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The Correlation Between Rebounding And Playoff Success: There Is No Correlation

At least, as far as Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns are concerned, anyway. Since Nash has returned to the desert, there has been NO direct correlation between rebounding success and winning/playoff success.

Despite Mother Nature setting records highs in Phoenix this past weekend (111 yesterday and projected 107 on Monday), summer is over and the fall season officially starts next Monday with Media Day. Seth Pollack and Wil Cantrell will be on-hand to get some exclusive interviews and footage of the new and old Suns, sure to spin the upcoming season into Rapunzel's gold wrapped up in a couple of rainbows.

Comments like "We're gonna gang-rebound" and "Lopez needs to step into the role of enforcer" and "if we play our style, then we'll win plenty of games" will flow like beer at a frat party.

But will it sound hollow, when we see a projected lineup whose starting PF is the worst rebounding forward in the history of all time?

Well guess what: the Suns will likely lose the rebounding battle this year.

And guess what else: it won't matter.

In the past 6 seasons with Steve Nash at the helm, there is NO correlation between rebounding and winning.

Want proof? Read on.

I know, I know. You're thinking: "I've heard this one before. Suns fans always say we don't need rebounds to win."

But wouldn't it be nice to see the proof?

Here it is.

First, let's take a closer look at the Mike D'Antoni "Seven Seconds or Less" years.

2005 2006 2007 2008
Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3"
Johnson 6'8" Bell 6'5" Bell 6'5" Bell 6'5"
Richardson 6'6" Diaw 6'8" Diaw 6'8" Diaw 6'8"
Marion 6'7" Marion 6'7" Marion 6'7" Stoudemire 6'10"
Stoudemire 6'10" Thomas 6'10" Stoudemire 6'10" O'Neal 7'2"
Jackson 6'6" Barbosa 6'3" Barbosa 6'3" Barbosa 6'3"
Barbosa 6'3" Jones 6'8" Thomas 6'9" Hill 6'8"
House 6'1" Jones 6'8" Giricek 6'6"

2005 2006 2007 2008
Wins 62 Wins 54 Wins 61 Wins 55
PPG 110.4 PPG 108.4 PPG 110.2 PPG 110.1
PPG Margin 7.1 PPG Margin 5.6 PPG Margin 7.3 PPG Margin 5.1
Reb/g 44.1 Reb/g 41.8 Reb/g 40.5 Reb/g 41.5
Reb/g Margin -2 Reb/g Margin -4.1 Reb/g Margin -2.3 Reb/g Margin -2.4
OReb Rate 29% OReb Rate 24% OReb Rate 24% OReb Rate 24%
DReb Rate 66% DReb Rate 70% DReb Rate 69% DReb Rate 68%


  • PPG Margin: averaging scoring margin per game
  • Reb/g Margin: average rebound margin per game
  • OReb Rate: the Suns' rate of grabbing their own misses (offensive rebound rate)
  • DReb Rate: the Suns' rate of grabbing the opponents' misses (defensive rebound rate)

The Suns averaged 58 wins during this stretch, including 26 playoff games and 2 Western Conference Finals appearances.

Some would say that the Suns eventually lost to better teams (ie. those that could rebound/play defense), while others would say that injuries to a short rotation played the biggest part.

The most obvious thing to me is the lack of correlation between scoring margin/wins and Reb/g Margin. The Suns never won the rebounding battle during those 4 years. In fact, the 2005-06 season (without Amare) was the worst at -4.2 per game, yet they won their division + 10 more playoff games.

The second stat that jumps out: the Suns' highest DReb Rate of the D'Antoni era was the 2006 season, at 70% of opponents' misses.

Certainly nothing to brag about (that would still put the Suns in the bottom 10 of the league), but a relative stat is a relative stat.

Now let's look at the last 2 seasons along with next season's roster:

2009 2010 2011
Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3" Nash 6'3"
Richardson 6'6" Richardson 6'6" Richardson 6'6"
Hill 6'8" Hill 6'8" Hill 6'8"
Stoudemire 6'10" Stoudemire 6'10" Turkoglu 6'10"
O'Neal 7'2" Lopez 7'0" Lopez 7'0"
Barbosa 6'3" Dragic 6'4" Dragic 6'4"
Barnes 6'7" Barbosa 6'3" Childress 6'8"
Amundson 6'9" Dudley 6'7" Dudley 6'7"
Amundson 6'9" Warrick 6'9"
Frye 6'11" Frye 6'11"
Ave Height 6'7.5" Ave Height 6'7.3" Ave Height 6'7.8"

2009 2010
Wins 46 Wins 54
PPG 109.4 PPG 110.4
PPG Margin 1.9 PPG Margin 4.9
Reb/g 41.7 Reb/g 43
Reb/g Margin 0.9 Reb/g Margin 0.7
OReb Rate 29% OReb Rate 30%
DReb Rate 69% DReb Rate 68%

A few things jump out to me on these numbers.

First of all, the team is getting taller. Second, the DReb Rate (defensive rebound rate) has remained stagnant with prior seasons at about 68% of the opponents' misses, despite the Suns employing one of the largest players in the game one of those years (Shaq).

But then BAM! Notice that the Suns' OReb Rate (offensive rebound rate) has jumped tremendously from about 24% during the D'Antoni years to 29%, and then 30% last year.

