

So how are the HEAT doing this season? The HEAT currently rank 19th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and 18th in total rebounding percentage. On the surface, it looks like the HEAT are in big trouble. But as we dig a little deeper, things don’t look so bad.

Take a look at this chart. The red section represents a defensive rebounding percentage above 73.7 percent, which is where the 10th ranked Bulls sit. The yellow section represents anything below 72.1 percent, which is where the 21st ranked Jazz are. In this case, red means good and yellow means not so good. The size and color of the dots represent days off before the game. The larger and darker the dot, the more days off before the game. For example, the HEAT had three days off before the Milwaukee game and zero days off before the Houston game.

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(Click the the image to enlarge)

Holy outliers!

As you can see, the HEAT have nine games that would be in the top and middle thirds of the NBA pack and only four that would be in the bottom third of the league. Those two games swimming in the deep end of the yellow sea appear to have a lot in common.

The HEAT played the Denver Nuggets twice and twice the HEAT struggled to secure defensive rebounds. Denver is the best offensive rebounding team in league, but their success against the HEAT is still staggering.

What follows is cherry-picking at its finest, but bear with me. The two Denver games were both on the second night of back-to-backs, which has a significant negative effect on defensive rebounding, and they appear to be significant outliers. In fact, those two games are the two worst defensive rebounding performances with the current core. If we remove those Denver games for a second and focus on the other 11 games, what does the HEAT rebounding picture look like?

In the remaining 11 games, seven have been against above average offensive rebounding teams. Still, the HEAT have managed a defensive rebounding percentage of 75.4 percent. That mark would be the highest in the NBA. The HEAT’s total rebounding percentage would be 51.1 percent, the HEAT’s exact mark last season.

In the real world, the HEAT can’t just erase the Denver games. They happened. However, as those games become two of 50, 60 and eventually 82, their effect on the HEAT’s rebounding numbers will become less harsh.

The HEAT attack things differently than other teams, because they have to, but also because they can. Coach Spoelstra often talks about sacrifice when asked about rebounding; egos, he says, are left at the door.

“It’s a team. It’s a collective.”

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“We’re not built that way. We don’t have a guy that we say, ‘OK, you just get us 15 rebounds,’” Spoelstra said. “We emphasize our defense and finishing the backline of our rotations to the block outs, and the rebound will be made by whoever is closest.”

Man, I am afraid that the Miami Heat are gonna be in trouble for a long long time after reading this. That last statement "rebound will be made by whoever is close", tells you all you need to know: Eric Spolstra doesn't care much about rebounding, it is a nuisance, he is telling his players to do their minimum best, and not worry so much if that "whoever is close" happens to be Norris Cole trying to rebound against Blake Griffin, or the Gasols, or Chandler, or Verajao. Really?

This explains why the Heat became over night a team that cannot stop perimeter players (who take em off the dribble), but also a team that cannot box out, and CONSISTENTLY rebound. If the message is coming from your Coach, why would players even care so much? Maybe this explains why Lebron has been so upset lately. I believe trouble is brewing on the defensive side for the Miami Heat. One one hand you have Eric Spolstra arrogantly stuck with his "positionless" basket ball which is causing the team to not recognize the game play teams are employing to break us down defensively and abuse us on the rebounding side. Then on the other hand you have a player like LEBRON who finds this to be unaceptable, refuses to throw the white towel (as in the Clippers game), and wants to compete on all side of the game offense and DEFENSE!

Here is my suggestion: NBA teams are attacking the Heat's "Rope defense" by making multiple drive and kicks which lead to either open 3s (Dwad-Cole-Ray-Chalmers can't stay in front of their men), OR one of our small player is left under the rim fighting to get a rebound against the other team's 2nd Big(usually PFs. That is the game plan we've seen in the knicks-Clippers-Grizzles games. So what can the Miami heat do:

Instead of reacting to teams and their plays, what if Spo FORCED them to actually funnel the opponents to our advantage. The Spurs were good at that, they would force teams to the side and make em attack back door thinking it was open, only to have the Admiral or Duncan waiting. The heat can do this, with Bosh-LBJ-Joel waiting. This also shrinks the courts and hides our weakness with small ball.

Just an idea....spo.

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You completely misunderstood the statement made.....whether you did so intentionally or not I don't know, but obviously that's not what he means. The Heat with this small ball lineup emphasize rebounding more than most teams because they have to. They ask guards to block out forwards and perimeter players to crash the glass instead of leaking out in transition. If this team had a Howard or an Asik we wouldn't have to see Cole in the paint struggling to clear out someone with 100 lbs on him.

Everyone in the NBA plays an overload style of defense these days because zoning is allowed and it works. Its not like the Heat or Celtics or Bulls do anything unique.....they're just better at it than other people. Well the Celtics aren't anymore but that has more to do with lousy personnel decisions than anything else.

