Of the myriad of issues hurting the Portland Trail Blazers early this season, the largest culprit may not be in the inability to get Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum going at the same time, or the defense, or the injuries. It could very well be the rebounding.
The early numbers look ugly. Opponent offensive rebounds are up 18.2 percent per game, while Portland’s defensive rebounds are down. The Blazers offensive boards are down over ten percent. Overall, opponents are grabbing fifteen percent more rebounds than last season, and Portland’s team defensive rebound percentage is 74.7, fourth worst in the league. To top it all off, Portland is dead last in the NBA in second chance points allowed with 16.3.
The discrepancy should not be this large. Sure, the Blazers are missing Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, but Hassan Whiteside is covering Nurkic’s numbers, and Collins only averaged 4.2 rebounds a game last season, and was only averaging 4.0 this season before he got hurt.
But looking at the leaders for Portland in rebounding...oh dear.
Rebounding Per Game
Simply put, the Blazers players who should be accounting for rebounds (the forwards) are not accomplishing that task. The numbers on the defensive glass for Skal Labissiere and Anthony Tolliver are especially glaring.
Coach Terry Stotts’ offense is predicated around clearing the defensive glass, and sacrifices fast break opportunities to do so. It is a highly conservative system geared around doing the little things correctly so the big things can fall into place.
But while defense has been the name of the game for addressing Portland’s problems (and that is a large one, no doubt), the failure to clear the glass effectively pokes holes in Stotts’ system. Nassir Little has provided some punch in gathering and fighting for rebounds, but at 6’5 there is a limit to what he can accomplish. New acquisition Carmelo Anthony averaged 5.8 rebounds per game during his last full season, but has a reputation for not attacking the glass for chances.
Too many times this season the Blazers have been victimized by failure to box out. How many times this season have fans watched as three or even four Blazers fail to grab a rebound with just one opponent succeeding? The injuries are not to blame, as much as fans would hope to. Simply put, outside of Whiteside there is not a single rebound focused player on the team.
Ideally, Portland would solve that with a defensive stopper who can also rebound. Players like that hardly grow on trees. One possible name would be Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers if they fall out of the playoff race. Sabonis’s Defensive Win Shares rank 20th in the NBA, and his rebounding has always been top notch, similar to his longtime Blazer father.