Revisiting the Spurs’ Rebounding

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Note – The stats in this article were taken before the Spurs’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. 

Earlier in the season, I examined how the San Antonio Spurs’ rebounding was potentially their largest strength. Now is a good time, then, with the season winding down, to examine how their rebounding has performed throughout the season.

Over the course of the season, the Spurs have either out-rebounded or matched their opponent’s rebound total in 49 games. Their record in such games is a solid 34-15. On the other hand, the Spurs have a record of 11-18 in the 29 games that they have been out-rebounded. Some of that, admittedly, has little to do with rebounding. In a game where the Spurs shoot significantly better than their opponent, they can out-rebound the opposing team simply due to the larger number of potential rebounds available to them, rather than being fundamentally better at boxing out or positioning for the rebound.

But the Spurs strong rebounding shows up in other metrics as well. The Spurs currently rank 8th in defensive rebounding percentage, or the percentage of total opponent missed shots they grab as defensive rebounds. Only three playoff teams rank better than they do in this metric, the Utah Jazz, the Houston Rockets, and the Portland Trail Blazers.

Strong defensive rebounding has been a trademark of the Spurs’ defensive system for some time now. As far back as CleaningTheGlass.com’s historical stats go (the 2003-2004 season), the Spurs have had a top 10 defensive rebounding percentage in the league. This season, however, they are top 10 in offensive rebounding as well. After spending many seasons ranked in the mid-20s in offensive rebounding, the Spurs shot up to 10th last season and improved that to 8th this season. Only the Portland Trail Blazers have been better in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

This rebounding has sustained the Spurs on both ends of the court. Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers showed the danger in allowing teams to gain control of the offensive glass. The Clippers grabbed 12 offensive boards in the matchup, many of which resulted in fouls by the Spurs and free throws for the Clippers, which ultimately cost the Spurs the game.

The rebounding on the offensive end, however, has allowed them to make up some of the ground that they lose with their poor efficiency this season. That, coupled with their low turnover rate, means they have extra possessions over most teams they play against.

Their rebounding excellence this season starts with Dejounte Murray, who grabs 20% of opponent’s missed shots, ranking in the 98th percentile for all qualifying point guards. While Murray does not give the Spurs the spacing that their offense desperately needs, his overall defense, as well as his rebounding prowess and ever-improving decision-making makes him a net positive for the Spurs most nights. Besides Murray, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Kyle Anderson, and Danny Green all rank in the 68th percentile or higher in defensive rebounding at their respective positions.

While this season has brought more change and variables for the Spurs than they are used to, their rebounding has stayed consistent throughout most of the season. As it continues to be one of their strongest traits, the Spurs will rely on their rebounding along with their defense, in general, to carry them down the stretch of the season as they try to clinch a playoff spot.

All counting stats from basketball-reference.com. All other stats from cleaningtheglass.com

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