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It's Unlikely To Be Kentucky's Guards That Have Weakend The Wildcats' Defensive Rebouding

It was suggested the other day that perhaps Kentucky's guards were not rebounding well enough. I don't think that's the problem.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Dick Vitale (I believe it was) mentioned the other day during the South Carolina game that the Kentucky Wildcats’ defensive rebounding was an area of concern for UK, and that Ken Pomeroy had noted that Kentucky’s guards had an abnormally low rebound percentage, and perhaps that would explain why Kentucky is slightly underperforming in the defensive rebounding area.

While this sounded plausible, it just didn’t ring true to me for some reason. As a general principle, UK's guards seem to do a decent job of proper positioning for defensive rebounds, although they have been more focused this season on preventing transition opportunities than rebounding.

A quick perusal of several games revealed what may be (and I can’t say this definitively, because I would have to go through more than two or three tapes) the reason for an apparent lack of defensive rebounding for this Kentucky team. The reason actually seems to be two-fold:

The first one is block attempts — Note here that I didn’t say "blocks," I said "block attempts." Kentucky makes a lot of block attempts from the help side, and every one of those attempts results in one of two outcomes:

  • A successful block;
  • A miss, which produces an open rebounding lane for the help defender’s man.

A successful block can have two outcomes:

  • A block and a defensive rebound;
  • A block and an offensive rebound, either due to a recovery by the offense or a block out of bounds, which counts as a team offensive rebound.

We got a little spoiled by Anthony Davis, who was really good at blocking the ball in bounds, usually in a position where a teammate could recover it. But Davis was an unusually skilled player when it came to blocks. Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Karl-Anthony Towns, much more conventional in their style than Davis, have a tendency to block the ball out of bounds more, and less often into the waiting arms of a teammate.

In the most recent game against South Carolina, USC got three offensive rebounds off of blocked shots. In the LSU game, the Tigers got six offensive rebounds from 9 Kentucky blocks. This also works in reverse — UK got three of the five LSU blocks as offensive rebounds. You can see, however, that the balance of equities was against UK when it comes to the statistic. In the first USC game in Columbia, the Gamecocks got four offensive rebounds off Kentucky blocks, and UK got bupkis from USC blocks.

Another issue is the missed blocks, for which there is no statistic. Many times, Kentucky will intimidate a shot into a miss, but when that happens, very often the person the help defender leaves to attempt the block is in perfect rebounding position because his defender doesn’t have a body on him. That usually leads to a layup or dunk. I saw a couple of those against LSU and a couple against South Carolina.

So it seems to me, based on an admittedly small, almost anecdotal sample, that it is the attempts at blocks that are predominantly responsible for Kentucky’s defensive rebound being slightly lower than it should be, whether they are successful or not. I tend to think the missed blocks are even more responsible, since they have a high probability of resulting in a rebound with an opponent not blocked out. But this would have to be verified visually, since there is no statistic kept for attempted blocked shots.

Perhaps Kentucky needs to work on a way to help on the help defender's man, since an attempted block that's missed usually takes the person attempting it out of the play.  That would probably produce a size mismatch, but at least they need to try to do a better job.  That might explain where the guards are doing a poor job, rather just in the case of rebounding in general.

While the perception may be that Kentucky has a "weakness" on the defensive glass, the weakness seems to me to be primarily due to shot blocking or attempts at shot blocking. That’s my take, anyway, and it seems to dovetail rather nicely with the small sample I've used.  A more extensive analysis might call this hypothesis into question, but I think it would more likely confirm it.

Finally, whether the loss of offensive rebounds to attempted shot blocks is actually a negative is definitely debatable.  Even missed blocks often force misses, and repeated shot blocks force offensive players to avoid coming inside as often.  So even though block attempts may be responsible for more opponent offensive rebounds, the net effect may be more positive than negative.