The NBA has seen a lot of fantastic rebounders in its history, but never before has the the league seen so many prolific board men grace its courts at one time. Even during the all-or-nothing days, the Vanishing Point days, the Dirty Mary Crazy Larry days, the NBA typically boasted just one or a few particularly profound rebounders at a time. This year, however, the league boasts an unprecedented number of hyper-effective rebounders.
Five players* are currently grabbing more than 20% of available rebounds for their respective teams: Reggie Evans (26.4% of available rebounds), Kevin Love (24.0%), Marcus Camby (22.0%), Kris Humphries (20.8%), and Dwight Howard (20.6%). According to Basketball-Reference, prior to this year no more than three players have ever averaged a 20+ total rebounding percentage in a given season**, a mark will be shattered in ’10-’11 should those five rebounders hold their statistical ground.
Even more impressive: Andris Biedrins (19.9%) and Blake Griffin (19.8%) are but a few boards away from joining this select company, with Joakim Noah (19.2%) not far behind. These are truly the halcyon days of the rebound, a splendid time for all who worship the transition-turning power of the carom.
It’s a bit difficult, however, to pinpoint exactly why there’s such profound statistical excellence atop the rebounding leaderboards at present as opposed to past years. It’s not as if Kris Humphries is some once-in-a-generation rebounding talent, after all. We can start with pointing out the individual rebounding brilliance of each of these players juxtaposed with their respective teammates; neither Evans nor Love, Camby, Humphries, or Howard has a particularly effective rebounding counterpart. Is that due to some kind of widespread cultural change in the NBA? Are teams relying more heavily on one central rebounder to clean the boards as opposed to some previous team rebounding approach?
It’s possible, and I’m sure the very idea of previous generations doing anything as a collective makes geriatric by-the-book basketball purists foam at the mouth with excitement and affirmation. However, in the case of this particular crop, each player comes to rebounding prominence through very different circumstances. Howard’s rebounding dominance comes by design. Evans’ success is due to his teammates’ non-rebounding orientations. Humphries’ impressive number are partially caused by a teammate’s rebounding regression. If all of the league’s most successful rebounders were featured in systems like that of the Orlando Magic, we may be onto something, but as is, we can only credit such schemes as much as we can the management of David Kahn.
Perhaps the reasoning behind the trend will become more apparent over the course of the year, but for now we just have this benchmark of statistical excellence. The number of great individual rebounders is higher than ever before, almost doubling that of any season dating back to 1970. Maybe Evans, Humphries, and Biedrins aren’t thought of as being all-time great rebounders, but if they keep up their incredible production throughout the entire season, they’ll help set the collective mark for excellence on the boards.
*The only players counted for the purposes of this analysis are those that played enough minutes to qualify as statistical leaders.
**Total rebounding percentage data is only available from the 1970-1971 season onward.