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The Wizards’ rebounding schemes need revisiting

Here is some more insight on why things have gotten tougher for Washington lately.

NBA: Washington Wizards at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

In a recent piece I discussed some glaring tracking data and how it reflects on the Washington Wizards@ stagnating offense. Today, I want to discuss a closely related topic: offensive rebounding.

According to Second Spectrum data, the Wizards are:

  • A league-worst in contested offensive rebounds (5/game, compared to 8.2 for the Raptors while league-median is 6).
  • 29th in the league in contested offensive rebounds percentage at 55.7% (Celtics are at 54.3%, Suns are at 66.9%).

Basically, a contested offensive rebound is one in which both the defense and the offense send players to try to rebound. This means that about 44 percent of Washington’s offensive rebounds are captured uncontested—this could be a fastbreak situation or a long-miss typically. On the other hand only 33 percent of Phoenix’s offensive rebounds are of the easy type.

In summary, the Suns send more guys to the offensive glass, while Washington (and Boston) play it safe by taking a shot, and then running back to defense.

This conservative scheme leads to less FGA. There are varying opinions on whether this scheme is good for the defense or not. I won’t go into it, albeit it being a fascinating topic.

Another interesting data point is offensive rebound rate: what percentage of the shots does a team “recycle” to another possession by grabbing a board. Here the Wizards sit at 27th with 24.6 percent compared to the league-leading Raptors at 32.3 percent.

Remark: An interesting observation that I do not know fully how to explain is that the same Suns are actually right behind the Wizards at 26th with 24.7 percent. True that the Suns are No. 2 in the league in FG% at 47.3 percent while the Wizards are 10th at 46.2 percent.

Now, coming full circle to the topic of “touches” touched upon in the opening paragraph: in that piece it is pointed out that the Wizards have the longest average possession at 22.1 seconds. Small correction to make here actually: as kindly pointed out to me by Kevin Broom, that data point is actually the total time of possession (for the whole game) and is 22.1 minutes! Oh well. When averaged over possessions the Wizards are slightly better than last, they are at 27th with 15.4 seconds. The Spurs are at #1 with around 14 seconds. Be it as it may, the Wizards are still bottom 5 in average possession length.

Since a possession following an offensive rebound can only be 14 seconds long, teams that have more offensive rebounds will have a typical shorter possession average. So we see that the possession length of the Wizards might be related not just to stagnation but actually to a lack of rebounding. To me at least, this was quite surprising.

Another factor in the Wizards long possessions could be fouling: after a foul the clock is typically reset to 14 seconds, much like after an offensive rebound. However, here the Wizards are actually ranked quite high, sitting fifth league-wide in fouls drawn per game with 19.8 fouls drawn per game, right behind Harden’s and Durant’s Nets at 19.9 (Washington was 1st in the previous season with 22). Toronto is actually last at 17.4.

Putting this all together, it seems that even though the Wizards have relatively many 14-second possessions due to fouls, their average possession is still league-high at around 22 seconds due to lack of offensive rebounding and excessive dribbling and stagnation.

*Statistical figures were accurate as of games played through last Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2022.