I find it appropriate to introduce a discussion of rebounding with Lee’s 1st Rule of Rebounding: “We both jump, I lose, so . . . you don’t get to jump.” Enforcing this principle ensured that my rebounding effectiveness dropped very little as I aged and my already limited athleticism declined. I figure I’m in pretty good company—Wes Unseld, Paul Silas, and Moses Malone often corralled caroms with scarcely room for a sheet of paper between their sneakers and the court. Each of them was a master of keeping their opponent on their hip and riding a cheek into his thigh so he couldn’t go airborne. They also were relentless in their pursuit of an errant shot and excelled at positioning themselves to control one side or the other of the lane at the basket. None of them felt slighted by gathering in the ball while still on the floor; actually it made it easier to launch a quick pass with authority.
Dateline: August 9, 2012––52 days until the start of training camp!
Often considered the college skill that most directly translates/transfers to the pro game, one has to wonder why this ability seems to be in such short supply—at all levels of the game. If its finer practitioners are firmly ensconced in the Hall of Fame, if it is such a highly sought skill that it is an express ticket to the Big Show, if it is valued by every coach and GM, then why isn’t it a more ardently practiced and tutored trade? Is this somehow a secret? Has it been forgotten? Will it re-emerge?
I think perhaps rebounding is the NBA equivalent of blocking in football, or backing up the play in baseball. Laboring in relative obscurity to enable others to be the stars. Think about the box score—the shots are up front, the points at the end, and the rebounds buried somewhere in the middle with those “other” statistics. After the rebound the player doesn’t prance down court wagging his finger(s) or pumping his fist. You don’t see him on the posters outside the arena with his hand poised in the “I shot it” pose. On ESPN we see dunks, shots from just over he horizon, degree-of-difficulty releases, steals (often of an errant or ill-advised pass) and the run-out, dribbling through six defenders (yeah, I wonder where that other guy comes from also), blocks into the 7th row (after which they give the ball back to the shooting team), and maybe, just maybe, a rebound if someone hauled in twenty-something. It’s the shooters exiting the arena with a bimbo on each arm, the rebounder is still in the dressing room with ice on the mouse under one eye trying to get the swelling down enough for binocular vision on the drive home.
The post-game interview is almost always about the scorer(s). You have a scoring race, all the other stats just have leaders. Guys complain about not getting “their” shots; seldom do you find a player complaining that he didn’t get enough chances to rebound. Rebounders should take a lunch pail to work; shooters carry in a stack of 8X10 glamor shots. We’re talking blue collar workers vs. A-list celebrities here, and therein lies part of the problem. I suspect comparing the jersey sales of scorers vs. rebounders would explain a lot of why kids don’t learn and emphasize that aspect of the game. What is harder to understand is why coaches don’t have/exert more influence to address this vital aspect of the game.
To score the ball, first you have to secure the ball. If the only way you gain possession is when the referee hands it to you after the other team scores, I think that pretty much guarantees that you are behind. It isn’t hard at all to make the case that rebounding is needful.
What is just as obvious is that rebounding is hard work. The ratio is probably about two bruises per rebound, certainly it is at least two body blows per. And it is not like you can just jump up and touch the rim (or top of the backboard) and guarantee the rebound. You have to be where the ball is and that often means going to where the ball is, or at least will be. You have to get there, and to keep your opponent from getting there first (or at all), or staying there.
The scramble for rebounding position is something akin to full-contact ballet. There is a reason that Doc quipped (or maybe he was dead serious) that the Judo gold medalist could teach his big men to rebound. Move and counter move, using your opponent’s inertia in your favor by redirecting it, using his force to start the spin around him—yeah, about half the martial arts handbook, minus the blows to the head and neck and with the feet. Center of gravity, leverage, force and force-change, blow, and counter-blow are all critical elements before and as the ball reaches the basket and bounces . . . to where?
Which brings us to why we are anticipating our throw-back rookie. It was exciting to listen to Jared Sullinger discuss the shooting tendencies of his teammates to enhance his odds of correctly positioning himself to get the rebound if the ball didn’t go into the basket. Paul Silas and Moses Malone had to be at home nodding in the affirmative. Watching Sully lower his base and leverage taller opponents out of the way was similarly heartening. He will be well served by converting 40 pounds of flab into 30 pounds of heat and 15 pounds of muscle to help him get up and down the court and into position and to apply force, but there is no doubt that he understands the principles of denial and leverage. He may lead the league some day in rebounds gathered in lower than the hoop.
Notice that we are approaching the end of this article without directly addressing hops. The ability to jump out of the gym has a huge wow factor, but a shrewd workman in the lane can arrange that those high flyers seldom have a chance to actually reach the basketball. Don’t assume that those awesome displays in the layup line will lead to rebounding success. It is Sully’s job to make sure that opponents leap for show, while he grabs for dough (or at least the basketball.) It is also worth noting that Kevin Garnett is not the high flyer he once was; yet he remains an effective rebounder because he understands the war in the paint. One of the advantages of Doc’s 5-5-5 time management is that Kevin now has the energy to engage in the hand-to-hand and hip-to-hip combat to get, and deny, position.
Boston, and all points beyond