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Defensive Rebounding – The Last Rotation
Good team defenses are susceptible to the occasional bouts of giving up offensive boards. My brother, Terry, is fond of talking about this. His main point is that the team, especially the bigs, must defend all the way through the possession — something that doesn’t end until you have the ball.
So the defensive rebound in a good team defense is, in effect, the last defensive rotation.
The general design of the Pacer defense, as built under O’Brien and largely continued under Vogel, focuses on forcing the opposition to shoot poorly. The stated goal is to hold their opponents to one of the lowest eFG% in the league. This is a pretty standard approach, and can be generally proven sound by the fact that the correlation between a team’s rank in eFG% allowed and overall defensive efficiency over the last 30 years has been 0.84 (with 1.0 being a perfect correlation).
Therefore, there is a premium on challenging shots and protecting the rim. Ideally, you would have individuals capable of controlling their man defensively, but this is the NBA, a league in which there is just too much offensive talent for that to be realistic. Thinking you can base your defense on individual “lock downs” is nothing more than a pipe dream; thinking you can do it against a team with Derrick Rose is suicide.
So, weakside help and strong rotations are imperative both broadly (to allow a low field goal percentage) and specifically (to stop Derrick Rose). Rather than reinventing the wheel, I’ll just quote an email I received from Terry the sums up the overall point:
I do believe that playing good team defense creates opportunities for your opponent to get offensive rebounds, but not on the scale we are seeing. I think the rebounding problem is a matter of trust and decisiveness. No matter how well Paul George covers him, Rose will still be able to penetrate and force help. This means the Pacers will have to rotate to cover the players left open and to get in position to get the rebound.
Often that means more than one rotation per man. When your teammate rotates to help with your man, you have a decision to make. The natural thing is to try to follow your man and get back in the play. However, the right move might be to go to the open man. Too often either the help is late or everyone runs to the ball, or at least hedges toward it. This creates passes for easy shots and lanes for the offensive rebound.
I would like to think that experience will solve the problems, but that remains to be seen. Too many Pacer players seem to spend too much time deciding what to do, both offensively and defensively, and end up moving too late to be effective.
And all of this is why I tend to think of getting the defensive rebound as “the last rotation.”
Good, active team defenses do create the opportunity for the opponent to get offensive rebounds, but the best still largely control their defensive backboard. League-wide over the past 30 years, the correlation between defensive rebound percentage and defensive efficiency has been 0.51 — less important than field goal defense, but still very valuable. This makes intuitive sense, because the rebound “closes the possession.”
The Pacers’ defensive strategy will give up higher than average ORBs to Chicago, but it’s the right strategy — at least with Rose on the floor. However, those ORB% should be in the 30-35% range, not the 45-50% range, and the guys that I would buttonhole to both be more aware and put a lot more effort into getting on the defensive glass are the small forwards and point guards.
Because Vogel is using George to pressure Rose, and bringing the power forward (McRoberts/Hansbrough) to trap him, the “rebound rotation” falls to the small forward (Danny or Dunleavy) and the point guard. They must aggressively look to become active on the glass, as opposed to leaking out in transition. (I’m looking at you, Danny.)
This, however, does not completely exonerate the bigs of any culpability.
The power forward has to be very aware of rotations coming out of the trap. Neither McRoberts nor Hansbrough are particularly adept at this, most likely due to lack of experience. The center is a mixed bag for Indiana. Theoretically, he’s the last line of defense, but he’s got to get something off the glass. The two positions have to work as a tandem. When one challenges the shot, the other must rotate to the glass.
The Pacers are down 0-2 to Chicago for two very simple reasons: (1) they have been unable to contain Derrick Rose in the clutch, and (2) they have been completely dominated on the glass, allowing the Bulls to claim 41 of the 86 rebounds coming of the Pacers’ defensive board.
The first — through no real fault of the Pacers — is unlikely to change.
The second must.
If Chicago continues to get offensive rebounds almost at will, the series will be over by Saturday. As Terry says, the Pacer players must be decisive on the defensive end, and all must trust — and be worthy of the trust — that the last rotation will be made.