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You completely misunderstood the statement made.....whether you did so intentionally or not I don't know, but obviously that's not what he means. The Heat with this small ball lineup emphasize rebounding more than most teams because they have to. They ask guards to block out forwards and perimeter players to crash the glass instead of leaking out in transition. If this team had a Howard or an Asik we wouldn't have to see Cole in the paint struggling to clear out someone with 100 lbs on him.

Everyone in the NBA plays an overload style of defense these days because zoning is allowed and it works. Its not like the Heat or Celtics or Bulls do anything unique.....they're just better at it than other people. Well the Celtics aren't anymore but that has more to do with lousy personnel decisions than anything else.

I will give that i might have added a few things more, however the idea that Cole is struggling for rebounds with someone 100 lbs on him is a choice Spo made at the start of the season. And in term of perimiter defense, we're not getting that done either. Giving up on defensive (let alone offensive) rebounds, while being known in the nba for a team that doesn't protect the 3 much, is not habits Heat should develop. There are options Spo can employ, just means he'll have to be flexible with this small ball.

But I hear what you are saying.

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Agent, I think you're misinterpreting Spo's comment. He wants everyone being aggressive when rebounding. So yea, HEAT perimeter players probably grab more boards than perimeter players on other team, but it doesn't matter. All that matters is getting the rebounds. And outside of the two Denver games, the HEAT have been really, really good at that.

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I will give that i might have added a few things more, however the idea that Cole is struggling for rebounds with someone 100 lbs on him is a choice Spo made at the start of the season. And in term of perimiter defense, we're not getting that done either. Giving up on defensive (let alone offensive) rebounds, while being known in the nba for a team that doesn't protect the 3 much, is not habits Heat should develop. There are options Spo can employ, just means he'll have to be flexible with this small ball.

But I hear what you are saying.

Giving up on offensive rebounds is a choice, one that most good defensive teams made a long time ago. Defensive rebounding is not a choice, and yes, Spoelstra made a conscious effort to get his perimeter players to box out and go after the ball to make up for deficiencies elsewhere. That decision was made long before positionless or small basketball became synonymous with the Heat. It was made when the Heat were playing big with guys that were worse rebounders than the small players that are starting today.

Perimeter defense is a whole 'nother issue which doesn't have much to do with the defensive or rebounding philosophies.

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“We’re not built that way. We don’t have a guy that we say, ‘OK, you just get us 15 rebounds,’” Spoelstra said. “We emphasize our defense and finishing the backline of our rotations to the block outs, and the rebound will be made by whoever is closest.”

Isn't the idea of boxing out included here? Sorry, is "block out" similar to "box out?" If it is, doesn't that show that Spo is also really concerned about rebounds because if they box out well, it will not be that difficult for them to grab rebounds.

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That's one way to interpret the chart, here is my interpretation: the white section represents somewhat the league average. Around the white spot is where the Heat have gotten their losses and almost-loses (close games) with the exception of BKN, I believe. Shouldn't that say that when they don't rebound better than league average, it is hard for them if not impossible to win games (they've gotten blown out three times, and the rest have been against inferior teams)? And shouldn't that mean that they should probably emphasize rebounds in order for them to have a better chance of winning, instead of blowing it off and say "we are not built that way?"

I understand that they wanna go the Boston Celtics route and rank dead last in offensive rebounds, but if you are gonna be dead last in offensive rebounds, you can't also expect not to play a lick of defense. Also, the point of not getting offensive rebounds, as was pointed out, was to get back on defense. Something the Heat are also not doing (see washington game). So what's the point?? The real reason that they're not getting offensive rebounds is not because they are getting back, is because our big man is 20 ft from the basket when the shot goes up.

Again, for the umpteenth time in the past 2+ years, the Heat are struggling to find their identity.

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That's one way to interpret the chart, here is my interpretation: the white section represents somewhat the league average. Around the white spot is where the Heat have gotten their losses and almost-loses (close games) with the exception of BKN, I believe. Shouldn't that say that when they don't rebound better than league average, it is hard for them if not impossible to win games (they've gotten blown out three times, and the rest have been against inferior teams)? And shouldn't that mean that they should probably emphasize rebounds in order for them to have a better chance of winning, instead of blowing it off and say "we are not built that way?"

I understand that they wanna go the Boston Celtics route and rank dead last in offensive rebounds, but if you are gonna be dead last in offensive rebounds, you can't also expect not to play a lick of defense. Also, the point of not getting offensive rebounds, as was pointed out, was to get back on defense. Something the Heat are also not doing (see washington game). So what's the point?? The real reason that they're not getting offensive rebounds is not because they are getting back, is because our big man is 20 ft from the basket when the shot goes up.

Again, for the umpteenth time in the past 2+ years, the Heat are struggling to find their identity.

I like your point. I also notice that sometimes. We are playing small ball, and in that strategy our big men are supposed to be Lebron, Bosh, and UD. So since the strategy is to open up driving lanes for Lebron or D-Wade, Bosh tries to take his defender away from the paint, and that leaves almost none of them near the rim to grab the rebound especially when Lebron takes outside or perimeter jumpers. The same also happens when D-Wade does that.

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