Battle of the Boards: Who Are the NBA's Best Rebounders of All Time?

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Battle of the Boards: Who Are the NBA's Best Rebounders of All Time?

Bill Russell is the NBA greatest rebounder.

Opinion? Of course it is, but that wasn't even the hard part.

The hard part was putting 19 other guys after him to complete a list of the NBA's all-time best rebounders.

Forget about a Top 10 list, because that just wouldn't do any justice. It was only right to add 10 more.

To some players, a rebound is just another number to add to their stat line. But for the 20 players listed below, rebounding was an art.  

Some of the game's greatest rebounders all had different characteristics in their game that made them great rebounders. For example, when it comes to fundamentals, Tim Duncan is the master of boxing out.

And guys like Moses Malone and Dennis Rodman were great offensive rebounders.  Before I get into the overall list of all-time best rebounders, I wanted to break it down into several different categories.  

*Note: Offensive and Defensive Rebounds did not become an official stat until the 1973-74 season.*

 

Greatest Offensive Rebounders (See list below for player description):

Moses Malone: Hakeem Olajuwon, Dennis Rodman, Buck Williams and Charles Barkley

 

Greatest Defensive Rebounders

Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley and Wilt Chamberlain 

 

Where Do Dennis Rodman, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan Rank Among the All-Time Best Rebounders?  

Why these three guys? Well, Rodman, Garnett, and Duncan have arguably been the best rebounders within the last two decades.  

Dennis Rodman, was not only one of the great rebounders of the '90s, but he is considered the best rebounder by some—depending on when you were born. No doubt he is one of the 20 greatest rebounders, but where he should be ranked is probably the biggest mystery.  Top Five? Maybe Top 10?

Most definitely.  Kevin Garnett can arguably be called the best rebounder this decade. But that wouldn't be fair to Tim Duncan.  

If we were talking Top 10, then Garnett would most likely be left off the list. However, he did managed to creep into the Top 20.  

And last but not least, the Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan. Whenever fundamentals are mention in today's game, Duncan is probably the first player that comes to mind.  And as mentioned above, he is right there with Garnett as the best rebounder of this decade.

But is Duncan Top 20 material? The list below will answer that question.  

Now, onto the main event: 

 

Who Are the NBA's All-Time Best Rebounders?  

As many great rebounders the game has had, it was difficult to narrow it down to just 20. So, here goes nothing.

Click player's name to view career stats. 

 

20. Buck Williams, New Jersey Nets/Portland Trailblazers/New York Knicks (1981-98)  Buck is one the most underrated power forwards in NBA history. So I could understand if some were surprised to see Williams on this list.  

Not only is he the all-time leading rebounder in New Jersey Nets' history, but he also ranks 12th all-time in total rebounds. For his career, he has grabbed over 4,000 offensive rebounds, an accomplishment held by only six other players.  

If there ever a list of the 10 all-time best power forwards, Buck would most definitely get my vote. 

 

19. Dave Cowens, Boston Celtics/Milwaukee Bucks (1970-83)  Cowens was the definition of hard work aggressiveness. He ranks 29th all-time in total rebounds, and is third all-time in Celtics' history.  

Other than Bill Russell—Cowens is the only other Celtic to average double figures in rebounds in a rookie season. 16.2 was the most he ever averaged in a season, and he also stands eighth all-time in rebounds per game. 

 

18. Charles Oakley, Chicago Bulls/New York Knicks/Toronto Raptors/ Washington Wizards/Houston Rockets (1985-2004)  Oak is 18th all-time in total rebounds, and has over 12,000 total rebounds for his career.  

His career-high 35 rebounds is the most by any player within the last 20 years. 

 

17. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves/Boston Celtics (1995-present)  The Big Ticket has been around for 13 seasons and is already one of the NBA's all-time best rebounders. Garnett ranks 25th all-time in total rebounds, and will more than likely be higher on that list when he decides to hang it up.  

He also has cracked the Top 25 list in rebounds per game, sitting last on that list—for now. Without a question KG has been one of the best, if not the best rebounder during this decade. 

