Dec 4, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) and Portland Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez (42) battle for a loose ball during the first quarter of the game at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers: Robin Lopez and Offensive Rebounding

When the Blazers brought over Robin Lopez back in July, there was a pretty big deal made of the fact that he couldn’t rebound.

Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge wrote, “Aldridge would be happy until he figures out that Lopez doesn’t rebound, doesn’t defend that well, has no face-up game, considers fouling a second religion, never passes the ball, and pretty much only blocks shots.”

Rip City Project’s own Kevin Yeung wrote, “Where the most concern should come from might be Lopez’ impact on the boards. Rebounding has always been Lopez’ fatal flaw as a center in the NBA.”

I shared these sentiments myself, though I didn’t put them into writing. I think I can speak for all of us when I say: sometimes it’s great to be wrong.

Robin Lopez’s rebounding on the whole is not elite… not by a long shot. But his offensive rebounding is.

Lopez is third in the NBA in total offensive rebounds (86), and is the only player in the NBA’s top-10 whose offensive rebounding is within 10% of their defensive rebounding (4.1 and 4.4 per game respectively). While his resulting 8.5 total rebounds per game isn’t amazing, it puts him in the NBA’s top-20 for total rebounds (178).

Those offensive rebounds mean extra possessions and shot attempts. It means points taken away from opponents and given to the Blazers. They can change the momentum of the game. If you’ve had your 20-point lead whittled down to 6, and you’re trying to call things to order, there’s nothing quite like an extra possession and a made shot to deflate the opponent and harsh their mellow.

Lopez’s presence may also be one of the reason that Portland’s rebounding as a team has improved from last year. So far, they’re averaging 12.8 offensive rebounds and 32.4 defensive rebounds (45.2 total) compared with last year’s 10.7 and 30.2 (40.8). This is despite losing notorious rebound black hole J.J. Hickson and his 10.4 rebounds per game. What could account for this paradox?

One theory, offered by Reddit user theseus1234 unfolds as follows: “Lopez boxing out the closest big to the basket on defense is incredibly important. Before, Hickson couldn’t stop bigs like Duncan or Hibbert even if he tried, but Lopez is able to hold them back even if it’s just because he’s a huge dude. He knows his place on the Blazer defense and I think the amount of rebounds that are made available to the team as a whole simply because RoLo is stopping the opponent’s biggest rebounding threat are drastically improved over last year.”

I think that’s pretty much on point. Robin Lopez works extremely hard, gets good position, and snares offensive boards. He is a momentum machine. He literally creates momentum out of nothing, or even out of the less-than-nothing that is missing a shot. That probably defies physics, so all that we can reasonably conclude is that Robin Lopez is some sort of unnatural anomaly, a being whose presence may send ripples through the very fabric of spacetime itself.

So long as we wake up tomorrow and the RoseModa GardenCenter is still there, we can rest assured that no, Robin Lopez didn’t destroy the universe. He’s just a very good offensive rebounder.

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