Offensive Rebounding Against Transition Defense

I met recently with Erik Johnson. Erik is the former head coach of the Boston College women’s team. We talked for an hour about a variety of subjects. One that he spoke to me in great detail about is the dilemma of weighing offensive rebounding against transition defense.

Get an Extra Possession or Stop Transition

One year at BC Coach Johnson recalls the team had a terrible rebounding rate. They were getting an offensive rebound 11% of the time. It would have been nice to rebound more, but Coach Johnson knew there was a choice. Either get an extra possession or prepare to stop the offense in transition. The team prided itself on getting back and defending with five, so that is what they did.

At one point, he felt vindicated from a conversation he had with Brad Stevens. Stevens’ Celtics team was in the bottom five in the percentage of rebounds they corralled in 2016-2017. Stevens also valued transition defense more. In the NBA, there are plenty of times where players are undisciplined to crash. To be in a position when your defense is two on two as the Greek Freak or LeBron is coming with a full head of steam is a loss for the defense.

And the results in the win column backed up Stevens belief that rebounds can be overvalued. The Celtics were the top seed in the east that year and advanced to the NBA Finals despite the struggle to rebound.

High school basketball obviously does not feature this caliber of talent, but the point is offensive rebounding comes at a cost to transition defense. It does not have to be LeBron coming down court. Name the other team’s best player. A coach would much rather defend that player in a five on five setting than a two on two or three on three setting.

What Can You Teach, Sell, and Capable of?

Coach Johnson did not suggest to me that offensive rebounding is meaningless. He gave me an example of a Florida State team he coached against one year. They got their own rebound nearly half the time. Consequently, he had to game plan for that. Florida State probably gave up their share of easy baskets in transition, but in the grand scheme of things they taught, sold, and were obviously capable of getting their own misses.

Similarly, Coach Johnson cited examples of teams that do other things well. Teams that jam the outlet pass, double the defensive rebounder, etc. His most recent team relied on pack-line principles. As such, he treated defensive rebounds and offensive rebounds as completely different stats. As did former North Andover High Coach Mike McVeigh. Going for offensive rebounds made it harder for them to get into the pack-line which is what they were good at. As part of the pack-line, it would have been poor execution for them not to rebound defensively.

Clinics: Consider How It Applies to You

Ultimately Coach Johnson made an interesting point when it comes to the idea of teaching, selling and doing what you are capable of. Coaches that attend clinics come away mesmerized and prepared to make drastic changes.

Watching Bob Huggins talk about the impact of a full-court press or Vic Shaefer talk about rebounding is certainly valuable. Based on results, they are relative experts at these aspects of the game. What is left out of that though is asking how their strategies applies specifically to your team. And even if your team’s skill sets apply, coaches do not understand that with any rule there are inevitable exceptions.

Coach Johnson cited another example of a coach stating that the 1, 2, and 3 should never crash. Well what if the opponent never runs? What if the 1 on your team is a tenacious and quick offensive rebounder? Clinics more often speak in generalities, but are often portrayed as absolutes. Similar to his position on offensive rebounds, Coach Johnson is not advocating to boycott clinics. He recognizes their value. What he is suggesting is that the information you acquire at clinics needs to be put in proper perspective.

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