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Does Westbrook’s departure mean the Wizards will struggle to rebound?

Maybe not.

Los Angeles Lakers Introduce Russell Westbrook
What does Russell Westbrook’s departure mean for the Wizards’ rebounding?
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

A few days ago, NBCSports’ Chase Hughes analyzed whether the Wizards could struggle to rebound with the departure of Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers.

While I hate to pick on Hughes, whose work I enjoy and appreciate, aspects of his analysis were lacking on this one.

Wrote Hughes:

Westbrook, in particular, will be missed. He averaged 11.5 rebounds per game last season, ranking fifth in the NBA. He brought in more than twice as many rebounds as the next qualified player on the Wizards’ 2020-21 roster, Daniel Gafford (5.6). Repeat: more than twice as many.

Hughes went on to cite the team’s ranks in a couple rebounding stats over the past few seasons and then attributes that improvement to Westbrook.

I spot two flaws with what Hughes wrote. First, he seems to have arrived at the conclusion before looking at the evidence. And second, he omitted a critical piece of data.

That missing data point: the Wizards were no better rebounding the ball last season with Westbrook on the floor.

With Westbrook on the floor, the team had an offensive rebounding percentage of 20.6% and a defensive rebounding percentage of 77.3%. Their total rebounding percentage was 49.2%.

When he sat, those numbers were 22.7%, 78.2% and 50.1%.

This is not unusual for prolific individual rebounders, especially those who collect lots of defensive boards. That’s because defensive rebounding is a team effort. Players are often collecting missed shots that a teammate would have grabbed.

That’s not a criticism of Westbrook, by the way. He’s one of the best rebounding guards in league history. For all the crap he got for “stealing” rebounds from teammates in Oklahoma City, the Thunder were significantly better on the boards when he played.

Westbrook’s team effect dropped during his season in Houston and went (slightly) negative with the Wizards.

None of the forgoing really says much about whether the Wizards will struggle to rebound next season. They’ve made significant roster changes beyond Westbrook. If they get pummeled on the glass, it probably won’t be because Westbrook is gone, though.