From 2004 to 2007, Kevin Garnett grabbed more rebounds than any other NBA player. That’s four straight years of slamming his body against some of the world's largest people on a night to night basis, ripping basketballs off the glass and ending defensive possessions better than any player in the league.
This also all took place nearly 10 years ago, when Garnett was a nimble 27-year-old freak of nature. At the time, the thought of him ever spending 23 minutes on the court without grabbing a single missed shot was unfathomable. But a couple weeks ago, in a win against Philadelphia on December 8, that's exactly what happened.
For Garnett, goose-egging on the glass is not likely to happen again, but the zero rebound performance shed some light on an ongoing problem. The Celtics aren't loaded with big-bodied brutes capable of attacking the rim on missed shots; if Garnett isn't grabbing rebounds, who is?
Here's a quick breakdown of Garnett's basic rebounding totals so far this season. According to Basketball-Reference.com, in four games he's grabbed between zero and four rebounds, in 12 games he's grabbed between five and nine and in seven games he's grabbed between 10 and 14.
Right now he's averaging 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is his worst output since he was 21 years old. Per game, that number drops to an even 7.0, which is lower than the totals of Derrick Favors, Glen Davis, Ryan Anderson, Reggie Evans and Carlos Boozer. He's also averaging exactly half as many offensive rebounds per game as Phoenix's Markieff Morris—a concerning fact, to say the least.
According to Hoopdata.com, his rebounding rate is 14.5. Of all the league's centers who've appeared in at least 10 games and played at least 20 minutes per outing, the average total rebounding rate is 15.3. By this metric not only is Garnett far below average, but Spencer Hawes and Nikola Vucevic are currently more efficient on the boards.
Never elite on the offensive glass, Garnett has yet to tally over three offensive boards in a game this season (to contrast, Tyson Chandler is averaging over four per game).
A large reason for this is when shots go up Garnett typically rushes to the other side of the court—as opposed to standing in the paint and using his length to slap missed shots out to the perimeter—to exert maximum energy on the defensive end, where his services are most valuable.
According to Synergy, 36.8 percent of his defensive possessions have ended on spot-up shooters away from the basket, out of an ideal rebounding possession. But last season that number was even higher at 39.1 percent, and the year before that it was 36.1 percent. So evidence would suggest that frequent forays to the perimeter aren't the main cause for his recent drop in production.
As the season progresses, and Garnett's body sees more and more wear and tear, it's much less likely his numbers will improve than stay the same. And it isn't beyond logic to predict they could even get worse.
Here are a few clips that show a serious lack of the type of lift we're normally accustomed to seeing from one of the greatest rebounders who ever lived.
Here's Garnett battling his longtime rival, Tim Duncan. After executing some solid post-defense, the shot goes up and Garnett doesn't box Duncan out or go after the ball. Instead he opts for option No. 3: Flailing towards a possible rebound that should be his, and failing. It cost his team a possible four- or five-point swing.
Now fighting Boris Diaw in the paint, Garnett isn't in terrible position when the ball comes off the rim, but he simply doesn't have the athletic ability to grab the ball. Plays like this are more than worrisome.
What effect does Garnett's declining rebounding production have on the Celtics? A massive one. Even if their starting center was still boarding the ball at an elite level, Boston would still sit as one of the worst rebounding teams in the league. They currently rank dead last in total rebounds per game, just behind the Miami Heat and New York Knicks.
In their past seven games, the Celtics are averaging 11.5 offensive rebounds and 44.9 total rebounds per 48 minutes when Garnett is off the court. When he's playing, those numbers drop to 6.1 offensive rebounds and 37.1 total rebounds.
They need help, preferably in the form of an incoming active tall person. Garnett won't average four boards a game for the rest of the season, but at the same time his overall per minute numbers can only climb so high. If Boston doesn't acquire another center to lessen Garnett's burden, the Celtics have almost no chance of winning a championship this season.
Statistics in this article do not include Boston's game against the Chicago Bulls on December 18.