In a way, Drummond’s role as a dominant defensive rebounder is like that of a prolific video-store renter, who’s always managed to nab the hit movie from Blockbuster as soon as it came out. It was an impressive feat before. But now, with Netflix—and hardly anyone else in the store—it’s not as meaningful a skill.
With most teams no longer emphasizing offensive boards, just 22.1% of attempts have been retrieved by the offense during the 2020–21 season—the lowest rate in NBA history, and an unrecognizable figure juxtaposed against the 1980s and ’90s, when one of out every of three misses went back to the offense.
It’s no secret that the proliferation of the three-point shot—which generally creates much longer rebound opportunities—has altered the game more than anything. At .696, the statistical correlation between three-point percentage and winning percentage in the NBA (with 0 showing no correlation, and 1 indicating direct correlation) has never been higher than it is now, according to data from Stats Perform.
Because of that shift, teams are all but forced to put more weight on players, centers or otherwise, who can capably defend the arc. Even a 7-footer like Roy Hibbert, who excelled at using verticality to protect the rim, found himself out of a job at age 30, in part because of his relative immobility. Just like there were no shots for the paint-tethered Hibbert to block if someone shot a triple, there are no rebounds for players like Drummond to grab if a sharpshooter hits a wide-open three.
[I]n 2017 and 2018, the last two years LeBron James led the Cavs to the Finals, Cleveland ranked 18th and 24th, respectively, in rebound rate. They excelled from the perimeter instead.
With those sorts of teams having four or even all five players spaced out to the arc at times, they’ll see it as more worthwhile to focus on defense. “Statistically, it shows that if you get back every single time, you’re gonna save more points than you’d score by going to the glass [after offensive boards],” Rivers says.
And even when clubs do vie for offensive rebounds, because of the longer shots they’re taking, the misfires are likelier to bounce toward the perimeter than in previous eras. It means rebounders need more range. “Maybe 10 or 12 years ago, you’d only see a few types of guys going for [offensive boards]. Now, you see perimeter guys with that freedom, says Steve Clifford, who coaches the Magic. “With all the long rebounds now, there’s a larger area defensively you have to track in order to finish possessions.”
Which means quickness matters as much as, if not more than, traditional jockeying strength at times.
Clifford points out that a handful of teams last year—the Suns, Pacers, Grizzlies and Bulls—ranked near the top of the NBA in both putback efficiency and in transition defense, which may be the next type of players teams will seek. Which athletes have enough cat-like quickness and basketball instincts to jump into the fray from the three-point line and come up with the ball while still getting back to help defend?
They probably aren’t ones whose games resemble Drummond’s. In a fast-paced game of musical chairs, with teams shape-shifting their rosters around an unprecedented spike in three-point shooting, the overhaul has at least temporarily left the generation’s best rebounder without a seat.https://www.si.com/nba/2021/03/25/andre-drummond-rebounding-daily-cover