The Sixers Have A Rebounding Problem
One of the more unexpected weaknesses that the Sixers have shown to start the season is that they have been a thoroughly abysmal rebounding team.
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One of the more unexpected weaknesses that the Sixers have shown to start the season is that they have been a thoroughly abysmal rebounding team. They currently rank 28th in offensive rebounding rate, and 22nd in defensive rebounding rate, per Cleaning the Glass. To make matters worse, they aren’t reaping the positive trade-offs of what you would expect from a team that is so poor at rebounding the basketball.
By that, I mean that generally, a team that makes minimal effort to crash the offensive glass is good at transition defense, because players are able to devote energy to getting back to the other end of the floor rather than fighting for rebounds. Conversely, a team that is poor on the defensive glass would have a better chance of being a strong transition team on offense, because players are leaking out as opposed to crashing the boards.
For the Sixers, though, that’s not the case – they are near the bottom in offensive rebounding, but allow opponent transition opportunities at the 10th highest rate in the league. On offense, they are generating the fifth fewest (!) transition opportunities in the league despite being poor on the defensive glass – though they are quite good in terms of efficiency (6th) when they do get out in transition.
What’s most confounding is that it’s not as if the Sixers are a team lacking in size, or even in players with solid reputations as rebounders. The Sixers’ starting lineup for the past month – Melton, Harden, Tucker, Harris, and Embiid – should theoretically be a strong rebounding unit, but instead ranks in the 25th and 26th percentile in offensive and defensive rebounding rates, respectively.
Given that this is clearly not a matter of stylistic choice (like prioritizing transition opportunities), and also has nothing to do with a lack of size, one would logically have to pin their rebounding struggles on lack of effort. On film, one thing that jumps out repeatedly is Embiid’s lackadaisical effort on rebounds this season. He is posting a career-low in rebounds per 100 possessions at 13.3 – considerably lower than even his rookie season rate of 15.1. Four years ago, in 2018-19, Embiid posted 19.1 rebounds per 100 possessions. To have his rebounding production decline by 30 percent over the course of four years is baffling. If the Sixers stand any chance of turning this trend around, it’s going to have to start with the big fella making a much better effort on the boards.
Another thing that would help is committing to playing Paul Reed as backup center, as he is far and away the best rebounder on the team. Reed is posting 15.8 rebounds per 100 possessions, with 5.8 of those coming on the offensive side. I’ve made this campaign a handful of times already, but I would love to see Doc Rivers give Reed a handful of minutes at the four next to Embiid on nights when the Sixers are lacking energy on the boards. Reed would feast on the offensive glass against power forwards, and sometimes, hustle plays like that can become contagious and change the entire vibe of the team.
Outside of superior effort and committing to playing Reed, options are limited. One option would be to make a greater effort to tap into the trends I mentioned above – if the Sixers aren’t going bang around on the offensive boards, the least they could do is make a greater commitment to being a better transition defense team. And if they can’t mix it up on the defensive glass, the least that their wings and guards could do is try to leak out in search of outlet passes from Harden.
The other option at hand here would be to make a trade for a wing that would provide a meaningful boost on the boards. I’ve mentioned Jae Crowder as an ideal trade target in the past, and Crowder’s rebounding rate of 9.0 per 100 possessions would immediately make him the best rebounder on the team outside of Reed, Embiid, and Montrezl Harrell. Another high-caliber rebounding wing who could potentially be available is Robert Covington. For his career, RoCo averages 9.4 rebounds per 100 possessions. He has been out of the rotation for much of the season in L.A., and it’s possible the Clippers would be willing to part with him if it means acquiring something of value for him while also getting off of his salary for next season.
At this stage, Covington is likely cooked as an elite perimeter defender. But as a bench player who could stand in the corner, grab some boards, and be a connector off the ball on the defensive end, I could easily see him being helpful here. A package of Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, and Shake Milton would work financially.
Another ideal trade target would be Josh Hart, who might be the best rebounding wing in the entire league, but it’s hard to imagine Portland making him available this season barring some unforeseen circumstance.
With any of these players, though, the Sixers would immediately add their best non-center rebounder on their entire roster, and also, would cut down on the minutes of many of the worst rebounders in the rotation, like Danuel House, Jr. (5.7 rebounds per 100), Matisse Thybulle (5.2), and even some of Georges Niang’s minutes (5.7). If they aren’t going to play Reed, and aren’t going to get better effort out of their starters, a trade for one of the players I mentioned would be their best bet.
Regardless of whether they make a trade or not, though, the Sixers have options to correct what is an extremely serious issue. Very few teams historically win the championship while being in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding – the teams that have done it include teams like the Heatles, and the Kevin Durant-era Warriors.
Up and down the Sixers’ roster, there is ample size and length, and plenty of players with respectable reputations as rebounders. To be this bad, this deep into the season, is a byproduct of nothing but lack of effort and cohesiveness. If nothing else, the lack in those departments needs to be corrected if this team is going to go anywhere serious.