The Portland Trail Blazers led the league in rebounding for the 2013-2014 season after marking a paltry ranking of 24th just one season prior. To provide some perspective on just how impressive that is, the total difference in rebounds between the two years was 460, or 5.6 rebounds per game. That right there is incredible; especially considering the departure of one-trick rebounding pony J.J. Hickson after the 2012-2013 season. That level of focused improvement comes primarily from coaching.
Although we sometimes see head coach Terry Stotts as being his own sort of one-trick pony due to his offense-oriented leanings, a reasonable chunk of the rebounding credit belongs to him. He sculpted a team that takes a lot of shots (3rd most in the league), allows a lot of shots (again, 3rd most in the league), and knows how to clean up after. It was his system that boosted the team’s overall effectiveness on the glass. Every Trail Blazers starter averaged career high rebounding per game this year.
Of particular note is Robin Lopez, who was acquired via trade last July. He had been considered soft on the glass his whole career until breaking out as an offensive rebounding specialist for the Trail Blazers. He set a franchise record with 326 of them this season, finishing third league-wide behind DeAndre Jordan (331), and the freak of nature Andre Drummond (440). Not only was Lopez able to reel in 8.5 total rebounds per game, his large frame and ability to use it for boxing out actually helped teammate LaMarcus Aldridge pull more down as well.
Even the bench players are coming along, which is highly encouraging for the coming season. Power forward Thomas Robinson has fully dedicated himself to the defense and rebounding niche that suits him so well, while Will Barton has shown proficiency on the glass uncharacteristic to the shooting guard position. This could make in-house development easier for the team, since they have a few pieces that already excel at a facet of the game that is so important to their success.
Rebounding is far from the be-all end-all of NBA prosperity (as illustrated by the Miami Heat, who ranked dead last in rebounding this year), but I guarantee you that no coaches wish their players would rebound less. It is the corner pillar of a well-rounded game, and one that Terry Stotts has intentionally fortified. By this token, it is no accident that Stotts has married rebounding with scoring. An offense that shoots at a high rate requires a lot of possessions—many of which start with a board.
As the young Trail Blazers team develops with time, you can bet each player’s evolution will involve a heightened focus on rebounding and positioning. It may not be a universal necessity, but for this team specifically, it is the key to operational potency. This season was just the beginning. The Trail Blazers are budding, not withering, and they have the coach/pieces to strengthen their infrastructure yearly while contracts permit.