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Monday, March 15, 2010

A Little Ode to Wild Thing and Things I Want to Know About Rebounds

Posted By on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 at 3:57 PM

All rebounds aren't created equal. There's the offensive rebound that leads to a basket, which is better than a rebound that simply creates another possession without a score. There's the immediate putback rebound from close range, which is better than a rebound that leads to a jumper. There's the rebound that you get when no one else is around, which is more important than the rebound you get when it's you and three of your teammates standing around a missed shot with no opponents in sight. And there's the rebound that you have no business getting, which is better than the rebound that you or anyone else would have gotten anyway.

I think about that last point a lot while watching Anderson Varejao play. Calling him the "energy guy" — as seems to be the requisite description when any national announcers call Cavs games — doesn't really do justice to the manically artful way Varejao approaches the rebounding craft. It really is a joy to watch him corral loose balls that everyone has written off as lost causes.

Sometimes he'll slither through an opponents' double-team boxout coming off a free throw. Sometimes he'll circumvent a congested lane, swing around the traffic like a tight end on a circle route, and come flying from the front to tip the ball to a teammate. Sometimes he'll be stuck under the basket and imitate Z's tip drill routine as he escapes with prize in hand, pirouetting through a sea of bodies like a dolphin with a ball on his nose until everyone else is exhausted and he's left holding the rock.

Yes, it's pretty to look at, can be demoralizing to the other team and gets the crowd amped, but there's real value there. It's another possession and actually, in some regards, a bonus possession — a Super Rebound.

If you've been perusing NBA blogs in the last couple of weeks, you've undoubtedly come across discussions of the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. There's probably going to be more stat talk around here in the coming weeks as I attempt to learn and digest some of what's been written about, but that will have to wait.

For now, it's brought up questions that I, nor it seems anyone else, have the answers to, but that seem pretty fundamental to understanding how teams rebound. I want to know a average points per offensive rebound per player and team. I want to know how many Super Rebounds Varejao has. I want to better understand what teams and five-man rotations rebound most efficiently — that is, what percentage of available offensive and defensive rebounds does a five-man set get. I want to know how many rebounds Varejao and others get in the clutch, just like how 82games charted how players perform on offense during that same time (5 minutes or less, 4th quarter or OT, score within 5 points).

As I'll get into in some future posts, a lot of the reasons this data isn't available is because it's so tedious and time-consuming to collect. Mark Cuban lamented during the MIT conference that the NBA should have a centralized analytics center that collects the same kind of data that some teams are collecting on their own now. The reason? The sheer manpower it takes to chart every play. And as Cuban pointed out, that data collection is a grossly inefficient use of someone's time.

It sure would help though.

Follow me on Twitter: @vincethepolack.

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