Aces

Is There a Right Rebounding Philosophy?

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With 2:22 left in the 3rd quarter, the Chicago Sky are only down two against the heavily favored New York Liberty.

The ball is at the top of the key and the floor is spaced with Angel Reese in the left corner and Kamilla Cardoso on the right block posting up Breanna Stewart.

Chennedy Carter catches the ball on the left wing and immediately attacks a long closeout from Kayla Thornton. As Thornton cuts off the drive, Carter crosses over from right to left and pulls up from 11 feet. On the release, Cardoso loops under the rim to the other side in hopes of getting her hands on a rebound.

More interestingly, Reese starts to attack the glass on the high side through the elbow during Carter’s crossover. Her defender gets caught up in traffic and Reese easily collects an offensive rebound. As she dribbles out of traffic to the right corner, she kicks it out and the ball is reversed to the left side of the floor.

The ball winds up in Carter’s hands again, and she attacks the baseline and goes in for a challenged lay-up. As the ball is released, Reese makes her move to the baseline side and gathers another offensive rebound.

Without anyone in her way, Reese goes up for the wide-open right-handed putback…and misses it. There is a scramble for the ball, and it is knocked out by New York. This counts as a team offensive rebound for Chicago in the stat book.

In the fourth quarter with Chicago down 11, Carter again slices through the lane – this time in transition. She misses a lay-up, but Reese is there again. She clears space and accidentally drills Jonquel Jones in the face with her elbow.

The 6-foot-6 Jones recovers as 6-foot-3 Reese gathers and goes up hoping to get a foul call. Jones stuffs the ball back toward the foul line. Reese retrieves the ball (another offensive rebound), then flips up a desperate right-handed prayer. As it caroms off the rim, she battles again for the board but tips it over the backboard and out of bounds.

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Reese finishes the game with a double-double – 13 points and 10 rebounds, five of them offensive. She shoots 3-for-12 from the field, however, including 0-for-4 on putbacks following offensive rebounds. The Sky ultimately fall short, losing 88-75 on their home court. Their effective field-goal percentage is a dismal 33.8%, the fourth worst in the WNBA this season.

Chicago’s Empty Possessions

Reese, a slender 6-foot-3 rookie forward from LSU, is the top offensive rebounder in the league, gathering 8.2 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions (minimum of 100 minutes played).

The Sky are second in the league in offensive rebounding percentage (31.9%), only behind the Dallas Wings (34.5%). Elizabeth Williams ranks sixth in the WNBA with 5.0 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions. Cardoso, a 6-foot-8 rookie from South Carolina, is averaging 7.5 offensive rebounds per 100 possessions but missed the first six games due to injury.

Despite their relentlessness on the boards, the Sky cannot seem to capitalize on these opportunities. Despite her massive offensive rebounding numbers, she is only 24th in the WNBA with 2.0 second-chance points. Of the 98 players who have played at least 100 minutes this season, Reese is 94th in eFG% (34.6%) and first in percentage of shots blocked with a staggering 21.5%.

To make matters worse, Chicago is last in the league in three-point attempts at 14.9 (the league average is 23.1). They rely more on two-point field goals than any other team yet are 11th in 2P% at 44.3%.

Chicago’s Defensive Rebounding Woes

On the defensive end, the Sky are 11th in defensive rebounding percentage.

While their athleticism and energy benefit them in offensive rebounding, their lack of size and strength hurt them in defensive rebounding. Reese and the 6-foot-3 Williams simply don’t have the size or strength to clear out opposing posts.

Although Reese ranks first in offensive rebounding, she is 22nd in defensive rebounds per 100 possessions. Elizabeth Williams is 30th. Cardoso is also having issues on the defensive glass. Her 8.2 defensive rebounds per 100 possessions is less than Reese’s.

