It has been one of the defining plays of this young Euroleague season: with the clock winding down Sergei Monya missed a long three. KC Rivers grabbed the offensive rebound and hit a short buzzer. The referees watched the replay and counted the basket. Khimki Moscow beat Fenerbahçe Ülker. It’s been five days since that game and I’m still not sure whether that basket was good. In any case, that sequence provided yet another reminder of Fenerbahçe’s rebounding struggles.
The Turkish team currently has the second lowest defensive rebounding percentage in the Euroleague. Its opponents have certainly a lot to with it: for example, Real Madrid is the league leader in offensive rebounding percentage, while Panathinaikos are not that far behind. However, among Group A teams only Khimki Moscow have not seen their numbers in this category go above their season average when facing Fenerbahçe.
Overall, Fener have allowed their opponents to grab 69 offensive boards, which have resulted in 78 second-chance points. That’s thirteen per game, or 17% of the total amount of points conceded by the Turkish team in six games. Unsurprisingly, the main concern for coach Simone Pianigiani is securing rebounds in the paint, where opponents have picked up 60 boards.
A closer look at the numbers
So why is Fenerbahçe a poor rebounding team? There are two ways to answer this question and they are not mutually exclusive. Looking at lineup data is one way to go, but one should be very cautious about the conclusions drawn from this approach. Not only is the sample too small at this point of the season (especially for a team with seven new rotation players), but also rebounding is only one of the variables that should influence lineup decisions.
Selecting the five players that should be on the floor on any given moment of a basketball game requires a cost/benefit analysis that prevents a coach from focusing too much on one aspect of the game. Putting together a lineup consisting of five strong defensive rebounders could hurt a team in other ways on both ends of the floor. Good rebounding is only part of good defense. If that unit can’t get enough stops, then it won’t have the opportunity to excel in its area of expertise. Besides, as Jon Nichols proved in a must-read article:
At some point, there are only so many rebounds a team can grab, and some are just bound to end up in the hands of the opponent
In other words, there is not a magical combination of players that will help Fenerbahçe transform into a solid rebounding team. When Mike Batiste is on the floor, his team’s defensive rebounding rate jumps to 65,9%; when he sits this percentage drops to 61,5%. David Andersen has an even greater effect. Even though the Aussie’s individual rebounding numbers are not spectacular, Fener’s defensive rebounding improves by 8% when he is playing (compared to the time he spends on the bench). Conventional wisdom says that whenever Pianigiani wants to stop the bleeding on the boards, he should deploy this frontline duo.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it does not take into account the possibility that Batiste and Andersen could end up, as Nichols put it, stealing rebounds from each other. The case of Ilkan Karaman also indicates that rebounding should not be treated strictly as a lineup problem: the young Turkish forward is the third best defensive rebounder on this team, but according to his +/- numbers, Fenerbahçe’s rebounding on the defensive end slightly improves when he is not on the court.
This is where defensive strategy comes in: we need to know more about how different lineups try to stop their opponents – and how this effort affects their rebounding numbers. Nearly half of the 69 offensive rebounds given up by Fenerbahçe (34 to be exact) were the product of pick and roll defense. These 34 plays can be broken down in three categories, based on the defensive stats analysis that was introduced last season:
- On 19 plays the Fener bigs either hedged out or ‘showed’ against the ballhandler coming off the screen. Indeed, this is Pianigiani’s main option when defending the pick and roll. The offensive rebounds on these possessions came off 6 missed close-range shots, 5 missed mid-range shots and 8 missed three-pointers. And if you need further proof that lineups only tell part of the story, keep in mind that Batiste and Andersen were on the floor when 13 of those 19 rebounds were grabbed by an opponent – they were just too busy chasing guards on the perimeter instead of blocking out.
- On 12 plays, Fenerbahçe went with a flat coverage, keeping their bigs in the paint. Their opponents rebounded six missed shots from inside the paint, along with three long twos and three shots from beyond the arc. This is where Oguz Savas’ shortcomings become evident. The Turkish center is a very limited rebounder, even when he is allowed to roam in the paint. It’s not a coincidence that a lineup featuring him and Batiste at the frontline, along with Bojan Bogdanovic, Omer Onan and Bo McCalebb – a perimeter trio with poor rebounding numbers, at least compared to JR Bremer, Emir Prelzdic and Romain Sato – has given up more offensive rebounds in these situations than any other.
- The other 3 offensive rebounds were the by-product of switch defense, which is rarely used by Pianigiani.
- Beyond pick and rolls, defense against post-ups has led to 8 missed rebounds; going up against off-the-ball-screens, Fener have allowed nine more offensive boards; drive and kicks, produced another two; but more concerning are the 13 offensive boards of their opponents in transition. Any team led by McCalebb should be looking to run. In order to do so it has to not only gain possession of the ball, but also make sure that it can control a high-paced game. Allowing second-chance opportunities in transition makes it more difficult to meet both requirements.
How to fix it
Lineup data and defensive stats indicate that Fenerbahce should not try to overcompensate for their weakness in this area. After all, Pianigiani’s Siena was one of the worst rebounding teams in Euroleague over the past two season, but that didn’t stop them from posting an elite defensive rating. Fener has also shown some promise on the defensive end, even though they have occasionally allowed more open threes than they should.
This is not to say that there is room for complacency – last season’s playoffs provided Pianigiani with plenty of evidence about the link between poor rebounding and poor defense. The main conclusion drawn by numbers and tape is that Fenerbahce should not drastically alter their game plan (or their rotation) in order to address this deficiency. Their first priority should be to improve their execution. The video below is an attempt to distinguish between structural problems and issues that can be fixed with subtle adjustments:
The sort of offensive rebound grabbed by Zoran Planinic on the first play could be avoided once communication between defenders improves. Sato switches on the screener, but Andersen does not step outside to meet the Khimki guard. And while mid-range jumpers produce less offensive rebounds compared to shots taken in the paint, someone should probably block out the shooter.
The following possession is another example of poor defensive execution. Jaka Blazic splits the defense of Savas and Onan, which leads to a high percentage shot. Had Fenerbahçe managed to prevent him from going to his right hand, they would have been in a better position to secure the rebound. A few seconds later, however, we are reminded that even when the defense forces the ball handler into a tougher shot by taking away all driving lanes, the defensive board is not a sure thing. Savas is where he needs to be, but he just can’t deliver. Maybe his reduced playing time in recent game is related to plays like this.
Back to bad defense: Panko goes coast to coast, Fener don’t stop the ball – even though they have a foul to give – high percentage shot, offensive rebound. Again, maybe it’s simply a matter of a new tem trying to come together. And finally an example of a gray area between the two extremes: Savas and Onan perform a textbook trap against Dimitris Diamantidis, Prelzdic rotates in time to pick up Stephane Lasme, but McCalebb takes an unnecessary gamble, forcing Savas to help on Bramos. Despite having to take a detour, the Fener center manages to establish position once the shot goes up, but again he comes up short against a more athletic opponent.
In all likelihood rebounding (or lack thereof) will be mentioned whenever Fenerbahçe struggle defensively this season. However, Pianigiani will not sacrifice his principles in order to come up with a specific solution. Fenerbahce will have to become a better rebounding team by improving their defense, as opposed to going the other way around.
Table I: Fenerbahçe defensive rebound percentage oncourt/offcourt and minutes played per position (as percentage of total player minutes)
|Name||PG (%)||SG (%)||SF (%)||PF (%)||C (%)||DRB% on||DRB% off||DRB% net|