This summer, the Trail Blazers lost their entire starting frontcourt from the last two seasons -- Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez -- to trades or free agency, ensuring the NBA's No. 2 ranked team in rebounds per game last season (45.9) would see an overhaul up front and, perhaps, experience a drop-off on the boards.
When Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu joined holdovers Chris Kaman and Meyers Leonard to ostensibly form Portland's frontcourt rotation of the foreseeable future this past month, pundits knew the offensive production down low would likely take a dive. On the other hand, the rebounding acumen of the Blazers' bigs has been touted as a potential strength for the team.
So what exactly can we expect to see from Portland's frontcourt on the glass this season?
In terms of total rebounding percentage, according to NBA.com, Kaman actually led the team last year at 19 percent, followed by Thomas Robinson (18 percent) and Joel Freeland (16.7 percent). Leonard came in at No. 4 on the list, ahead of Aldridge, Victor Claver and Lopez. Batum brought up the rear of the frontcourt rotation.
The bulk of the offensive rebounding load last season was carried by Lopez, Kaman, Freeland, Robinson and Aldridge, in that order.
Kaman, Davis and Plumlee all registered among the top-50 players in the league last season for rebounding percentage (minimum 41 games played, 10 minutes per night). With that in mind, it wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that Portland is going to be tough to beat on the boards next season. Sure, more rebounding opportunities mean the ball's not going in the hoop as often, but the Blazers should still be able to hang their hats on the effort they'll be able to put forth on the glass on a nightly basis.
But there's potentially more context to take into account. Different teams employ different rebounding strategies for a multitude of reasons. For example, Portland struggled at times to contain other teams in transition last season -- the Blazers relied heavily on three-pointers, leading to long rebounds and potential fast break opportunities for the opposition. Coach Terry Stotts compensated for those opportunities by de-emphasizing crashing the glass on the offensive end in favor of getting back in transition. Often only the center would hang back for rebounds under his own basket, and thus Lopez and Kaman led the team in rebounding percentage on that end and the team's offensive rebounding percentage itself was pedestrian as a result.
Instead of looking at the raw rebounding numbers of Aminu, Plumlee, Davis and Vonleh in comparison to their league-wide peers, then, we should see how they ranked on their own teams. After all, as outlined above, no two teams share absolutely identical philosophies on the boards and personnel, tendencies and play style -- among many other variables -- can play huge roles in determining if a player's rebounding output is either suppressed, inflated or accurately represented at face-value in a given system.
Let's look at offensive, defensive and overall rebounding percentages for Aminu, Plumlee and Davis from last year and how they ranked on their own teams to see how they stacked up in comparison to their teammates. For Vonleh, his 2013-14 statistics from his freshman year at Indiana University -- his only season in college -- will have to do, considering the majority of his minutes during his rookie year in Charlotte came in garbage-time and aren't an accurate projection of how he might look given legitimate rotation minutes in 2015 and beyond.
Here are the numbers, and it's worth noting that seldom-used bench players on the respective teams of these players have been removed from the team rankings to provide the clearest picture possible:
|Off. Reb %||Team Rk.|
|Def. Reb %||Team Rk.|
|Ovr. Reb %||Team Rk.|
For reference, let's see how Leonard and Kaman -- who've remained in Portland -- stacked up next to their departed frontcourt peers last year (all statistics are from the 29 games following the All-Star break to account for the midseason trade of Robinson and Will Barton):
|Off. Reb %||Team Rk.||Def. Reb %||Team Rk.||Ovr. Reb %||Team Rk.|
We can glean lots of tid-bits from these rebounding numbers. Kaman, by percentage, was Portland's best rebounder on both sides of the ball last year post-All-Star break. Many consider GM Neil Olshey's retaining of the 33-year-old center a move to keep a veteran presence and mentor for the young bigs in the locker room. While that may be true, Kaman still clearly has value as a legitimate rebounder on both sides of the ball. In what will likely be a reduced role next season, he could still prove just as productive; Coming off the bench exclusively, Kaman would be able to play mostly against reserves and in shorter bursts, likely leading to a continuation of his solid numbers.
Leonard didn't have many opportunities for offensive rebounds because he played so often on the perimeter, and it shows. Still, he was behind only Kaman in both defensive and overall rebounding percentages for the Blazers after the All-Star break. That means, statistically speaking in terms of percentages, Portland managed to retain its two most productive big men on the glass from the second half of last season.
To add to the existing nucleus of Leonard and Kaman up front, Olshey was able to bring in four players who were also either the best or second-best overall rebounding percentage leaders for their respective teams last season.
Losing Lopez, Aldridge and Freeland up front will put a ding in Portland's ability to rebound the ball offensively, but a) Stotts will likely again be emphasizing transition defense in lieu of crashing the offensive glass this year, and b) Plumlee and Davis were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in offensive rebounding percentage last year for their teams, providing more than capable replacements for the players whose vacant spots they'll be filling.
The Blazers might suffer most on the defensive end of the boards this season, as Aldridge, Freeland and Batum were heavy contributors there. Lopez, though his numbers may seem less gaudy, was said to take up space and make his teammates' work on the glass less difficult simply by virtue of requiring attention at all times from the opposition. That type of role will be hard to fill for any of Portland's current frontcourt players, though Leonard has the size to be a similar pest and will likely be given the minutes to do so. Vonleh was a defensive rebounding beast in college and Plumlee trailed only Kevin Garnett in defensive rebounding percentage for the Nets last season.
All things considered, Portland is bringing back its top two overall rebounders by percentage from the stretch run of last season -- Leonard and Kaman -- while replacing the frontcourt players it lost with young, athletic and skilled rebounders who, for the most part, led their own teams on the glass.
While Davis and Plumlee specialize in securing offensive rebounds -- which may be encouraged if they're playing alongside Leonard, who will likely again be on the perimeter and a better option for getting back and defending in transition while allowing his power forward counterpart to crash the offensive glass -- Vonleh does most of his damage on the opposite side. Aminu doesn't excel on either end but is consistent overall and a solid all-around rebounder, allowing him to complement whichever frontcourt players with whom he'll be sharing the floor.
Stotts may have a lot on his plate implementing an offensive system based around All-Star Damian Lillard and his revamped supporting cast. Indeed, he'll also have to solve the conundrum of fitting his new pieces into the defensive parameters he's employed to great success the last three seasons.
But if Blazer fans can reasonably expect solid team production night-in and night-out in any one facet of the game next year, rebounding appears to be a legitimate team strength going forward.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter