I have stressed time and time again on this site how important fundamentals are when it comes to basketball. There is just no replacing the ability to dribble, pass and shoot the basketball well and players that can do all three are really hard to stop. Take for example Russel Westbrook’s historic season this year, averaging a triple double thanks to double digit averages in scoring, assists and rebounds. All season long, the talk of whether or not he was going to achieve this milestone hinged on whether or not he would be able to pull off the double digit rebounds. Not only was this the stat in question, but rebounding has become an overlooked aspect of basketball that has never been more evident than in recent basketball history specifically as it pertains to the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs.
Rebounding is a fundamental skill of basketball that comes with an ability to know how the ball will come off the rim, a burning desire to go get the ball and the most forgotten part of it, boxing out. Boxing out has become one of the most forgotten fundamental skills in basketball and it has reared its ugly head on more than a few occasions recently. Looking back to the national semifinal game between North Carolina and Oregon, Jordan Bell missed not one, but two box outs that gave the Tarheels the opportunity to secure the ball in the last minute in the game to preserve their victory. Let’s not even get into the fact that the Heels missed their free throws, another fundamental skill that has fallen by the wayside. If Bell boxes out, and Ducks grab the rebound, giving them an offensive possession or two, there is no telling what would have happened. They may have won, they may have lost anyway, but at least the would have had the opportunity to find out. North Carolina on the other hand, mainly won this national title on the heels (pun intended) of their ability to rebound. As the leading rebounding team in the country this year, they gave themselves many more scoring opportunities this season. This was a direct result of crashing the glass on the offensive end and eventually finishing and securing defensive rebounds that denied their opponents the same opportunity. The North Carolina Tarheels averaged a ton of points but not necessarily because they were an explosive jump shooting team. It was because the dominated the glass on both ends of the floor.
As I watch the Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs, I can’t help but notice how bad of a rebounding team they are. Yes, I know that they are the number one seed but they are in danger of becoming one of the few number one seeds to lose to an eight seed and it has a lot to do with their inability to rebound. Lacking in this skill during the regular NBA season can be a bit overlooked and less glaring during the regular season when guys are sitting out or not playing as hard due to back to back games, etc. However, it the playoffs when teams have the extra rest and time to game plan, the Celtics inability to rebound the basketball, particularly on the defensive end is glaringly obvious. Much of this inability comes as a result of missed box out assignments. They seem to be a bit out of position on defense and guys like Lopez sneak in between them and the basket to secure offensive rebound upon offensive rebound. It’s flat out demoralizing to a team who has worked so hard to get a stop defensively and then cannot finish out that play by simply securing the ball. It remains to be seen, but missed box out assignments could ultimately be the reason they lose this series.
I am not sure how it happened or why it happened but it has happened. Boxing out, a fundamental skill, has become a thing of the past. Players just don’t do it anymore with any sort of consistency, relying on their athleticism to grab rebounds. That may work at times, however, you can see when push comes to shove and something significant is on the line, not executing a simple fundamental skill like boxing out is going to cost you and your team.
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