Opposing teams are able to maneuver their way into the paint and out-muscle the Sky for rebounds. They gave up a league-high 57.1% OREB% to Connecticut. The Sun’s rebounding attack is led by a stout 6-foot-3 post in Brionna Jones and 6-foot-2 Alyssa Thomas, arguably the strongest and toughest player in the league. The Sky also have the fifth-worst game by allowing Dallas to rebound 41.7% of their misses. Dallas’s size comes in waves with 6-foot-7 Kalani Brown, 6-foot-7 Teaira McCowan, 6-foot-6 Stephanie Soares, and 6-foot-4 Monique Billings.

The Dallas Wings Conundrum

For the second-straight season, the Wings are dominating the league in offensive rebounding. Their 34.5% OREB% is well above the league average of 24.7%. The Wings lean into their size advantage by regularly starting McCowan and Billings.

Like Chicago, Dallas is near the bottom of the league in three-point attempts (10th at 17.3 per game). Dynamic guard Arike Ogunbowale is allowed to cook on the outside while the giants clean up on the inside. The Wings have five players in the top 25 in offensive rebounds per 100 possessions (minimum 100 minutes played). McCowan, Soares and Brown are fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively.

The Wings’ offensive numbers, like Chicago’s, are a little inflated. Brown is second in percentage of shots blocked at 20.0%. McCowan is sixth (14.8%) and Maddy Siegrist is 12th (11.3%).

One would think this size would easily translate to the defensive end, but the Wings are dead last in defensive rebounding percentage (70.1%). Teams are able to get out in transition more against the plodding posts of the Wings. This allows easier looks inside and free offensive rebounders for opponents.

In the halfcourt, the Wings struggle to keep opposing guards in front. This is especially true in ball-screen coverage. Although Dallas is able to contest shots in the paint, the lack of speed in rotation allows opponents free access to easy putbacks.

Despite their incredible offensive rebounding numbers, the Wings struggle to secure rebounds on the defensive end. Of the 98 players with at least 100 minutes played, McCowan is 10th in defensive rebounds per 100 possessions, Soares is 27th and Brown is 47th. This is a major decline from their offensive rebounding prowess.

The Other End of the Spectrum

The Atlanta Dream and Las Vegas Aces find themselves on the exact opposite end as Chicago and Dallas.

Atlanta is 10th in OREB% (21.6%), but third in DREB% (78.1%). On offensive shot attempts, the Dream occasionally send one to rebound. However, their emphasis is to get back and get their defense set. Tina Charles is 17th in offensive rebounding (3.8 OREB/100 poss.) but has dominated the defensive glass. She is currently fourth in defensive rebounding (12.1 DREB/100 poss.).

Rhyne Howard is another reason for this discrepancy. Howard is a 6-foot-2 guard who loves to shoot threes. Doing so does not help the Dream’s offensive rebounding deficiency. However, her length and athleticism on the other end makes Atlanta better in rebounding. She is 77th in offensive rebounding, but 39th in defensive rebounding.

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Las Vegas’s personnel and philosophy are very similar to Atlanta. The Aces have the lowest OREB% (18.0%), but the highest DREB% (80.6%).

Consistently at the top of the WNBA in shooting, the Aces rely on ball movement and shot making for their offensive production. Perennial MVP candidate A’ja Wilson is only 23rd in offensive rebounding.

However, sprinting back and having a 6-foot-4 super athlete like Wilson anchor one of the best defenses in the league has worked well for head coach Becky Hammon. Like the Dream’s Tina Charles, Wilson dominates in defensive rebounding. Her 13.3 defensive rebounds per 100 possessions is second only to Los Angeles’s Dearica Hamby’s 13.6.

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Additionally, Las Vegas’s starting 6-foot-3 center Kiah Stokes is 34th in offensive rebounding and 11th in defensive rebounding.

Rebounding Philosophy

As evidenced by certain teams in the WNBA this season, offensive and defensive rebounding do not always relate. This can be due to personnel or strategic decision-making.

Every philosophical choice made by coaching staffs results in a domino effect in other areas of the game. That’s one reason why basketball is so compelling. Finding the right formula for each team is key. Utilizing the strengths of all five on the floor is a constant challenge.

There is no right or wrong answer to rebounding philosophy. Understanding and accepting the drawbacks for certain beliefs and having players buy-in to the plan is what ultimately make it work.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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