Fred Katz is back with another piece looking at the Clippers’ rebounding and the person they’ll need greatly, DeAndre Jordan.
You can’t jump over a box out. The only way to beat it is with a beastly box out of your own.
The art of the rebound is diminishing.
We’re starting to see a generational divide at the center position in the NBA. On one side, there are the Tim Duncans and Kevin Garnetts – the older, savvy veterans who put on clinics night-in and night-out on how to play strong, fundamental basketball. Then there are the raw, young, uber athletic JaVale McGees and DeAndre Jordans. That is the type that doesn’t have a post game, that thrives in the pick-and-roll, and that can jump over the backboard. But it’s also the type that is yet to refine its game.
Let’s stick with the general trend of this offseason and blame Dwight Howard for all of this. Dwight seems to be the universal scapegoat for everything now, but this phenomenon is truly his fault. NBA scouts and GMs saw a genetic freak come into the league in 2004 and immediately start to dominate on the defensive end. The young Howard was so athletic, so strong, so quick, that his unrefined postgame didn’t really have any sort of effect on his offensive game. An older, more mature Howard now scores as often as any other center in the league. Meanwhile, his defense and rebounding are elite.
Players and teams try to replicate that formula now. Grab the How To Find an NBA Center Handbook and you’ll see it says, “Take a 6-foot-10-or-taller physical specimen with at least a 36-inch vertical and tell him to jump all over the court”. And voilá, there’s your starting center. But it really isn’t that simple and that is one of the reasons the Clippers have struggled against more competitive teams with DeAndre Jordan on the floor.
There is no argument here saying Jordan is not a good player. He absolutely is. He is capable of being a dominant shot-blocker and actually had a 6.25 percent block percentage last season, which was third best in the NBA. He was a net-positive on a team that was 14 games over .500 a year ago. He just needs to get better – especially in the rebounding category.
Looking at the raw numbers, regardless of how you draw it up, Jordan was not a bad overall rebounder last year. He averaged 10.9 rebounds per 36 minutes (17th among all qualifying NBA players), but that 10.9 figure is a bit misleading.
Jordan was actually one of the best offensive rebounders in the NBA in 2011-12, which makes sense. That’s where the athleticism comes in. Offensive rebounding is less about boxing out than is rebounding on the defensive side. That’s probably why Jordan was able to pull down 4.0 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes last year (13th among all qualifying NBA players and fifth among centers). When a teammate puts up a shot, leaping ability, quick feet, and pure athleticism can reign over all. But defensive rebounding is about boxing out, playing physical, and being in the right spot at the right time.
The issues on the defensive end were the same reasons as to why Jordan struggled so mightily in the playoffs. At the highest levels of sport, fundamentals will almost always beat out raw ability. Basketball is no exception. That’s why Jordan can dominate against teams like the Bobcats and then look so helpless while pulling down only 8.4 rebounds per 36 in limited playoff minutes, watching both his offensive and defensive rebounding percentages each fall about four points in the postseason.
Last year’s playoff matchups were unfortunate for DeAndre in that both the Grizzlies and the Spurs have elite boxer-outers. (Box-outers? Boxers? Whatever it is, they have guys who know how to keep the opposition out of the paint.) Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are big, physical grinders that can’t jump over a phone book, but can block out with the best of them. Get to round two and Tim Duncan is…well…he’s Tim Duncan. He’s the Big Fundamental and if Jordan tries to play a game of leap frog with him, Duncan will just grin and keep blocking him out.
It’s not that Jordan is lazy. It’s not that he doesn’t play hard enough. Effort is no issue at all. Blocking out is about locking into a man and getting position on him. Often, Jordan just struggles to be in the right spot. All too frequently, he‘ll get caught out of position trying to block a shot that is out of his reach. Regularly, he’ll bite on pump fakes and find himself simply in the wrong place. Lose your feet and you lose the game. Smart veterans – like the Randolphs and Duncans of the world – won’t relent that court position that Jordan just gave up.
Now – more so than ever before – the Clippers need Jordan to master his box outs. When he pulled his Houdini acts last season, instantly disappearing without warning, LA had a handicap. Reggie Evans may not have done much else, but he got rebounds and he got loads of them. That handicap showed its importance in the first-round series against Memphis when Evans actually played a bigger role than Jordan in helping the Clippers get into round two. Now he is gone and the Clippers have replaced him on the bench with some bigs that probably would not be described as dominant on the glass.
The newly signed Ryan Hollins has thrown up rebounding rates of 9.0 percent, 9.0 percent, and 9.5 percent over the past three seasons respectively. Over that time, he has finished third-to-last twice and last once among qualifying, NBA centers in that category. Ronny Turiaf has a 12 percent career rebounding rate and usually finishes somewhere around the bottom of the league in rebounding efficiency. There is no way to imagine that LA will be able to make up the rebounding it loses with Evans –who finished fifth among all qualifying NBA players in rebounding rate last year – with the tandem of Hollins and Turiaf. Single-digit rebounding rates should never come from a center, but in Clipperland, they do.
Aside from Bledsoe and Paul, the guards don’t really rebound. Billups tends to hang around the perimeter and Jamal Crawford has actually been one of the poorer statistical rebounders in the NBA over the course of his career. That means LA needs a healthy dosage of Grant Hill crashing the boards, Lamar Odom flashing his “revertigo”, and Jordan actually boxing out. If that happens, the Clippers can compete in the postseason. If it doesn’t, there might not be anyone left to pick up the scraps when Jordan is caught out of position again.