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Stat of the Week: Rebounding

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Some teams rebound, and some teams don’t. How much does rebounding impact a team’s ultimate success though?

NBA: Preseason-Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the differences between offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding were discussed in the comments section, so for this edition of Stat of the Week, I decided to dive into some rebounding numbers. The premise was to discover which rebounding numbers, if any, were indicative of team success. What I found was very interesting.

I decided to start with a simple search of total rebounds per game. This past season, six teams in the top ten of rebounds per contest made the playoffs, including the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Oklahoma City Thunder. In contrast though, the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and New York Knicks all made the list as well. Total rebounds per game didn’t seem like a metric to utilize if those three teams made the list.

So maybe preventing rebounds for the opposition was the way to go? The ten teams with the least rebounds against them had six playoff representatives as well. Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Toronto all showed up here, so it’s definitely closer, but 6/10 is pretty low, and Minnesota, Denver, and Milwaukee all showed up.

After some fiddling with the numbers, I concluded that the most important statistic (by far) is rebounding differential. Rebounding differential is defined as the amount of boards a team accumulates minus the amount of boards the opposing team accumulates.

Eight of the top ten teams in rebounding differential showed up in the playoffs in 2015-16. Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Toronto all showed up on this list, and if the best five teams in the league last year did it, then it’s probably smart to emulate.

I decided to take the rebounding differentials of teams that last 15 years to see if there was in fact a correlation: On average, 8.3 teams in the top ten in rebounding differential made the playoffs over a 15 year sample.


Offensive rebounding is a stylistic choice for some of these teams. Oklahoma City has used it for years to get easy baskets, and two of the reasons are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Both players draw many defenders into the paint, creating easy rebound opportunities for the complementary players.

There is very little correlation between the best offensive rebounding teams and the most successful teams in the NBA. Some teams like to go for offensive rebounds, like the Thunder and the Cavaliers, prioritize it. Some teams like to avoid them like the plague, like San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Focusing on defensive rebounding is another choice, and it has a slightly higher correlation, but it’s not perfect either.

In the end, I see rebounding as a skill that contributes to winning if it’s done properly through boxing out and being fundamentally sound. Teams have to know when to go for offensive rebounds and when to stay back. Tipping the balance of the floor too far one way or the other will provide the opponent with an exploitable advantage.

No matter what style a team chooses, they must maximize their output of said style. A higher rebounding differential means more opportunities to score for one team and less opportunities to score for the other. That comes down to the very definition of basketball right there: scoring baskets and preventing the opponent from doing so.

Rebounding suddenly looks pretty valuable. Our own Daniel Lewis put it in plain terms:


Lastly, if anyone’s curious, here are the rebounding differentials for the Nuggets over their first six preseason contests:

  • Toronto Raptors - (+2)
  • Los Angeles Lakers - (+13)
  • Los Angeles Lakers - (+25)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves - (+3)
  • Golden State Warriors - (+8)
  • Portland Trailblazers - (-3)

This puts the average rebounding differential at +8 rebounds per contest.

Unfortunately, there’s very little correlation between wins and rebounding differential here. In the Nuggets’ best differential (+25 against LAL), they lost due to poor turnovers and bad defense.

Over the 82 game season, it’s very likely that the Nuggets will be an elite team in rebounding differential with the size of the starting lineup along with strong rebounders at nearly every position. The question will be if the Nuggets are the exception rather than the rule.

One thing’s for certain though: if the Nuggets can rely on out-rebounding their opponent every single game, it will provide something to fall back on if the baskets aren’t dropping.

***Stiffs Night Out***

We will be hosting SNO on opening night (October 26) at our home sports bar, Jake's Sports & Spirits in Denver's vibrant RiNo neighborhood at 3800 Walnut Street, Denver CO. Located conveniently across the street from the new 38th and Blake Commuter Rail Station and just five minutes (by car) from Coors Field. Jake's will extend happy hour for all Stiffs attendees.

The event is free to attend and all ages are welcome. It's a great way to meet fellow Nuggets fans and Stiffs readers in a fun and friendly environment. We look forward to seeing you there!