 

16. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (1997-present)  

Duncan has averaged double figures in rebounds every single year of his career, and is 20th all-time in rebounds per game. Away from his rebounding, Duncan has been the best power forward this decade.

And without a doubt, Duncan is the NBA's all-time best power forward.

 

15. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Milwaukee Bucks/Los Angeles Lakers (1969-89)  Mostly known for his patent sky-hook, scoring, and being probably the best center of all-time, Kareem was an exceptional rebounder as well.  He is third all-time in total rebounds, and is 25th all-time in rebounds per game.

Kareem went four seasons where he averaged at least 16 rebounds per game.  His rebound average did start to decline with the arrival of Magic Johnson and James Worthy, but no doubt he has earned his place in history as one of the all-time best.

 

14. Shaquille O'Neal, Orlando Magic/Los Angeles Lakers/Miami Heat/Phoenix Suns (1992-present)

Not only the most dominant center of all-time, but one of the all-time best rebounders, too. Don't be fooled by Shaq's last few years in the NBA, because I assure you we will forget about them once he hangs it up—all but his 2006 championship year, of course.

O'Neal ranks 20th all-time in total rebounds, and has been the best center of his era.

 

13. Charles Barkley, Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns/Houston Rockets (1984-99)

Despite playing undersized at 6'6", Sir Charles was one of the game's best power forwards, and rebounders as well. Barkley sits 15th all-time in total rebounds, and 21st in rebounds per game.

He is also one of the seven guys to have grabbed at least 4,000 offensive rebounds in their careers. Aside from his rookie season, Barkley averaged double figures in rebounds his entire career.

 

12. Elgin Baylor, Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers (1958-72)

Like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin is mostly remembered as an offensive force more than a beast on the boards. But he was a great rebounder at only 6'5".

Baylor is the NBA's 23rd all-time leading rebounder. And because offensive and defensive rebounds weren't a stat while he played, we will never know how many he grabbed.

His career-high average came in the 1960-61 season, when he averaged 19.8 RPG. One of the game's greatest scorers—but also one of the all-time best rebounders.

 

11. Wes Unseld, Baltimore/Washington Bullets (1968-81)

Unseld was only 6'7" and went up against much bigger centers, but he retired as the NBA's seventh all-time leader in total rebounds. He now sits 10th all-time on that list.

His offensive numbers were never astounding, but the way he could rebound a basketball substituted for that. Over his career, Unseld averaged 14 RPG, which is good enough for sixth place on the all-time list for rebounds per game.

 

10. Elvin Hayes, San Diego, Houston Rockets/Baltimore, Washington Bullets (1968-83) 

As teammates with Unseld for part of his career, you would have to imagine this was one heck of a rebounding duo. But Hayes was much more of a scorer than Unseld.

Hayes is fourth all-time in total rebounds, 14th all-time in rebounds per game, and sixth all-time in total points. One of the game's all-time best power forwards as well as rebounding machines.

 

9. Walt Bellamy, Chicago Packers, Zephyrs/Baltimore Bullets/New York Knicks/Detroit Pistons/Atlanta Hawks/New Orleans Jazz (1961-75)

For some reason, when all-time greats are mentioned, Bellamy's name is hardly brought up in a conversation. Not only did he get snubbed from the NBA 50 Greatest Players list, he could have easily replaced Scottie Pippen on the list.

Bellamy was one of the game's greatest scorers, and simply a monster on the boards. He averaged 19 RPG his rookie season, and went on to average 13 for the rest of his career.

Ninth all-time in total rebounds, Bellamy is also seventh all-time in rebounds per game.

 

8. Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati Royals/San Francisco Warriors/New York Knicks (1963-74)

Lucas wasn't a great jumper, nor was he that abusive under the rim—but he still managed to become one of the game's all-time greatest rebounders. He ranks 13th all-time in total rebounds, ahead of guys like Barkley, Oakley, and Bob Pettit.

He went two seasons in which he averaged at least 20 RPG, and is fourth all-time in rebounds per game with 16.2.

