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Why the Warriors have dominated the Clippers in rebounding

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The Clippers are a top-10 offensive rebounding team while the Warriors are a bottom-10 team in that category. Nevertheless, the Warriors have out-rebounded the Clippers four-games straight due, in part, to having more players who fight for contested rebounds.

Golden State Warriors v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

As I was looking through the stats for the Golden State Warriors’ win against the L.A. Clippers at halftime, what really stood out was their rebounding.

Blake Griffin had left the game after an awkward collision with JaVale McGee’s elbow, but it didn’t quite explain the rebounding differential -- Griffin is hardly a force on the boards to begin with and DeAndre Jordan, the league’s leader in rebounding percentage, was still very much in the game.

In the midst of an ugly first half, in which the Warriors had shot just 36.4% from the field, they had managed to out-rebound the Clippers 29-21 and 10-2 in offensive rebounding. Their offensive rebounding percentage — the percentage of available offensive rebounds that the Warriors retrieved — was an outstanding 38%. To put that number in perspective for those who aren’t familiar with stats (or steadfastly against them), the top team offensive rebounding percentage in the NBA this season is 27.3% held by the Oklahoma City Thunder. And when you’re not shooting well, converting that many second chances can be essential for victory.

The Warriors’ dominant offensive rebounding on Saturday

Through the first 20 minutes or so of Saturday’s game, the Warriors struggled to pull away from the Clippers and the two were tied at the 3:30 mark at the second quarter. And with the Warriors shooting just 32.7% from the field at that point, being able to recover those missed shots in the form of offensive rebounds was pretty significant (aside from Steph Curry’s 29 first-half points).

By the end of the three quarters that actually mattered, the Warriors had dominated their weakened opponents in rebounding, 44-33 and maintained that 38% offensive rebounding to outscore the Clippers 23-12 in second-chance points. Of course, they also turned it around from the field: behind Curry’s onslaught, the Warriors shot 52.2% from the field and 6-for-13 from the three-point line. So between Curry’s shooting, the three-point shooting, and scoring 12 second-chance points off of four offensive rebounds, the Warriors just completely overwhelmed a Clippers team that already had to endure the loss of Blake Griffin.

While the Warriors are not quite as bad a rebounding team as they were last season, they’ve never been a great rebounding team during the Steve Kerr era — allowing them to put up that many second chance points pretty much seals your fate.

The Clippers entered Saturday’s game ranked 30th in the NBA in opponent second chance points, allowing a league-high 14.7 second chance points a game. They were 24th in defensive rebounding percentage — the percentage of available defensive rebounds that they retrieve — securing 76.2% of the available defensive rebounds.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, this problem is not new for them.

Why rebounding is an enduring problem for the Clippers

In short, despite the Clippers being a pretty good offensive rebounding team (23.8%, eighth in the NBA), the Warriors took advantage of a serious weakness on the defensive boards and actually won the offensive rebounding battle. The reason might be two-fold: an over-reliance on DeAndre Jordan, who is an outstanding rebounder by almost any standard, and poor effort in getting contested rebounds.

And, for whatever reason, rebounding has plagued the Clippers for the entirety of current coach Doc Rivers’ tenure.

Back in October 2014, Robert Morales of the Los Angeles Daily News reported that Rivers had made rebounding a focus after a poor rebounding 2013-14 season. And if you wanted to spend a little time searching through Google, you can see that this has been a perennial issue in one form or another. Some years they’ll be a really poor offensive rebounding team, this year they’re a poor defensive rebounding team. In the 2015-16 season, for example, they were near the bottom of the NBA in both.

In Morales’ 2014 article, Rivers suggested a reason for this that might not show up in the stat sheet: players just standing around and watching Jordan rebound instead of fighting for them themselves.

“Sometimes I think they assume D.J.’s going to get it,” Rivers said, referring to post DeAndre Jordan, who in 2013-14 led the league with a 13.6 rebounding average. “So, ‘D.J.’s going to get it.’ I mean, you can see that on film. A shot goes up and everybody’s gone, except for D.J. Like, D.J., he’ll get it. Well, he can’t get them all. So we have to be a better rebounding team.

In October 2016, Wesley Johnson echoed the same sentiment in an article by Dan Woike of the Orange County Register when discussing the team’s rebounding woes entering the 2016-17 season (coming off that disastrous 2015-16 rebounding season).

“We just have to go get it,” Clippers forward Wesley Johnson said. “We have to stop relying on DJ and Blake to always go get the rebounds. It has to be a team effort for the guards, the forwards.”

And, amazingly, there might be numbers to back up that idea.

The Clippers’ one-dimensional rebounding

Tom West of Clipperholics looked at the Clippers’ rebounding problem in March 2016 and described how the problem might lie with their mediocre contested rebound percentage (the percentage of rebounds players get when another player is within 3.5 feet).

