Monday, January 5, 2009

Rebounding Redux: A Note in Passing

Early this season, I brought attention to the fact that the Spurs were struggling to out rebound opponents. Last Wednesday, I noted that the Bucks victory over the Spurs was primarily aided by a +14 rebound margin. It won't surprise our readers that I'm back on the rebound hobby horse this morning, especially after the Spurs just barely squeaked by the 76ers on Saturday night while losing the battle of the boards 32-40. On the season, the Spurs have a rebound record of 13-18-2. Not surprisingly, their win streaks are often punctuated by a trend of out-rebounding their opponents; their losing streaks and close victories are punctuated by a trend of being out rebounded.

The most troubling aspect of this is that the Spurs are sometimes out rebounded by double digits, as was the case with their last loss. Even in victories, such as Saturday's Philadelphia game, there is often a noteworthy deficit.

I'm not sure how the Spurs plan to address this problem, but it does help to explain their inconsistent defense. The Spurs build their defense around a handful of basic principals, one of which is to hold their opponents to one contested shot attempt per possession. Consistently being out rebounded is a sure fire way to allow opponents multiple shot attempts for each trip down the floor.

I had hopes that Ian Mahinmi's return from ankle injury would slow the bleeding, but there is rumor that Mahinmi is off to L.A. to see a specialist---a concrete sign that his return is in doubt. If not Mahinmi, then who? Fabricio Oberto is nursing a foot injury and has never been known to own the glass. Kurt Thomas is certainly a reliable option, and has rebounded well in several games this season. As we previously noted, Matt Bonner and Anthony Tolliver are qualified options. Qualified because their board work is mitigated by their place in the offense. That is, they spend a lot of time spacing the floor for Duncan by hovering around the 3 point arc. At least on the offensive end, they're in a tough spot to help on the glass. Add to this that neither player is a skilled rebounder and you're left with problems. Both players, however, do hustle and play hard, so they'll never be faulted for their effort.

The Spurs have limited trade and free agent options to address this issue. There is the improbable possibility of Joe Smith, but no one is holding their breath on that front. Sean Williams is being shopped by the Nets, but do the Spurs want to take that kind of risk, and who do they have to give that the Nets would want? D-League players and free agents such as Courtney Sims, Rod Benson, and Richard Hendrix are out there, but the Spurs don't have a roster space available to sign them without waiving Anthony Tolliver or Malik Hairston. Perhaps their most likely option is Andre Brown, who is playing well for the Austin Toros and has previously served stints with the Sonics, Grizzlies, and Bobcats. But there is still the problem of whose spot to give him.

I don't have any answers. We're waiting to see how this develops.

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