Pacers Struggling on the Boards?

Bruce Bennett

After giving up 23 offensive rebounds to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, the Pacers have slid to 10th in total rebounds and 25th in offensive boards. An examination of advanced Player Tracking data, reveals that Lance Stephenson may be the only way to see the glass as half full when it comes to the team's recent rebounding woes.

Rebounding has been a major component of the Pacers' modus operandi the last few seasons. If your team's offense and field goal percentage rank in the bottom third of the league, you better have one of the top defenses in the league, and get as many looks at the basket as you can to generate second chance opportunities. If you notice, both of these contingencies rely heavily upon rebounding. Admittedly, defensive possessions can be cut short by forcing turnovers or getting a steal, but the mainstay has to be a team's ability to clean the glass. When it comes to Indiana's smashmouth brand of basketball, crashing the boards is close to being essential - especially if they continue to rank 20th in points per game, 21st in apg, and 22nd in turnovers.

Last season, the Pacers were the top rebounding team in the NBA. In terms of offensive boards they were second to none, and when evaluating defensive rebounds they ranked eighth. But that was last year, and this is now.

The reality of now is that the Pacers are 12-1. They sit alone atop the Eastern Conference standings, but they are just not crashing the boards like they used to, at least, not yet. Per NBA.com/stats, the team currently ranks 10th in the league in total rebounds per game. Admittedly, they are still 8th when considering only defensive boards, but they have plummeted all the way from 1st to 25th on the offensive glass.

As a team, they have already been outrebounded by 5 of their first 13 opponents. Seven of those 13 opponents have beaten them on the offensive glass (Exhibit A: The Pacers allowed the undermanned and undersized Philadelphia 76ers to grab a whopping 23 offensive rebounds). Individually, George Hill, Paul George, and David West are all averaging fewer rebounds per game this season.

Are these numbers not telling enough?

Let's try taking a look at some of the Player Tracking data generated by the NBA's SportsVU cameras. For those unfamiliar with this newly implemented system of data collection, NBA.com/stats describes the statistical innovation as follows:

Player Tracking is the latest example of how technology and statistics are changing the way we understand the game of basketball.

Using six cameras installed in the catwalks of every NBA arena, SportVU software tracks the movements of every player on the court and the basketball 25 times per second. The data collected provides a plethora of innovative statistics based around speed, distance, player separation and ball possession.

One of the meaningful advanced statistics generated by the data collected is termed as "rebounding opportunities." As described by NBA.com/stats, "rebounding opportunities" encompasses the following:

"The number of times player was within the vicinity (3.5 ft) of a rebound. Measures the number of rebounds a player recovers compared to the number of rebounding chances available as well as whether or not the rebound was contested by an opponent or deferred to a teammate."

In the case of the Pacers' rebounding woes, evaluating each member of the starting five's "percentage of rebounds per chance" will be the most meaningful. The "percentage of rebounds per chance" measures the number of rebounds a player recovers compared to the number of rebounding chances (a chance is recorded each time the player is within the vicinity, 3.5ft, of a rebound).For instance, the league's leader in total rebounds, Kevin Love, is able to boast a 'percentage of rebounds per chance' of 63.6% because he grabs 13.6 of his 21.4 rebounding chances per game.

After that brief overview, let's finally take a look at the Pacers' numbers.

Paul George is currently averaging 6.2rpg. That figure is slightly down from last season where he recorded 7.6rpg. Of those 6.2rpg, only 24.7% of those are contested. When employing the use of the Player Tracking data, we can find that George's ‘percentage of rebounds per chance' is 59.6%. That number is lower than several of his elite contemporaries at the small forward position (who average at least 33 minutes per game). For instance, Carmelo Anthony records a monstrous 70.9 ‘percentage of rebounds perchance.' Likewise, although not all averaging more actual rebound per game, Gordon Hayward (69.6%), LeBron James (69.4%), Kevin Durant (66.7%), Rudy Gay (66.1%), Andre Iguodala (64.7%), Luol Deng (64.4%), and Nicolas Batum (63.6%) are all recovering more of their rebounding chances per game than George.

As for Roy Hibbert, the Big Dawg has actually upped his rebounds per game this season by almost a full board (+0.9). Of Roy's 9.2rpg, 50.4% of those are contested. Nevertheless, his ‘percentage of rebounds per chance' is actually lower than David West's rate (61.4%) and Paul George's (59.5%). Compared to other centers in the league, Hibbert grabs fewer rebounds per game and records a lower ‘percentage of rebounds per chance' than DeAndre Jordan (72.4%), Andre Drummond (71.5%), DeMarcus Cousins (70.3%), Anthony Davis (69.3%), Pau Gasol (69.3%), Andrew Bogut (66.2%), Nikola Vucevic (62.4%), and Marcin Gortat (60.2%).

If there is a bright side to the Pacers' recent rebounding woes, it would have to be the improvement of Lance Stephenson. Last season, Lance averaged 3.9rpg. Over the first thirteen games of the year, he has increased that average to 5.9rpg. Of those rebounds, 32.5% are contested - slightly more than early MVP candidate, Paul George. What is most impressive about Lance's development as a rebounder is that he is grabbing 69.4% of his rebounding chances per game - as a shooting guard.

How good is that number?

Kevin Martin is the only shooting guard currently with a better rate. Lance's ‘percentage of rebounds per chance' is higher than the likes of Dwyane Wade (64.3%), Bradley Beal (62.8%), James Harden (59.4%), and Monta Ellis (54.5%).

Granted, the ‘percentage of rebounds per chance' measurement is not without its flaws. First of all, players have to make the effort to put themselves in the vicinity of the ball (3.5ft) to record a chance. Meaning that a player who routinely blocks out (often within the vicinity), but misses out on the board may record a lower percentage than someone who rarely crashes the board (i.e. although simplistic, a player who is often outside the vicinity rebounding 3 of only 4 chances earned per game, 75%). Therefore, in the case of the Pacers, it is entirely possible that Roy Hibbert's percentage of rebounds is, in fact, lower because he is blocking out in the designated vicinity in order to better facilitate his teammates grabbing the board.

Even so, the new statistical measure does seem to shed some light on both Lance Stephenson's overall player development and the Pacers' atrophied rebounding rate this season. Moreover, it shows that if the Pacers' do not start grabbing more of their ‘chances' per game, they will likely be outrebounded for the sixth time this season when they face glass cleaner extraordinaire, Kevin Love on Tuesday. Think of it this way, will giving up 23 offensive rebounds be a recipe for success when the Pacers' embark on their five game west coast road trip in December against the Clippers, Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, and Thunder (by the way, they play the Heat two days later)?

What do you think Pacers' fans? What is the cause of the Pacers' rebounding woes? Are you surprised that Lance Stephenson grabs the highest percentage of his rebounding ‘chances' per game? Is rebounding paramount for the Pacers' long-term success?

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