 

7. Bob Pettit, Milwaukee, St. Louis Hawks (1954-65)

Top 10 power forward? Yep Top 10 rebounder? Well, as you can see, that is the case here. Petit averaged 20 RPG in one season of his career, and 16.2 for his career.

He is 14th all-time in total rebounds, and third all-time in rebounds per game. Pettit also holds the record for most rebounds in an All-Star game with 27.

Featured Quote: "Bob Pettit made 'second effort' a part of the sport's vocabulary. He kept coming at you more than any man in the game. He was always battling for position, fighting you off the boards." -- Bill Russell

 

6. Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston Rockets/Toronto Raptors (1984-2002)

Another member of the 4,000 offensive rebound club, Hakeem the Dream ranks 11th all-time in total rebounds. Olajuwon had the best footwork for a man of his size.

The Dream is also ranked 28th all-time in rebounds per game.

 

5. Dennis Rodman, Detroit Pistons/San Antonio Spurs/Chicago Bulls/Los Angeles Lakers/Dallas Mavericks (1986-99)

As one part of the '80s icons Bad Boy Pistons, Rodman was one of the most scrappiest, gutless, and hard-nosed rebounders there ever was. Rodman was never a scoring threat, but his rebounding definitely worried his opponents.

His rebounding alone makes him Hall of Fame worthy.

He led the league in rebounding for seven consecutive seasons, which included 18.7 RPG in the 1991-92 season. And is one of the seven guys to grab at least 4,000 offensive rebounds in his career.

Rodman is 19th all-time in total rebounds, and 11th in rebounds per game.

 

4. Moses Malone, Buffalo Braves/Philadelphia 76ers/Houston Rockets/Washington Bullets/Atlanta Hawks/Milwaukee Bucks/San Antonio Spurs (1976-94)

Moses is the NBA's all-time leader in offensive rebounding, with 6,731 total for his career. Relentless on the boards, Malone led the league in rebounds on six different occasions.

He is fifth all-time in total rebounds, and would be in third if his days in the ABA were counted. His 7.2 offensive rebounds per game is the most ever averaged by a player in a season since rebounding become an official stat.

 

3. Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia, San Francisco Warriors/Philadelphia 76ers/Los Angeles Lakers (1959-73) 

Wilt is first all-time in total rebounds, yet he didn't get the No. 1 spot?. He led in league in rebounds 11 different times, and is also first in rebounds per game.

Chamberlain also holds the record for most rebounds in a single game with 55. During his era, Wilt was definitely the best rebounder, and some would say he is the best rebounder ever. But not here.

 

2. Nate Thurmond, Philadelphia, Golden State Warriors/Chicago Bulls/Cleveland Cavaliers (1963-77)

Thurmond played with the type of hard-nosed aggressiveness that bothered guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on occasion. He is also the first player to record a quadruple-double.

He has averaged more than 20 RPG on two different occasions, and is tied for sixth all-time for most rebounds in a single game with 42. Thurmond is the only player other than Chamberlain and Bill Russell to grab more than 40 rebounds in a game.

Also, he is eighth all-time in total rebounds, and fifth all-time in rebounds per game.

 

1. Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (1956-69)

And finally I present to you the NBA's all-time best rebounder. Bill Russell was the first player to ever average 20 RPG in a season.

Though he is first on this list, Russell is second all-time in total rebounds and rebounds per game. In 10 of his 13 seasons in the NBA, he averaged at least 20 RPG.

Russell holds the record for most rebounds in a half with 32, and his career-high 51 rebounds is only second to Wilt for most rebounds in a game.

Hands down, the all-time best rebounder.

And there you have it. Don't say you didn't learn anything today.

 

Snubs

Dolph Schayes, Robert Parish, Maurice Stokes, Dikembe Mutombo, Kevin Willis, Patrick Ewing, and David Robinson.

 

Michael Whittenberg, a senior writer for bleacherreport.com, is also one of two NBA Community Leaders

Research for this column was found at NBA.com, basketball-reference.com and nbahoopsonline.com.

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