To put these into perspective, the OReb Rate of 30% was 7th overall in the league last season, while the DReb Rate of 68% was 29th.

The OReb Rate contributed directly to the Suns winning the total rebounds battle the last 2 years, yet they are no better or worse than ever on the defensive rebouding end. And despite winning the rebound battle, they still didn't win a championship.

So, in the end, Reb Rate has had NO correlation to winning margin.


What has made the difference then?

As we all know, it's the offense that makes the difference. Specifically, the more 3-pt shooters the Suns employ, the better the win totals.

2005 2006 2007 2008
Team 3-pt % 39.3% Team 3-pt % 39.9% Team 3-pt % 39.9% Team 3-pt % 39.3%
Att/gm 24.7 Att/gm 25.6 Att/gm 24 Att/gm 21.5
> 38% Ave. 3 > 38% Ave. 6 > 38% Ave. 3 > 38% Ave. 3
Att/g Margin 6.7 A/g Margin 8.2 Att/g Margin 7.1 A/g Margin 5.3
Made/g Margin 3.7 M/g Margin 3.9 Made/g Margin 3.5 M/g Margin 2.8

2009 2010 2011
Team 3-pt % 38.3% Team 3-pt % 41.2% Team 3-pt % ?
Att/gm 17.6 Att/gm 21.6 Att/gm ?
> 38% Ave. 4 > 38% Ave. 6 > 38% Ave. 7
Att/g Margin -1.9 A/g Margin 2.3 Att/g Margin ?
Made/g Margin -0.9 M/g Margin 2.1 Made/g Margin ?


  • Att/gm: number of 3-ptrs attempted per game
  • > 38% Ave.: number of Suns players who averaged better than 38% on 3-pt attempts
  • Att/g Margin: the difference between the Suns' attempts at shooting 3-pointers vs. the opponent
  • Made/g margin: the difference between the Suns' MADE 3-pointers vs. the opponent

We finally have a direct correlation!

The more 3-pointers the Suns make in relation to their opponent, the more wins the Suns tally.

The Suns' 3-pt attempts per game declined precipitously along with their win totals, finally correcting itself a bit last season and voila! the wins and playoff success returned with another trip to the Western Conference Finals.

Of course, I know what you're saying now: "But the Suns don't have an inside game anymore, so they won't make as many 3s next season!"

Well, that's wrong too.

2005 2006 2007 2008
% Jump 68% % Jump 73% % Jump 68% % Jump 67%
% Close 32% % Close 27% % Close 32% % Close 33%

2009 2010
% Jump 61% % Jump 67%
% Close 39% % Close 33%


  • % Jump: percent of shots taken from 10+ feet away from the rim
  • % Close: percent of shots taken within 10 feet of the rim (ie. dunks, layups, put-backs, post-ups, etc)

The 2006 team had NO inside presence (73% of their shots were jumpshots), and yet they still won 54 games + 10 more playoff games by pumping in 3-pointers like crazy.

In fact, the Suns' worst season of the past 6 years was the 2009 season (46 wins, missed the playoffs entirely) and that was the highest inside-scoring team we've seen (39% of shots within 10 feet of the rim, thanks to Shaq).

These numbers suggest that the Suns are better off, while Nash is still Nash, at shooting lights out from 3-pt land. And the lack of a major presence under the rim is not likely to have any impact on the scoring.

In summary, the Suns best formula for winning is a little better than 2/3 jump shots, and the more 3-pointers the better.

So when you see the Suns throw up a ton of 3s next season while seeming unable to pull down any rebounds, just remember: that's a GOOD thing.

Finally, let's look at the upcoming 2010-2011 season

Remember, the key for a Nash team is high number of 3-pt shooters and about 40-43 rebounds per game.

The 2010-2011 Suns have 7 players in the 10-man rotation who shoot 38%+ of 3-pointers for their career (more than any previous team).

And how many rebounds will they pull down? Historically, 40-43 rebounds is the "sweet spot" of the past 6 seasons. Any lower and the data goes out the window, but within that range I feel comfortable that the Suns will be fine in that area.

Of the current expected 10-man rotation, I tallied their total rebounds / total minutes from LAST SEASON and then projected a likely distribution of minutes.

Reb/ Min Proj. Mins Reb/ game
Nash 0.1 29 2.90
Richardson 0.16 27 4.32
Hill 0.18 23 4.14
Turkoglu 0.15 25 3.75
Lopez 0.25 25 6.25
Dragic 0.12 20 2.40
Childress 0.17 24 4.08
Dudley 0.21 23 4.83
Warrick 0.2 20 4.00
Frye 0.19 24 4.56
240 41.23


  • Reb/Min: 2009-2010 rebounds per minute played
  • Proj Mins: just a stab in the dark of minutes projected for next season
  • Reb/Game: multiply the last 2 columns together

This basic projection of minutes gets the Suns their usual 41 rebounds per game.

You can tweak the minutes per game a bit, and even guesstimate an increase in rebs/min for some of the bigger players. But the net numbers will fall between 40 and 43 rebounds per game, dropping them right into the sweet spot of "enough to succeed" based on the past 6 years.


So when someone says "the Suns will suck because they won't get any rebounds", all you have to say is "Rebounds Schmebounds!"

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