Merrimack Changing Course: Rebounding Rates Replace Rebounding Margin

Last year, I spoke with Merrimack Head Coach Monique LeBlanc and Assistant Coach Heather Stec about how to qualify and quantify shot selection. Coach Stec recently became an assistant coach at Army, but I spoke again with Coach LeBlanc last week about basketball statistics. This year much of the conversation revolved around defensive rebounding. The resounding takeaway for me: measuring rebounding rates is more informative than measuring rebounding margins.

In the 2017-2018 season, the Warriors goal was to come out with four more rebounds than their opponents. Coach LeBlanc is a reflective and open-minded coach. And she is reconsidering this goal after having a conversation with former Boston College coach Erik Johnson.

How Tempo Impacts Rebounding Margin

If a team is playing up-tempo, they are going to take more shots because they will get more possessions. More shots also lead to more defensive rebounds. Defensive rebounds are easier to get than offensive rebounds. Thus, rebound numbers will be inflated against these types of teams where shots are coming up faster, and in many instances players are not in ideal offensive rebounding position.

Against teams that work the shot clock, there are less opportunities in every game to get defensive rebounds. These same teams that work the shot clock also force multiple close outs, rotations, and scrambling that make it harder to box out. This style could generate more offensive rebounds.

The opposing team’s differing transition philosophy will also impact defensive rebounding numbers. Teams that emphasize transition defense are going to send less players to the glass and get more players back.

Rebounding Rate Can Be Better Applied in Practice

From the outset of our conversation, Coach LeBlanc discussed how number are useless if you do not know how to transfer them into practice plans and game plans. Hearing her say that makes me believe that rebounding rate can be better applied in practice. Last year, the high school team I coach had a defensive rebounding rate of 57.7%. The prior season the defensive rebounding rate was 61.8% (both stats courtesy of HUDL). Not surprisingly based on those numbers, the team from two seasons ago got better overall results. From a practice standpoint, I can now make the rebounding drills and scrimmage situations more competitive. Getting 3 out of 5 defensive boards (surpassing last year’s team) or 4 out of 6 defensive boards (surpassing the team from two seasons ago) have prideful meaning to coaches and players.

To quantify rebounding margin in a similar way during practice is really hard because you do not have the benefit of playing out an entire game. Much of practice is shortened drills and chunks of games. If you get six defensive possessions, what does coming out plus two really mean?

Other Stats Changes

The change from rebounding margin to rebounding rate is not the only one Coach LeBlanc intends to make. The other three are also stats that can be calculated as a percentage. They are eFG%, turnover rate, and free throw percentage. Among those three only free throw percentage was these in the prior season.

Merrimack used field goal percentage in 2017-2018, but is switching to eFG% next season. It takes a quick Google search in case you are unfamiliar with the difference between the two, but the cliff notes version is that eFG% incorporates the proper value of three-pointers better. In the NEC where three-pointers are vital, this stat cannot get overlooked any longer for Coach LeBlanc.

The other two statistics that Merrimack will be focused on are turnover rate and free throw percentage. Similar to rebounding, last year Merrimack used turnover margin as a goal. This was also impacted heavily based on the pace of the game, so turnover rate should prove to be a more telling stat. In terms of free throw percentage, Merrimack wants to be over 75%.

Paralysis by Analysis

When I initially asked Coach LeBlanc about “out of the ordinary” stats that she keeps, she said it is paralysis by analysis at a certain point. Be careful. Stats are great for helping you improve practice plans or alter your style of play slightly. If too much time is given to the detail of organizing stats, you’ll never get to put them to good use. I had read this article from Coaching Toolbox. Clearly for an NBA team, a professor’s time is worth it. Who’s time goes into keeping these stats though for a college team or a high school team?

There are also those players who get left out because of “immeasureables.” The type of player that is a shot blocker who alters a shot without blocking it. Consistent hustle kids who win sprints in transition and recognize what good spacing is. That kid who sets every screen hard. Intangibles such as these are not accurate data unless you are using really advanced metrics. And even though determining the worth of these things is a whole other issue.

At the end of the day, information is great, but all that truly matters is how coaches use the information.

This is the first of a three part series on my takeaways from a visit to Merrimack College. Tomorrow what Coach LeBlanc considers to be automatic “No’s” for potential recruits. 

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