Rebounding is a key component to playing winning basketball, and with the offseason addition of Tyson Chandler, the Phoenix Suns expected some improvement in that area. Thus far in the early NBA season, the Suns are wildly exceeding those expectations.
The Suns have never been considered a strong rebounding team. Only four Suns teams have ever averaged over 50 rebounds for a season, and those were the first four in the team's existence. Furthermore, only six times in the last 20 years have the Suns ranked in the NBA's top 10 for rebounds.
But through the first four games of the season, Phoenix has averaged 52.8 rebounds per game, ranking third in the NBA behind only the Detroit Pistons (54.3) and Oklahoma City Thunder (53). That is an impressive average in its own right but especially impressive for a Suns team. Phoenix's current 52.8-rebound average has been bettered only twice in team history (1968-69, 55 per game; 1970-71, 54.2 per game) and is the highest total of this century for the Suns, easily outpacing 2004-05's league-leading 44.1 per game.
Most impressive of all is that these haven't been hollow rebounds, the kind racked up due solely to the pace of play. When Phoenix led the NBA in rebounds in 2004-05, they also surrendered 46.1 — 29th in the NBA. This season, the Suns have outrebounded their opponents by an average of 5.3 boards. The franchise record is 4.1 set back in 1993-94.
Yes, it has only been four games, so this rebounding trend can certainly level off; however, Phoenix has legitimate reason to believe this is more than an early-season anomaly. Against the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night, the Suns held rebounding fiend DeAndre Jordan to nine boards — six below his season average and six below what he averaged against Phoenix over four games last season. In fact, Jordan had not been held to single-digit rebounds against the Suns since the 2012-13 season.
So what is the reason for Phoenix's improvement on the boards? Chandler is an excellent place to start. He is averaging 11.8 rebounds though his first four games, which is fourth in the NBA. That total is already ninth-best in Suns' history, and if his clunker of an opener is removed from the equation, his 13.7 rebounds would be the top total by a Sun ever.
His veteran savvy in boxing out his opponent and ability to slap the ball out to the perimeter are underappreciated parts of his game but have made him an effective rebounder for many seasons. Now he has brought that to a team that has perpetually struggled on the glass, helping the Suns secure possessions they routinely surrendered in years past.
But Chandler hasn't been alone in doing work. Alex Len and Jon Leuer are both averaging close to 14 rebounds per 36 minutes off the bench while Markieff Morris (6.5) and Brandon Knight (5.5) are averaging career-high rebounds per game. That is key. While one player can make a big difference on the boards, rebounding requires a team effort. Just ask the Clippers, who were outrebounded by their opponents last season despite the presence of Jordan and Blake Griffin on their front line.
Being a top-five rebounding team over the first week of the season is meaningless, but being one over the course of a full season? Now that means something. The last Suns team to make the playoffs was the 2009-10 Suns, who finished sixth in the NBA in rebounding. For a franchise desperate to return to the postseason, regularly securing possession of the basketball is a solid place to start.
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