Some Clarity on the Glass

Published: October 25, 2016

The 2014-15 Pelicans ranked 4th best in offensive rebounding% as Anthony Davis and Omer Asik feasted off Tyreke Evans’ wild rim running. In the 2690 minutes Evans played that year, the Pelicans had an Oreb% of 29.0, good enough for 2nd in the NBA. Davis was and is simply a monster finishing around the rim, and putbacks were a big factor in his efficiency numbers that season. So it was a slight surprise to people that Alvin Gentry decided to take offensive rebounding out of the game plan for the Pels in 2015-16.

He needed to improve the defense, the biggest factor in the Pelicans’ horrid start to the season. Through the end of November the team was giving up the most points per 100 possessions in the league, so he went with the trendy tactical decision of surrendering offensive boards in favor of getting back on defense. The decision was somewhat successful, the Pels finished the season in the top-10 defending against transition, but they were still a the bottom 3 defense. Many were left concerned as the team seems to be getting a little too trendy, especially when it comes to Anthony Davis. A growing number of fans believe his 3PAs are taking away from his strong points like finishing around the rim. While I can agree we’d all like to see Davis skying over helpless onlookers for putback dunks, the decision to get back on defense will continue this season for a number of reasons.

Good offensive rebounding teams typically have a few things in common:

  • (multiple) bigs who don’t need the ball or play mostly around the basket
  • big, athletic wings/forwards
  • guards who get the ball on the rim

The Thunder, Pistons, and Jazz were the top 3 offensive rebounding teams last season. All 3 had bigs who didn’t need the ball on offense, and either a guard or wing who got shots up on the rim. The Blazers were next on the list with their glutton of long, athletic wings. The rest of the top 10 are a similar story.

The Pelicans currently don’t have athletic rebounding wings, nor guards who can get the ball on the rim (one of the major factors allowing Lance Stephenson to make the roster). Their bigs are inconsistent and at times a liability. Ajinca can’t stay on the floor and Asik, who has great rebounding numbers, has trouble both securing and finishing the chances he gets. Outside of Davis, offensive rebounding is not a strong suit of the roster. Committing to the offensive glass is committing more to Asik, and that isn’t something most fans would want to hear.

But Davis himself excels at converting offensive rebound chances into buckets, ranking in the top 10 in both the previous seasons in that area, so why not just have him closer to the basket so he can crash more? Wouldn’t that help his efficiency numbers? Well there is more to his and the team’s offensive rebounding conundrum than him playing on the perimeter. More important than the 3PAs are the FGAs. His usg% and FGA/36 have increased every season he’s been in the league. The more and more he is asked to create with the ball in his hands, especially late in the shot clock, the less opportunity there is for him to crash.

This idea that Davis is hanging out around the arc all game is misconstrued: he had just as many chances/game at an offensive board (4.0) in 2015-16 as he did in 2014-15. Only his chase% was down, causing him to grab .5 less offensive boards/game.

Look at the list of the best offensive rebounders in the league and I’ll show you a list of big men who don’t need the ball and/or like to post up. Davis is the focal point of the offense and a weak post-up player, ranking only in the 36th percentile of the league in points per post-up. Sure he has the physical tools to dominate the boards but if you really want him closer to the basket and crashing the offensive glass then you are taking the ball out of his hands. Jrue Holiday doesn’t produce the opportunities for 2nd chance points that you would think, and actually the team had less chances when he was on the court than off. Pelicans fans all saw the negative effects of putting the ball in Tyreke Evans’ hands, so who are you going to give the ball to that can create opportunities for offensive boards and not comprise either the offense or defense? When you think about the team as a whole, surrendering the boards makes sense, and it was successful in that it had the desired effect last season.

With that said, I fully expect the team to be better on the offensive glass this season. A healthier and more mobile Asik, a more energized Davis, and possibly an Evans comeback could push the team up above average, but it is never going to be like it was under Monty Williams, nor should it be with the current make up of the roster. Davis is still going to be efficient with his putbacks, he just might not see as many.

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