How NBA Rebounding Technique Is so Much More Than Athleticism

Ethan Sherwood StraussNBA Lead WriterNovember 20, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 02:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat dunks over Jason Kidd #5 the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on November 2, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The world is not fair to rebounders. If a player cleans the glass, the skill is often attributed to his "athleticism" and nothing more. For whatever reason, shooting is considered a skill, while rebounding is considered a trait. Actually, shooting is the only acknowledged "skill" in basketball. Most of the other stuff gets chalked up as reflex, I suppose. 

Dwight Howard suffers from this misconception as it is assumed that he is the league's best rebounder because of his innate size and strength. Since he's "a physical specimen" as they call it, there's little appreciation for his nuanced abilities. 

Howard's best tactic is that he combines his physical prowess with guile. When an opponent boxes him out, Dwight likes to tap said opponent on the shoulder, as he slithers to the opposite side. 

Perhaps you might recall this tactic from your childhood days. Tap a friend on the left shoulder. As he whips his head around to that side, swoop to his right and take his chicken nugget.

It might not be the most "mature" strategy in the universe, but it is clever. Opponents box out wherever they feel contact. When Dwight puts pressure on one side, his foe mistakenly moves towards it. Whatever you think of Dwight's off-court decision-making, he's outsmarting other teams on a nightly basis. 

Most boards are taken below the rim, where opportunistic players like Kevin Love, Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan thrive. I love this example, featuring the latter two names. Kidd gets in perfect position for the board, and Timmy reaches around him, because Duncan is just that unwilling to give up on plays. It's an object lesson in how one need not jump to grab a board. 

Kidd was perhaps out of his range so close to the rim. The ancient point guard bolsters his impressive rebounding rate by hanging around the free-throw line. Many shots bounce out to that region, but not every player knows to look there. Kidd has the knowledge, and so the rebounds follow. 

"Athleticism" is a vague term, one that doesn't do justice to what goes into an athlete's game. We use it to describe LeBron's exploits, without acknowledging how he taps rebounds to a spot before claiming them.

This approach was first honed by Dennis Rodman, the greatest rebounder of all time. Dennis would doggedly pursue the ball, then use deft touch to tap the rock to his desired location. "Heart" and "grit" were components of this, but so too was Rodman's skill.

The great ones find a way to marry physical talent with intuition and grace. You can often find this distillation when watching players perform the unsung act of rebounding.