Broken Glass: On the Timberwolves rebounding troubles

Dec 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) grabs a rebound during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) grabs a rebound during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

On the surface, it doesn’t seem like the Timberwolves have a problem with rebounding, but if we dig a little deeper we will find a serious issue.

I am a big fan of statistics and their place in the game is important, but as much as I think statistics can tell a story, it doesn’t mean they will tell the whole story — or at least not all of the time.

This is the case for the Timberwolves and their struggles in rebounding the basketball. Simply looking at the stats could tell you the Wolves are at least an average rebounding team; they are currently 22nd in the league in total rebounds per game and are 14th in total rebound percentage.

So then why am I even writing this? Given the stats, the Wolves are at least adequate on the glass, right?

Despite what the stats say, I don’t think the Wolves are a very good rebounding team.

Take Monday’s loss to Philadelphia, for example. The Wolves pulled down 27 total rebounds. Here’s your reminder that Philadelphia is second-to-last in total rebound percentage, and they out-rebounded the Wolves by 10 boards on Monday.

Even take last Thursday’s loss to Detroit as another example, as the Pistons scarfed up 16 more rebounds than the Wolves. This team is just getting outworked in the rebounding game. I took a couple of plays from recent games to illustrate this point.

This first one is from Monday’s game against Philadelphia.

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The first thing we see is T.J. McConnell setting up for an open three-pointer. I won’t comment on Andre Miller’s defense, but I think you can formulate your own stance.

The thing to notice in this still is that before the shot has even left McConnell’s hand, Hollis Thompson already has inside rebounding position on Zach LaVine.

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Shots in the air and Thompson already has LaVine dead to rights on the box out. Now, notice Adreian Payne. I was always taught that when a shot goes up, you need to find your man and immediately box him out. Payne, is caught up watching the ball, and has failed to box out his man Jahlil Okafor.

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Like any right-minded player would, Okafor notices that Payne is more concerned with the orange round thing than making contact with him. So, Okafor makes a run at the basket as Payne wonders what a basketball is made of.

You’ll also see that we haven’t seen who Shabazz Muhammad is guarding in any of these stills. For the record, he’s guarding Robert Covington, who is out of the frame because he’s at halfcourt, out of the play.

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Okafor streaks to rim for the rebound as the shot comes off, and see that Payne is just a spectator now. On top of that, what’s keeping Shabazz from coming into the fold for the rebound? His man is literally out of the play!

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The play ends with Okafor pulling down the offensive rebound, and this gives the Sixers a fresh 24 seconds and another chance to score.

It’s true that this isn’t the Timberwolves ideal rebounding lineup. Shabazz can rebound well for his size and Payne is an okay rebounder but doesn’t have the awareness to do it at a high rate. The best rebounder on the floor here is Gorgui Dieng, who does a decent job of boxing out Jerami Grant on the play.

This next snippet is less about boxing out, and more about effort. This is from the Wolves’ December 30th game against Utah.

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The shot attempt is coming in the corner from Elijah Millsap, the Wolves have the paint pretty much commanded, with Trevor Booker the only Jazz player in the lane.

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Booker is now sandwiched between Tayshaun Prince and Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is doing a good job of boxing out Booker, and is also keeping Trey Lyles out of the lane.

Still, the only Jazz player going for this rebound is Booker, as Utah has three players standing on the perimeter.

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As the shot comes off the rim, Booker steps through on Towns, and this allows him a little position for the rebound. This pushes Towns to the side, and since Prince isn’t boxing anyone out, it leaves Booker uncovered down low.

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Utah now uses Lyles and Booker to almost sandwich Towns, and bars him from elevating for the rebound. This allows Booker to get a better position on Prince, and leap up and tip the ball to himself.

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The play ends with Booker snagging the rebound and giving the Jazz another opportunity to score. It’s also worth noting that Booker had 13 first half rebounds in this game.

Rebounding is not only a game of position down low; it’s a game of effort. Booker simply wanted the ball more than every single Wolves player, and there are countless other plays like this one that I could have used.

Over the past few weeks, the Wolves have lacked the awareness and effort to rebound at a high rate. In order to be a successful rebounding team, the Wolves will need to find both of those traits.

All it takes is a look at the game tape to see where this team is going wrong on the glass.

Next: Wolves Can't Be Successful Without Three Ball

Hopefully, the return of Nikola Pekovic will help bolster the Wolves rebounding prowess. As of now, however, the Wolves struggles on the boards go beyond traditional and advanced statistics.