Last season’s iteration of the San Antonio Spurs worked tirelessly to compete, but uncharacteristically failed to capitalize on rebounding opportunities.
Through the many seasons of sustained success in the Alamo City, rebounding was never a major issue for this squad. The presence of players like Tim Duncan and David Robinson along the way provided a major crutch in that category, but each other Spur besides the two Hall of Famers knew to hustle on the glass and chase down loose balls when they needed to.
The 2018-19 San Antonio Spurs were unsure of themselves heading into the season, especially after the devastating knee injury that kept up-and-comer Dejounte Murray out for the season. His hustle and determination on the glass was going to anchor the team from the backcourt, but never materialized in the regular season.
As a result, the Spurs finished at No. 21 in average rebounds per game and the 16th rank in rebounding percentage last year. Although they finished sixth in defensive rebounding percentage, in large part due to the combined efforts of DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio was second-to-last in offensive rebound percentage last season at 24.6 percent.
The only team worse than them in offensive rebounding was the 22-win Chicago Bulls. To make matters worse, Chicago out-rebounded San Antonio 50-47 and snagged eight offensive boards to the Spurs’ seven in a 98-93 victory over the Gregg Popovich-led Spurs on December 15, 2018. Needless to say, Pop wasn’t happy about that one.
Luckily Murray is slotted to make his triumphant return to the lineup at the start of the 2019-20 season, immediately rectifying some of their deficiencies on the glass. Air Alamo’s Andrew Ites detailed some ways in which Murray can regulate the Spurs’ outlook with his rebounding, especially alongside the likes of DeRozan and breakout guard Derrick White.
If Popovich opts to slot LaMarcus Aldridge at the starting center position, he can ensure that the team rolls out a dominant rebounder for the full 48 minutes of the game. Aldridge averaged 9.2 rebounds per game including 3.1 on the offensive glass through 33.2 minutes per game last year and has proven himself to be a top-tier rebounder over the course of his 13-year playing career. LaMarcus is strong and stout enough to shift defenders around in the paint, yet agile enough to bounce repeatedly and fight for rebounds.
Meanwhile, fourth-year center Jakob Poeltl is blossoming into a stable force on the backboards while expanding his defensive repertoire and establishing himself as a scorer. No matter what new skills he enters this contract year with, rebounding will without a doubt be his strongest trait once more. The 23-year-old averaged a career-best 15.7 rebounds per 100 possessions in his first year under Popovich.
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In roughly 25 minutes per contest in the Spurs’ seven-game defeat in the first round of the postseason against Denver, Poeltl stepped up to the plate and proved that he’s worth his allocated playing time. He averaged 2.4 more rebounds per game in the postseason than he did in the regular season while being guarded against one of the largest and most skilled individuals in the sport in Nikola Jokic.
If the Spurs are going to improve on the glass, they need to ensure that at least one of LaMarcus or Jakob is on the floor as much as possible. Unless sophomore Chimezie Metu is truly prepared to make a jump into the regular season rotation at the center position, there’s going to be a thin frontcourt rotation for San Antonio this season.
This means that the team needs full effort from Gay and new-addition DeMarre Carroll – two physically imposing players in their own right. While Gay relies on his massive wingspan and leaping ability to control boards, Carroll is more likely to use his strength to muscle opposition around in the paint and box out for rebounds.
With the proper rotations and accelerated effort, San Antonio will be back to its old ways sooner rather than later.