If you had to guess the NBA's top five rebounders from last season (on a per-minute basis), chances are, San Antonio's DeJuan Blair would not have made that list. And who could blame you?
Listed at 6'7", it is hard to imagine that someone so short (relatively speaking) could rebound at a comparable rate to Dwight Howard, Marcus Camby or Samuel Dalembert, who tower over him in height. But in the table below, there he is, DeJuan Blair, the fourth best rebounder in the league last year.
What Blair lacks in height, he makes up in fierce determination. In an interview last April with Draft Express' Jonathan Givony, Blair explains his mental approach to rebounding the ball:
Jonathan Givony: Can you take us through the nuances of what makes a great offensive rebounder from a technical standpoint?
DeJuan Blair: Like I tell everyone who asks me that, you’ve just got to go get the ball. You can’t just let the ball come to you, cause if you let the ball come to you, then it’s a chance that both of y’all can get it. If you outwork the next guy, and jump, and reach for the ball, it’s going to be an 80% chance that you can get the ball.
If you go get the ball, I don’t know if you watched any of the games, I like to tap the ball to myself, or tap em off the glass, and get a lot of them. The big key of it is to go get it, don’t let it come to you. That’s what I do. I try to move everybody out of the way and go get it.
Jonathan Givony: How do you feel about how your rebounding can translate to the NBA level, where everybody is bigger, they’re stronger, they’re longer, they’re quicker, they can jump higher, what are your thoughts on that?
DeJuan Blair: That’s just a bigger challenge you’ve got to step up to. There’s gonna be a lot of big people, a lot of big guys, so I’m just gonna try to keep doing what I was doing. Nobody is gonna stop me from getting the ball, and if they do. I’m going to try harder to go get it. So hopefully I can keep it up in the NBA.
If you kept count, the modal phrase in Blair's response was "Go Get It" (he said it five times!). It's precisely because of this ethos that Blair is able to rebound "out of his space" so well. He often snatches boards with as many as three opposing players surrounding him.
While Eddy Curry, Jerome James and other underachieving trees stand around and wait for the ball to magically fall into their hands, Blair anticipates, uses his strong frame to seize position and then "Gets It," which is precisely how he was able to get two 20 PTS/20 REB games as a rookie last year.
In 2010-11, Blair's production will depend highly on his minutes, which are somewhat difficult to predict and the arrival of Tiago Splitter means there will be less minutes to go around. On the other hand, Blair is improving and in preseason has already developed a nice chemistry with Tim Duncan in the starting five. In addition, Popovich's strategy of preserving Duncan for the playoffs will only help Blair's cause.
The following table shows a low, medium and high projection of Blair's production this season. I used last season's per-minute productivity to forecast Blair's statistics if he averages 25, 30 or 36 minutes a game.
Even on the low end, DeJuan Blair will still contribute. At 25 minutes per game, Blair is projected to average nearly 11 PTS, nine REB, 0.8 STLS and 1.9 TO, with superb FG percentage. Moreover, Blair's mediocre FT percentage is not so detrimental given his low-volume attempts.
On the flip side, if Blair's minutes hover around 30 minutes per game, Blair will be a boon, easily netting the Spurs a double-double with one steal per game to boot.
Finally, if Blair receives starter's minutes, he should be one of the best power forwards in the game (at least in a statistical sense).
If only DeJuan Blair could bottle some of that "Go Get It" attitude and share it with the Eddy Curry's of the league. Unfortunately for them, DeJuan Blair's admirable mindset is indivisible. Spurs fans, however, can take comfort in the knowledge that they have a beast in Blair, who will ease the transition tremendously when the Big Fundamental is gone.
Ken writes for NBA-Analytiks www.nba-analytiks.com