Like giddy teenagers on a fourth date, we’re still just getting to know the 2014-15 version of the Utah Jazz.
With a new coach in the mix, you can’t take anything for granted. Pore over past performance if that makes your socks roll up and down, but Quin Snyder’s team is a different animal, and we’re still figuring out exactly what that means. We’ve got a coaching dossier and a bunch of seemingly instructive quotes, but we’re still learning what his philosophies and principles mean on the basketball court.
The coach has been a little cagey in describing exactly what his philosophy is relative to offensive rebounding. We know his basic philosophy: protect against the fast break. But how much of an absolutist is he about ignoring opportunities on the offensive glass? The Atlanta Hawks team he just came from had just 603 field goal attempts result from offensive rebounds all last season, third least in the league. Is that indicative of just how little Snyder cares about rebounding on that end?
Probably not, but he has made a point of expressing his priority. At one point Snyder belabored the point to the point of hyperbole, telling assembled press that he didn’t care if his team didn’t get a single offensive rebound. Later, he walked that back, saying, “We’re not going to acquiesce,” and specifically mentioning the big men as guys in charge of keeping one eye on the glass.
As tireless transcriber @monilogue captured here, the rookie coach was probably clearest on this topic on media day, when he made it clear it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
“Guys gotta get back right away,” Snyder said in describing some of the defensive improvements they need to make, especially in transition. “You probably sacrifice some of the offensive glass, but that doesn’t mean our bigs can’t still offensive rebound.
What he wants to cut back on is ball-watching guards who aren’t anticipating and getting back. Opportunistic offensive rebounds by the wings are OK, he says, just as long as it’s clear what the priority is. “We’re not asking them to leave before the possession happens, but we want our guards out… You know, we’re sacrificing a little bit of that (offensive rebounding) to get back.”
To be honest, so far they’re not giving up too much. Through three exhibition games, Jazz players have grabbed 27.6% of available rebounds on that end, a figure that would have been fifth highest in the NBA last season. Although, to Snyder’s point, the lion’s share of those are being snatched up by the bigs in his preseason rotation. Rudy Gobert (11), Derrick Favors (9), Enes Kanter (4) and Trevor Booker (3) are the primary protagonists of the 4-5 rotation thus far, and they account for almost 80% of the Jazz’s offensive rebounds to this point. Nobody else has more than two, so it appears that the wings are exactly what Snyder asked them to be: opportunistic offensive boarders, if at all.
And on the other end, the 27.6% offensive rebound percentage has not hurt them at all. They’ve only allowed 25 transition points all preseason long — an 8.3 average that’s nearly a full bucket better than last year’s best fast break defenders1
Yes, the sample is wonky. Yes, the games are borderline meaningless. Yes, we’re still learning about this team and everybody’s roles. But three games in, we have more fuel for the argument that offensive boards and good transition D are not mutually exclusive.
Last year, the eight teams with the highest OReb% in the NBA allowed opponents to score 13.8% of their points on the fast break. The eight teams who paid the least attention to the offensive glass allowed 13.1%. It’s hardly the stark difference you’d expect, with all the conversation around offensive rebounds costing you easy leak-outs down the floor.
Check out the graph below. This is a graph showing all 30 teams in descending order of OReb%, and then the red diamonds show how they performed in fast break defense. The scattered nature of the red points shows you just how correlated the two data points are: about as correlated as the number of people who like pickle relish on their tuna fish sandwiches and the number of people who enjoy roller skating on Tuesdays. The red trend line alone should illustrate just how random the relationship is.
The relationship between offensive rebounding and overall defense is just as shaky.
Look, everybody knows that transition possessions are far more efficient than average possessions. So of course teams need to do what they can to limit the number of those trips they’re gifting the opposition. But the math seems to indicate that this isn’t as much of a sucker’s choice as it has been painted.
Guess what else is an efficient possession… one resulting from an offensive board. League-wide, teams have an eFG% of 53.6% on the shot after an offensive rebound2, up from 50.1% eFG on the average field goal attempt. That means that every time you secure an offensive board and take a field goal attempt, you just took a possession that was going to generate 0 points and made it a possession that would generate, on average, 1.07 points. In a world where 1 point of incremental point differential over the course of a season correlated to 2.7 extra wins, that’s no small thing.
At the end of the day, defending in transition — or defending at all, really — is a function of having a team identity and defensive principles that everybody understands and adheres to. There are good defensive teams who work their own glass a lot, and there are good defensive teams who don’t. Same with bad defensive teams. That’s why I’m encouraged that Snyder isn’t taking the absolutist route, but rather talking about this through the lens of priorities and individual roles.
Through three games, it’s working. The Jazz are having their cake and eating it too. We’ll see how long that lasts.
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Here are a couple of interesting random data points from the correlation study, as bonus trivia.