Basketball is a beautiful sport. There’s nothing better than watching a team move the ball around, contorting a defense to get a wide open lay-up, dunk or three point shot. But when that shot attempt misses, it’s time for the glass eaters to take control – with a rebound.
Often seen on the stat sheet, but never fully recognised, many fans see the rebound as the boring or ugly side of the game. However, there’s an art to rebounding just like there is for shooting, dribbling or passing - it’s just harder to see. This is even more prevalent with non-rebounding stars like Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving and James Harden dominating the league.
But for every Steph Curry, there’s an Andrew Bogut. For every Kyrie Irving, a Kevin Love. Even James Harden knows that Dwight Howard will be mopping up those misses. It’s time their art form got some rep.
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Working the Glass
One man that’s now synonymous with rebounds is Dwight Howard. Regardless of what you make of his offensive talents and attitude, after 12 seasons he’s yet to average single digit rebound averages over a campaign. He’s topped the standings five times, whilst averaging 14.5rpg in his best season.
He knows a thing or two about cleaning the glass, let's put it that way.
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“It’s about will and hard work. I looked at guys like Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley and how they rebounded. I think Dennis Rodman did a great job of reading the ball off the rim”. Howard said, per NBA TNT.
“You have to find your man, make contact, get low and drive him out. [You have to] have the will and the effort to want to go get every rebound possible. I know if I’m rebounding, we’re dominating the boards and we’re going to win the game”.
However, his development wasn’t quite the same as every other big man in the league - he actually begun high school as a point guard, until he grew 13 inches in 12 months.
“I went from 5’8” to 6’3” to 6’9” in one year. I would go to church and people would say, ‘Yo, are you on stilts? ’Cause last Sunday, you wasn’t [sic] this tall!’”
“I actually played point guard and I wanted to be like Magic [Johnson], a 6-foot-10-inch point guard. Eleventh grade is really when I became a power forward and centre”. He told Dubmag.
This was when Howard became the player he is today, using his size and athleticism to pull down rebound after rebound – and he credits his high school coach.
“My coach would put this rim blocker on the top of the rim and we had a drill where about three or four guys would try to box me out. He’d throw a shot up there and I had to try and go get the rebound.
“Another drill that we did was just throwing the ball high off the glass on each side and just trying to go get it with somebody holding me back”.
It’s a simple tactic, but one which many a player has struggled to perform regularly – with only a select few players truly becoming dominant.
You have it or you don’t…
“For me, rebounding is all a mindset. My dad told me back in the day that there is no such thing as a selfish rebound because it’s a team stat. If you have to fight one of your own teammates for a rebound, do it—as long as you get it”. Kevin Love claims, per GQ.
“Also, I studied the greats. Dennis Rodman had it figured out: he knew that most shots are going to come to the other side of the rim. So that’s how I position myself. And Bill Russell always used to say that 80 percent of rebounds are below the rim”.
Despite not being the most athletic, unlike Howard, Kevin Love – now of the title chasing Cavaliers, uses a different technique to account for his lack of explosiveness.
By positioning himself more effectively, Love can use his size and cunning to act as a magnet to the leather after it crashes off the rim.
“I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to jump and touch the top of the square every time. I use my body for positioning, and I work relentlessly underneath the rim”.
This technique isn’t unproven either, with Love being part of an exclusive 30/30 club (featuring the late Moses Malone) – grabbing over 30 rebounds and scoring over 30 points over a game.
“The only other time I’ve had 30 rebounds in a game was in high school—I think I had around 35 during a national tournament game in Florida.
“When I heard that I was kind of in shock. I had no idea it had been so long. I didn’t know what to say. All I could think was, "Well, I guess I’m in pretty good company."
A dying breed
The fact is players like Love and Howard – following on from the rebounding greats like Dennis Rodman and Moses Malone, are a dying breed.
‘Small ball’ styles have quickly become common place, slowly ushering out the era of the dominant centre spot. Instead of the Shaqs of the world, we’re seeing more big men like Draymond Green, who give up height for extra mobility.
The only surviving players along with Howard and Love are the likes of Andre Drummond, who led the league in rebounds this season with 14.8 rebounds per night, and DeAndre Jordan.
On top of this, offensive playbooks regularly avoid giving these players the ball to score with, unless they can extend their jumpshot to cater for a faster paced style of play. It’s a move which has put an end to the post scoring game, which was once the ‘go-to’ style for many teams.
Now it seems that planting the ball into the block and letting a big guy go to work is a thing of the past. Thankfully, no matter just how pretty the game becomes, there’ll always be a place for someone to do the dirty work and grab those misses.
Because let’s face it, even Steph Curry misses now and then…