Beyond the basic rebound totals and averages, some more in-depth numbers further reveal the weakness of the Clippers in contested situations. When looking at each player’s contested rebounding percentage, Aldrich is the only player on the roster with a mark above 40 (46). And except for Griffin and Jordan (38.5 and 36.8, respectively) everyone else has a percentage of no more than 33, meaning that every other player collects no more than one in three rebounds that are contested by an opponent (per NBA.com)... it needs to change somehow and it primarily boils down to effort and some basic awareness.

Amazingly, they still have the same problem, but it’s even worse with Blake Griffin missing so much time this season (click here to see the contested rebounding rates for the whole roster via NBA.com/stats).

Jordan’s contested rebounding rate is pretty similar to what it was when West was writing back in 2016, but the landscape around him has changed.

Griffin’s contested rebounding rate has dropped to just 29.4%, which ranks fifth on the team this season; when he’s out, they don’t even have that. Montrezl Harrell (54.1%) and Willie Reed (42.5%) lead the team in contested rebounding rate, but both play under 15 mins per game. So of those who play anywhere near starter’s minutes, Jordan is the only one who has a contested rebounding percentage over 33% right now; the next closest among those who play over 25 minutes, Austin Rivers (25.4%) and Danilo Gallinari (25.0%), are currently injured. And by the time you’re talking about guys who are getting just one in four contested rebounds, you get the picture that this is a team that is consistently getting beat for boards.

The Warriors have more contested rebounders than the Clippers

As it turns out, the Warriors and Clippers have about the same contested rebounding rates as a team, per NBA.com -- the Warriors’ rate of 32.1% is pretty close to the Clippers’ rate of 32.6%. However, the distribution of those contested rebounds is very different, per NBA.com: Draymond Green and Kevin Durant fill the roles of the two starters the Warriors most rely on for rebounding opportunities with contested rebounding rates of 34.3 and 29.8, respectively. But the difference is that a) Durant has not missed as much time as Griffin has and b) they have four players (not including Damian Jones who has played in one game) above that 37% mark to the Clippers’ two.

Kevon Looney really stands out in this department with a contested rebounding rate of 60.3% in his nine minutes per game — that’s second in the league among players who have appeared in the majority of their team’s games, per NBA.com. As Hugo Kitano wrote for Golden State of Mind the other day, Looney might not be indispensable, but he absolutely has a knack for rebounding: his contested rebounding rate is paired nicely with a team-high 11.7% offensive rebounding rate. These are the kind of numbers that are typically sustainable with increased minutes. And the guys who trail Looney in offensive rebounding rate are the same guys who are the team’s best contested rebounders.

Top four contested rebounders for the Warriors

Player MPG Cont Reb% OReb%
Player MPG Cont Reb% OReb%
Kevon Looney 9.7 60.3 11.7
JaVale McGee 8.3 50 10
David West 13 48.8 8.4
Jordan Bell 14.7 37 10.5
The top four contested rebounders for the Warriors as of 1/7/2018 Contested rebounding percentage from NBA.com, offensive rebounding percentage from Basketball-Reference.com

At first glace, the Clippers are a much better offensive rebounding team than the Warriors when you look at their overall ranking. But Jordan is the only one with an offensive rebounding percentage over 10%; the Warriors have three guys over 10%. Jordan also leads the team in defensive rebounding at 36.2% with nobody else close; Zaza Pachulia leads the Warriors in defensive rebounding at 25.5%, Draymond Green is just third, and Durant fifth. The Warriors have multiple guys with different “rebounding styles”, if you will, and Kerr doesn’t have to worry about much drop-off if one guy comes out of the game.

The gang-rebounding Warriors have dominated the Clippers

The Warriors don’t look a whole lot better than the Clippers at fighting for rebounds, but they’re considerably less reliant on one player to do it. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Warriors also beat the Clippers on the boards pretty significantly in their first meeting on October 30th, as they did in their previous three meetings during the 2016-17 season. And they will likely repeat the feat in their final two meetings this season at home, including the next one tonight.

We can debate the actual value of rebounding and many people have, especially as all these new tracking metrics have emerged. We could also take a moment to opine about whether the Clippers should trade DeAndre Jordan (I’m pretty ambivalent as I don’t want to see them ever prosper, but the argument for trading him is far more persuasive than the alternative). But the bottom line is that the Clippers’ one-dimensional (or “Jordan-centric”?) rebounding can really hurt them against a team that is committed to gang-rebounding.

Giving a team like the Warriors — among the most efficient shooting teams of all-time, even without Durant — all these extra opportunities in the form of offensive rebounds make it nearly impossible to beat them, even on a poor shooting night.