In the first six games of the season, the Los Angeles Clippers were outrebounded five times and never once outrebounded their opponent (they were even once). After two weeks, the Clippers were dead last in the NBA in rebounding, and being dismissed as a legitimate contender in the Western Conference in large part because of that anemic rebounding.
In 24 games since, they've outrebounded their opponents in 19 of them. Where they were once the worst rebounding team in the league, they're now among the best, tied for third in rebound differential and total rebound percentage.
Why the big turnaround? No doubt the coaching staff emphasized the need to box out and to hit the boards harder. The team has probably made a commitment to doing a better job on the boards. But all of that presumes that they were slacking in the first six games. We shouldn't ignore either that six games is a very small sample size. Maybe the Clippers worst rebounding games of the season just randomly fell towards the beginning of the schedule.
But there's another factor that must be considered. It happens, probably not coincidentally, that Reggie Evans missed the first five games of the season. After Evans became a fixture off the Clippers bench, the Clippers suddenly went from a terrible rebounding team to a great rebounding team.
It's no secret that Evans is a terrific rebounder. Last season with Toronto, he led the entire NBA in rebounding percentage (the percentage of available rebounds while the player is on the floor that the player actually gets) -- that's correct, there was actually a better rebounder in the NBA last season than Kevin Love.
This season Evans has dropped off a bit -- all the way back to fourth in total rebounding percentage. To give some context to the rebounding percentage number, there are 10 players on the court at all times. If all 10 of those players got an equal number of rebounds, each of them would have a rebounding percentage of 10%. Evans' rebounding percentage is more than double that average, 20.8%. There were only eight players who played at least 500 minutes last year that averaged better than 20% in rebounding percentage, and only eight this season as well. Evans is simply put an elite rebounder.
To further put this into perspective, Reggie Evans has grabbed 139 rebounds in 394 minutes on the season. That works out to better than one rebound every three minutes on the floor. It's almost 17 rebounds per 48 minutes.
Still, when you consider that Evans plays less than 16 minutes, less than a third of each game, it's surprising that he should single-handedly transform the Clippers from a bad rebouding team into a good rebounding team. I mean, Brian Cook is a terrible rebounder, but he would get a few here and there. When you do the math, Evans' rebounding margin over Cook whom he replaced in the rotation is fewer than 3 rebounds a game. Given that the Clippers are now outrebounding their opponents by a season average of more than 3 rebounds per game, clearly Reggie's actual rebounds don't account for the entire difference.
Evans' gets everything he gets on an NBA court through hustle and determination. He's not the biggest or strongest player, he doesn't jump the highest. He just works harder than other guys (oh yeah, and he also knows all the tricks). There was never a valid excuse for a team featuring Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan,arguably the most athletic big man tandem in the entire NBA, to be dead last in rebounding. Those guys might not have been working as hard on the glass early in the season as they should have been -- with Evans around, they'd be bound to work a bit harder.
Evans is not going to give you a lot on the offensive end, if anything. His offensive rebounding gets the team extra possessions, but beyond setting a screen, he's not going to be doing a lot to generate scores out of those possessions. He's got terrible hands (as we saw twice last night when Chris Paul passes bounced off him and out of bounds) and no discernible offensive skills. But his defense and rebounding nonetheless make him a valuable member of the rotation.
I'm the first to say that correlation doesn't equal causation. Reggie Evans may not be solely responsible for the Clippers rebounding turnaround -- but he's certainly a big part of it.