There is no such thing as a sure bet in the NBA. There is, however, something that comes pretty close: At the end of the season, Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons will lead the league in rebounding.
Drummond’s average of 16.7 rebounds per game currently leads the league by two full rebounds over the next-closest player (Clint Capela). Assuming good health and considering his sizable lead, it’s quite likely that Drummond will end this season having won his third consecutive per-game rebounding title and his fourth in the past five years. His average is the highest of any NBA player since Dennis Rodman averaged 17.3 per game all the way back in 1993-94. If Drummond keeps up this pace, he’ll become only the third player since the merger (along with Rodman and Moses Malone) to average at least 16.5 boards a night in any given season.
This is also Drummond’s seventh consecutive season averaging at least 13 rebounds per game. In the history of the NBA, only seven other players1 have averaged that many rebounds in seven seasons in a row2 — and only one other player (Malone) has done it for seven straight post-merger seasons. Only four more have had at least that many seasons over their entire careers, and only 45 total players have averaged that many rebounds at least twice.
Drummond’s board-snatching prowess extends beyond the per-game titles. He has been remarkably durable, playing at least 78 games in each of the past six seasons, which has led to leading the NBA in total rebounds in four consecutive seasons, as well as defensive rebounds in three of the past four and offensive rebounds in each of the past six. If he plays 80 of Detroit’s 82 games (he’s averaged 80.3 games played over the past six seasons), Drummond would end the year having collected the fourth-most rebounds (1,335) any individual player has snared in any single season since the merger. He already owns the sixth (2017-18), seventh (2018-19) and 11th-most-prolific (2015-16) rebounding seasons during that span, as well as two more top-30 seasons (2016-17, 24th; and 2014-15, 30th).
But if you think that Drummond’s rebounding dominance is merely a product of that, or of the league’s skyrocketing pace in recent seasons,3 think again. Drummond’s total rebound rate4 of 27.8 percent is the single highest mark in Basketball-Reference.com’s database, which shows rebound rates back to the 1970-71 season. The same is true of his utterly absurd 39.6 percent defensive rebound rate, which bests the mark of the current record-holder, Reggie Evans, by nearly 2 full percentage points.
Again, none of this is unusual for Drummond. His current offensive (16.5 percent), defensive (33.1 percent) and total (24.5 percent) rebound rates for his career rank second, first and first in NBA history, respectively. In his first seven seasons in the league, he has led the NBA in at least one of offensive, defensive or total rebound rate five times, and is on track for a sixth. In fact, if the season ended today, it would be the second time Drummond has led the NBA in all three.
There’s also plenty of reason to believe that Drummond’s rebounding is legit, as opposed to being merely the product of uncontested or low-value rebounds falling into his hands.
According to data from PBPStats.com, only 28 of Drummond’s 313 defensive rebounds this season have come off of missed opponent free-throws, the easiest type of rebounds for defensive players to grab.5 Additionally, a greater proportion of Drummond’s rebounds have been contested than most other high-volume rebounders, according to Second Spectrum tracking data. Through Wednesday’s games, Drummond had snared an average of 7.7 contested rebounds per game, the top mark in the league. Among the 13 players averaging at least 10 total rebounds per game,6 Drummond’s share of contested rebounds (45.8 percent) is fifth-highest.
|Rebs. Per Game|
Drummond’s skill at converting rebound opportunities into actual rebounds has also been elite this season. Among the 251 players who have played in at least 10 games and are averaging at least five rebound chances per game, per Second Spectrum, Drummond’s 68.2 rebound chance percentage7 ranks fourth. Neither the contested rebound share nor the rebound chance percentage is out of line with what Drummond has done before. The Second Spectrum tracking database only goes back to 2013-14 (Drummond’s second season), but his contested rebound share (which ranks among the best for high-volume rebounders this season) is actually on the low side this year, while his rebound chance percentage is the best mark of that seven-year span.
|REBS. PER GAME|
|Season||Reb||Contested||Chances||Share Cont.||Reb. Chance %|
Perhaps even more importantly, Drummond’s individual rebounding is having its strongest-ever effect on his team’s ability to corral rebounds. Detroit’s 74.8 percent defensive rebound rate with Drummond on the floor this season is the second-highest mark of his career, and it’s also 6.4 percentage points greater than the mark the team has posted during the minutes he’s been on the bench. This is only the third time in eight seasons Drummond’s team has been better at securing defensive rebounds with him in the game than out of it, and the gap is by far the largest of his career.
Assuming he keeps this up, Drummond faces a fascinating choice next summer. The Pistons appear to be going nowhere fast (they’re 11-17 as of Friday morning), and it would not be surprising if he decided he wants out. But does the league really value an elite rebounder whose impact beyond grabbing the ball when it comes off the rim is somewhat questionable? After all, the Pistons are only 262-340 in Drummond’s career, with two playoff appearances and zero series wins.
If a player can’t carry a team to a better record than that — especially in what has been a decrepit Eastern Conference — does he really merit a maximum-salary contract? Almost certainly not. And yet, the summer of 2020 free-agent class is shaping up as one of the worst in recent memory. Incredibly, this is only Drummond’s age-26 season, and he does not turn 27 until Aug. 10 of next year. He holds a $28,751,775 player option for the 2020-21 season, and while it seems unlikely that he would draw that large a salary on an annual basis if he were to opt out, the free-agent crop may be barren enough to make him one of the premier players on the market. It only takes one team to get desperate and throw him the bag.
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