When the Hawks managed a stop in their series versus the Hawks, there was Anderson Varejao battling to keep the ball alive any way possible. He didn’t always grab the board, but it deflated Atlanta when he did. All that work on defense, only to have to start with a fresh shot clock.
Watching players like Varejao and Chris Andersen impact their teams makes you wonder how many players like this are out there looking for opportunities: guys that rebound, defend, hustle and manage to score some without getting plays called for them.
One thing our research has revealed is that teams will always find top scorers. That’s not always true with rebounders. According to the numbers, getting an opportunity is much tougher for these players.
This season, 128 of the 329 NBA players that saw 500 minutes of action averaged 20 points per 48 minutes. Meanwhile, 105 of those 329 averaged 10 rebounds per 48 minutes. What’s interesting is the scorers averaged 2188 minutes played, 567 more minutes than the rebounders (1621). While just 15 of these scorers saw less than 20 minutes per game, 42 of the rebounders failed to get that much court time.
This effect gets even more extreme if we make the groups more selective. The league had 45 players that saw 500 or more minutes average 25 points per 48 minutes. A near equal number of players – 49 of them – had 13 boards per 48 minutes. This group of scorers averaged 2378 minutes played compared to 1628 for the rebounders. In other words, the extra rebounds did nothing to generate more playing time. They averaged only 7 more minutes per contest than the previous 10-rebound group. But the new scorers group averaged 190 more minutes.
Here’s the amazing thing: none of the 25 points per 48 minutes scorers failed to see less than 20 minutes per game. Lou Williams had the lowest figure at 23.7 minutes per game. The rebounders group had 15 players that saw less than 20 minutes per game.
So the message is clear: If you score – even as a bench player – some team will get you playing time. Rebounders have a tougher time. While quality scorers certainly impact the game more than quality board men, the gap isn’t large enough to explain this type of discrepancy.
A look back at the 2003-04 season produced comparable results. This time, the list of underutilized rebounders (13 rebounds per 48 minutes in less than 20 minutes per game) included two interesting names. The first, David West, later became an All-Star. Chris Andersen was the other. Not all the other players emerged – some have since left the game – but there are more Andersens and Varejaos out there. Is there a team that will give them a chance?