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May 25, 2011
Dirk's Rebounding
Nowitzki's Hidden Impact

by Dan Feldman

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Dirk Nowitzki has grabbed eight offensive rebounds in this year's playoffs.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas also grabbed eight offensive rebounds--in 16 minutes in Game Three against the 76ers.

Eight offensive rebounds in a game isn't a particularly rare feat. Joakim Noah (thrice), Zach Randolph (twice), Andrew Bynum, Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Thaddeus Young and Tyson Chandler have also pulled in at least eight offensive rebounds in a playoff game this year.

So, Nowitzki's eight in 14 games shouldn't exactly set the world on fire. But his lackluster offensive rebounding--along with his incredible scoring burst--hides the true story: Nowitzki has helped the Dallas Mavericks a great deal on the glass in this year's playoffs.

Because he doesn't get many offensive rebounds (in part because his shooting takes him out of the paint and in part because Dallas often focuses on getting back on defense), Nowitzki's defensive rebounding often gets overlooked. More than 90 percent of Nowitzki's rebounds this season were defensive. Nobody else in the top 180 in terms of total rebounding percentage who played more than three games had a higher percentage.

Nowitzki ranked 15th among starting power forwards in defensive rebounding percentage. None of the starting power forwards for the Mavericks' playoff opponents (Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge) ranked ahead of him.

Dallas' defensive rebounding percentage has slipped from 74.8 percent in the regular season to 71.7 percent in the playoffs. But that's not Dirk's fault. His defensive rebounding percentage has risen from 20.8 to 21.3, even including Monday's near-loss to the Thunder.

Nowitzki grabbed just 12.3 percent of available defensive rebounds in that game, his second-lowest total of the playoffs.* That was a huge reason Oklahoma City built such a big lead. The Mavericks came back, because they started rebounding better (along with James Harden fouling out). When Dirk doesn't get bumped out of position going for defensive boards like he did Monday, Dallas has had a much easier time winning in these playoffs.

*He grabbed 7.4 percent in Game Four against Trail Blazers, when Brandon Roy led a Portland fourth-quarter comeback.

Dirk's contributions on the offensive glass are less direct, but still meaningful.

His regular-season offensive rebounding percentage was a paltry 2.4, and it's dropped to 1.9 in the playoffs. But because he's scoring so efficiently and drawing so much attention for it, he's pulling potential defensive rebounders out of the paint to guard him.

Ibaka's regular season defensive rebounding percentage was 20.8, but that dropped to 17.0 in his average game against the Mavericks in this year's playoffs. Gasol went from 20.5 to 17.4 in his average game against Dallas. Aldridge fell from 17.2 to 13.5 in his first-round series.

Two individual benefactors have been Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood, who've both rebounded better per 36 minutes with Dirk on the floor than with him on the bench. Unfortunately, Stats Cube doesn't split those numbers between offensive and defensive rebounds. But Dirk has a higher defensive rebounding percentage, both this season and career, than his primary replacement at power forward (Shawn Marion). So, it stands to reason Chandler and Haywood aren't stealing more defensive rebounds from Dirk than they do from Marion. That would mean their offensive rebounding explains the boost.

As a team, the Mavericks' offensive rebound percentage has gone from 24.1 percent in the regular season (26th in the NBA) to 24.9 percent in the playoffs.

Dirk has been regarded as the playoff MVP because of his scoring, but let's not forget how much he's helping Dallas rebound. His defensive rebounding is up, and their offensive rebounding is up--both, in large part, thanks to him.

Dan Feldman is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Dan by clicking here or click here to see Dan's other articles.

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