10 March 2016

Balancing Between Rebounding and Transition Defense

Cliff Hodge
Offensive rebounding is on a downward trend in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Looking at the numbers, something else is happening relating to transition defense. There has been a noticeable a rise in transition defense efficiency.

As a whole, the league average for points per possession in transition has dropped from 1.71 to 1.64. Teams are focusing on preventing points in transition, to the demise of offensive rebounding it would seem.

A natural assumption is that the teams that are ranking highest in offensive rebounding are sacrificing transition defense to do so. But, the data shows that good offensive rebounding and good transition defense aren't mutually exclusive.

This is where the Bolts come in. Meralco is one of the few teams to improve both their offensive rebounding percentage and transition efficiency this conference. They rank 2nd in offensive rebounding, while ranking 1st in transition defense.

The transition defense isn't surprising, as Bolts' defense has been strong all season. Meralco players are just built well for transition defense. The Bolts has a collection of great athletes that give good effort and energy. Plus, the versatility of guys like Cliff Hodge, Jared Dillinger and Chris Newsome makes it easy to switch on the fly if needed.

But the improvement on offensive rebounding is a little surprising given that they were slightly below league average last conference. It makes sense once analysts consider the presence of Arinze Onuaku.

This shows up statistically. Per unofficial calculation of this blog, the Bolts is 1st in OREB "chase percentage", a statistic that measures how often a team goes after an offensive rebound. The Bolts are fairly aggressive, but not reckless going for offensive rebounds.

For the most part, Meralco don't take too many unnecessary chances. If someone is in good rebounding position, they'll fight for it. Otherwise the player will just drop back into transition defense. That is unless, it is Onuaku. He has an ability to create space with his bulk and snag rebounds.

Overall, the best local offensive rebounder on the Bolts is Hodge. As expected, Onuaku and Hodge leads the team in all rebounding categories. Hodge is not grabbing offensive rebounds quite at the level he was a few years ago, but he's still productive on the glass.

Kelly Nabong is right behind Hodge, and Bryan Faundo (in limited minutes) is in the mix as well. But nobody, aside from Onuaku, is even in the top 15 for ORB% in the PBA. So how does Meralco rank so highly in offensive rebounding? It may feel like a cop-out, but the best explanation is team rebounding. All these advantages on the margins add up.

It fit thematically with the story of this team too. Since the transition to coach Norman Black, the philosophy of the team relies on the saying, "the whole being greater than the sum of its parts." This is another example. The Bolts don't have a generational talent like San Miguel Beermen Junemar Fajardo to lean on, so everyone has to chip in. Whether its Dillinger miraculously stealing rebounds off free throws, Hodge hustling to tip the ball to teammates, or the steady force of Onuaku down low, everyone does their part.

With the league moving away from offensive rebounding, Meralco have an opportunity to take advantage. Being able to generate extra possessions without sacrificing on defense is huge, and the Bolts are seeing the benefits of that this conference.

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