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Have the Trail Blazers Lost their Rebounding Edge?

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Portland trends are shifting this year. Could their traditionally-excellent board work become a casualty?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In the Terry Stotts era, the Portland Trail Blazers have been known for many things: the motion offense, high pick and rolls, Damian Lillard, exceeding expectations, and a conservative defensive plan. What often goes underappreciated is that Stotts’ teams have been very good on the glass- highlighted even more so by their ability to do real damage on the offensive boards.

Most of the questions during Portland’s 2-2 start have revolved around the three-point line, both offensively and defensively. Less noted has been the lack of offensive rebounding, and to be honest a lack of dominance on the boards overall.

Hassan Whiteside’s rebounding is good by rate (23.7%, 6th in the league) and raw numbers (12.3 per game, 10th). Skal Labissiere has done great work in his limited minutes. As things sit, the Blazers are 13th in the league at 50.7% rebound rate- about as middle of the pack as you can get. Through four games, the only time the Blazers have lost the rebound battle has been against the San Antonio Spurs when the Blazers opted to play much smaller with Anthony Tolliver in the lineup more often with Zach Collins out. Team-wide production still seems to be lacking.

Maybe it’s nothing, perhaps it’s preemptive worrying for no reason, but Portland’s advantage on the glass doesn’t feel pronounced. When Whiteside is off the floor I often find myself wondering who’s going to secure a rebound. There have been timely ones already- Anfernee Simons snagged a Lillard miss against the Spurs that ended up being kicked out to Anthony Tolliver. Tolliver himself did well in that game, securing 10 rebounds though outsized at the center position against the 7-foot LaMarcus Aldridge.

They say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” However, in the NBA there are the haves and the have nots- and I worry that Portland might not have the necessary staying power to battle on the boards for 82 games. After Whiteside- only Skal and Mario Hezonja have rebounding rates over 9%. I’m a believer in Skal’s rebounding and Hezonja can certainly fill the better than average rebounding wing type- but as of yet, there hasn’t been that second guy to step up and say “I’ve got this.”

If Pau Gasol came back healthy (and soon) to take that burden, the Blazers would be fine. The problem with that is, you’re now counting on the 3rd oldest player in the NBA who’s coming off a long surgery recovery on his foot. Beyond that, I don’t think the Blazers had that kind of pressure in mind when they signed Gasol to be the rotation big man.

Again, this could all be nothing- a side effect of my mind running a million miles a second trying to see what could be over the horizon and hoping to have something in place before it happens. If it goes the other way, Stotts and the Blazers will need to find another way to generate extra opportunities; either in transition or by upping the pace another gear.