Miami Heat Stat Monkey Brief: Heat/Blazers (1/10/13)

Yes, the Heat are struggling pulling down rebounds. But what if we told you that they're actually performing better as a whole than expected?

Much has been made by myself and the national media as of late of the Miami’s rebounding troubles. Specifically, offensive rebounding has been their biggest weakness as a team.

In my last article, I discussed how even though Miami embraced small ball in the playoffs last year, similar rotations haven’t performed as well on the offensive glass this year. Without going into all the details again, Joel Anthony is used less now than he was then and Ronny Turiaf is on the Clippers, both of whom were great offensive rebounders. A bigger factor was the decline in the individual offensive rebounding performance of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Udonis Haslem as compared to last year’s playoffs.

However, the problem may not be as simple as “wanting it more” than the other team. Bosh is in the midst of his best offensive rebounding season since he was in Toronto by individual offensive rebounding percentage. LeBron’s offensive rebounding percentage has dropped off slightly from last year - from 5.0 to 4.4 percent, but is still the third highest mark of his career. Haslem is the only one of the three who has truly deviated from what we have come to expect in terms of offensive rebounding performance.This year’s offensive rebounding percentage of 6.8 percent is much worse than his career average of 9.1 percent.

So, while there has been a decline as compared to playoff performance, the key players aren’t performing that far off their career numbers. Is the issue that these players try harder in the playoffs?

Unlike most people who write about sports, I am in no way qualified to psychologically analyze someone who I’ve never met. I can say, however, that none of the players I am discussing consistently improve their offensive rebounding percentage in the playoffs versus the regular season. All three were able to do so considerably in last year’s playoffs. Perhaps Haslem and Bosh realized that LeBron had finally “gotten it”, was a team leader, and was clutch. As such, they both grabbed a higher percentage of offensive rebounds, allowing a team that didn’t use a true center much of the time to crash the boards well enough to win a championship. I have an alternative theory.

With the exception of the Knicks, all of the teams Miami faced in the playoffs last year were ranked 20th or worse in defensive rebounding percentage in the regular season. They collected a lower percentage of offensive rebounds than the Knicks did four out of the five games in that series. While Miami was by no means dominant in terms of offensive rebounding in last years playoffs, they were able to hold their own on the offensive glass even while playing small ball because they went up against teams that were terrible at preventing offensive rebounds.

As such, it might be unreasonable to assume that similar small ball rotations should be able to offensively rebound as well if they are going up against even league average defensive rebounding teams. Miami’s rebounding issues are not a matter of players playing worse, but stiffer competition for offensive rebounds. This, of course, does not mean that Miami can’t still win a second consecutive championship, but unless they get as lucky as they did in drawing playoff opponents, they will likely have to overcome some poor offensive rebounding numbers to do it.

Tonight's Quick Hits

Portland is the definition of a mediocre team. They are not in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, or any of the four factors - offensively or defensively.

Defensive rebounding is one of several things Portland does poorly. Expect Miami to grab a few more offensive rebounds than they would against a league average team and for post-game interviews to talk about how Miami has established itself as an elite rebounding team once again.

Our nERD rankings leader for Portland is J.J. Hickson, who is a great defensive rebounder. He is also posting a career high ORtg of 116, so look for him to be an important factor in this game.

Ray Allen was held scoreless for just the second time in his career against Indiana. I bet it doesn’t happen again tonight.