abdominal agitation. The stat-men were fretting the additional burden of tracking turnovers and distinguishing offensive and defensive rebounds during the approaching season.
Well, those front-line game trackers, Philadelphia 76er publicist Harvey Pollack likely at the helm, began the compilation of data that has inspired all manner of assessment instruments and possession-based evaluation—not to mention some occasionally enlightening trivia.
For example, the NBA champs who snatched the most offensive rebounds (1,416) were the surprising 1975 Golden State Warriors. Not surprisingly, the top Offensive Rebounding Percentage (.369) was posted by the Moses Malone-led 1983 crew from Philly. What might surprise you, though, is the fact that, for that season, those powerful Sixers managed a mere nine more offensive rebounds than their opponents, 1,334-1,325.
LeBron James and his 2013 Miami Heat are the first NBA champions in nearly two decades to have been eclipsed in Total
Rebounds by their opponents. Indeed, over the 43 seasons for which Basketball-Reference provides opponent rebounding totals, only four championship squads faced an overall “boarding” deficit: the 1973 New York Knicks, Hakeem Olajuwon’s mid-90’s Rocket repeaters and ‘dem Heat.
In the matter of Offensive Rebounding totals, the back-to-back Heat brings to 16 the number of champions in 40 years with a
numerical disadvantage. While that figure (fully 40%) may seem lofty, bear in mind that the better shooting of a top-notch team creates fewer opportunities off the offensive glass. (In fact, only two NBA titlists have ever posted a lower field-goal percentage than their opposition during their championship season.)
But when we assess the teams by Offensive Rebounding Percentage, we get quite a different picture…only five champions failed to measure up to their opponents by this standard, including this year’s Heat (though not their predecessors). The other four all hail from Texas—the aforementioned Rockets, San Antonio’s most recent (2007) top dogs and the 2011 Dallas Mavericks.
Rebounds are, in fact, a fascinating area for study—their ebb and flow through eras provide us a timeline of sorts for the evolution of the game. Not a bad legacy for a statistic too insignificant to be maintained until the NBA’s fifth season, 1950-51. During that “baseline” season, teams secured 50 rebounds and made 30 of 84 shots per game on average. Of note, this was the first NBA season when scoring exceeded field goal attempts.
Ten years later, with a 24-second clock in place and a rookie named Chamberlain on board, NBA teams corralled 70 rebounds and
attempted over 100 shots—every game. The league’s field goal shooting surpassed 40 percent for the first time.
These numerical trends maintained through the 1967-68 campaign—65-70 boards, roughly 100 shots, shooting improving to the
But the following season, something odd occurs. While all shooting and scoring statistics hold steady, teams are credited with
about eight fewer rebounds per game. Some casual investigation reveals that for 1968-69 (and all subsequent seasons) a team’s Total Rebounds is equivalent to the sum of the rebound totals for all the players. Logical, right?
Well, in prior seasons, a squad’s rebounding total exceeded the result of such simple arithmetic—by more than 10 percent in
some cases. (Abacus has no explanation for this at this point in time. Theories, dear readers?)
Curiously, the rebounding leader-board for ’68-69, both in name and number, was in line with prior years, Chamberlain
topping the list with 21. Alas, that was to be the last time a player would reach the 20-rebound-per-game plateau.
By the close of the 1970’s, teams were garnering fewer than 50 rebounds per game, 14 or 15 off the offensive glass. Shots per
game were a little over 90, and field-goal accuracy kept inching closer to 50 percent.
goal. For the “benchmark” 1979-80 season, teams averaged 45 rebounds per game, 15 of them offensive. Each team took 91 shots per game (fewer than three of them were three-pointers) at a .481 rate of success.
Through Michael Jordan’s first retirement in the early ‘90’s, those benchmark standards showed only marginal slippage, despite
the increased use (three times as much, fittingly) of the three-point shot.
But NBA basketball was entering a state of flux.
In 1995-96, average scoring dipped below 100 points per game for the first time in four decades. The following season
per-game field goal attempts dropped below 80 for the first time ever. As the century drew to a close, total rebounds hovered just above 40 per game, about a dozen of them offensive, while shooting had regressed to the level of the ‘60’s. Three-point shooting had increased to about 14 attempts per game.
In our most recently completed NBA season, teams averaged 42 rebounds (11 offensive), 82 shots (20 treys) and .453 field-goal
shooting. But for only the second time in a non-shortened season, not a single player amassed 1000 rebounds.
Now, getting back to NBA champions and offensive rebounds…
The league’s top offensive rebounding team has never won the championship. Actually, more than half (23 out of 40) didn’t even
crack the top ten in second shots. The data seems to indicate that it’s best to finish third, as eight titlists have arisen from that
Four championship teams have included the NBA’s top offensive rebounder for that season. One, of course, was Moses Malone in
1983. Dennis Rodman turned the trick twice with the Chicago Bulls in ’96 and ’97.
The fourth team on this list actually had the top two offensive rebounders. It was fortunate that they did, too, because this was
one of those two championship teams that had shot more poorly than their opponents. The team was the 1976 Boston Celtics, the players Paul Silas and Dave Cowens. (The other champs-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight were the 1978 Washington Bullets.)
Naturally, both these teams placed third in offensive rebounding.
“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” -- Einstein