This past season, the Portland Trail Blazers ranked about the NBA's leaders in grabbing offensive rebounds. The Blazers were third in the league in offensive rebound percent, grabbing 29.5 percent of their own misses. What makes Portland an interesting case is that, while the Blazers are excellent on the offensive glass, they are also able to get back to prevent fast breaks. Portland finished second in the NBA in points per possession (PPP) allowed in transition. Offensive rebounding and transition defense are usually two areas that don't go hand in hand. For example, the two teams that are ahead of the Blazers in offensive rebounding percentage, the Sacramento Kings and the Minnesota Timberwolves, were 28th and 24th respectively when it comes to PPP allowed in transition.
Before we look at how Portland is able to stop teams from scoring in transition while crashing the boards, we need to look at why they are so good on the offensive glass. In my opinion, the biggest reason why the Blazers are able to grab offensive rebounds is that they have guys who can crash the glass from the point guard and wing positions. Sure, guys like Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge are good offensive rebounders, but rebounding is a team effort, and the ability of Andre Miller and Nicolas Batum is what made the Blazers team on the offensive glass.
Miller was fourth among point guards in offensive rebounding, grabbing 4.3 percent of available misses:
It sounds cliched, but Miller is a savvy vet who knows how to read the basketball off of the rim and get himself in position to grab rebounds. His rebounding is more than just positioning, however. Miller is strong enough to fight off bigger defenders trying to grab the rebound. The combination of the two factors is what allows Miller to get his hands on a lot of offensive rebounds.
Batum has a lot of success crashing the boards from the wing and grabbing offensive rebounds. Like Miller, Batum is one of the best offensive rebounders at his position, finishing 11th among all wings last season by grabbing 5.1 percent of all available offensive rebounds. Unlike Miller, who uses his strength and veteran savvy to grab offensive rebounds, Batum relies primarily on his athletic ability to track down missed shots:
Batum is simply more athletic than many of the defenders trying to keep him off of the boards, and when you combine the fact that Batum often gets a running start to try and grab the offensive rebound with the fact that wing defenders are inconsistent at boxing out, and you have a recipe for grabbing frequen offensive rebounds.
Now that we know how Portland was able to grab so many rebounds, we need to look at how the Blazers are able to prevent opponents from getting out in transition. This is interesting, because when you consider the fact that the Blazers' point guard and wing like to crash the offensive glass and run to the front of the rim, you would think that Portland would be a terrible defensive team in transition. That isn't the case. The Blazers allowed just 1.094 PPP in transition while forcing a turnover on 14.4 percent of transition possessions, the second-highest mark in the NBA.
The first thing to consider is how the Portland is able to maintain floor balance, despite the fact that players at the positions that are usually responsible for getting back (the point guard and wing spots) are attacking the offensive glass. Floor balance is a concept that an entire team needs to buy into, and the Blazers do so and maintain balance well:
Here, we have a pick-and-roll on one side of the court with three Blazers on the weakside. Noticing that his man is watching the pick and roll take place on the opposite side of the court, Miller heads to the front of the rim both to cut and look for the ball and to get in position to grab the offensive rebound.
With the point guard flashing to the front of the rim, Portland's floor balance is off. Wesley Matthews sees Miller going to the rim and quickly fills in for Miller and gets back to half court.
After making the pass, Gerald Wallace also notices Miller attacking the rim. With Aldridge wide open, Wallace knows the shot is about to go up, so he starts heading back as well.
Finally, you have Aldridge, who just took the shot, getting back on defense because he sees both Miller and Marcus Camby in the paint trying to grab the offensive rebound.
Neither Miller nor Camby secures the rebound and Memphis tries to push it in the open court. However, because three Blazers were able to get back before (and as) the shot goes up, they are able to turn a transition opportunity into a three-on-three situation, forcing the Grizzlies into a jump shot on the fast break. Here is the play in real time:
This is exactly what I am talking about when I mentioned the entire team buying into the Blazers' philosophy. On this play, two players who are above average offensive rebounders in Camby and Wallace, opt to get back instead of crashing the glass. The reason they do this? To maintain floor balance. I'm only showing one play, but when watching tape of Portland's transition defense off of miss, their success is consistently due to getting bodies back on defense quickly. That happens when you maintain solid floor balance.
The Blazers may take a step back in offensive rebounding after trading Miller to Denver for Raymond Felton, who is below average in offensive rebounding and usually prefers to get back on defense. That could allow Matthews more opportunities to crash the glass and Portland will have a full season of Wallace, another excellent rebounder from the wing. As a result, Portland should still extend many possessions with offensive rebounds while not having to suffer in transition.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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