If there was a statistic that served as a good harbinger for how the Timberwolves would fare in a game, it was rebounding.
They were 7-0 entering Saturday’s game against Houston when outrebounding their opponents. Saturday was the exception, with the Wolves outrebounding the Rockets 47-41 but losing 125-105.
Rebounding was a concern for the Wolves entering the season, given that they were likely to favor smaller lineups with players such as Robert Covington seeing significant time at power forward. In those instances, Covington is a power forward in name only; he’s really an additional wing player.
Outside of Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves know they are going to need a total team effort on the boards to win games.
“We know we’re smaller, so you’ve got to put a bigger emphasis on rebounding,” Covington said. “We’re all engaged on that and we understand that we’re giving up a little bit of an advantage. But it’s not too much for us.”
So far, results have been mixed. The Wolves rate 22nd in defensive rebounding percentage, or how often they get the available number of defensive rebounds, at .720. The bad news is that figure is in the bottom third of the league. The good news is that it’s at least an improvement over the 27th-place ranking in that stat a year ago.
On offense, the Wolves are a top 10 team, placing ninth in offensive rebounding percentage (.284). That latter figure is a product of the Wolves’ style of play: One benefit of taking a lot of threes is long rebounds, which the offense is more likely to get.
This is where the Wolves’ analytics department plays a role in what happens on the floor. The Wolves practice running to certain spots when rebounding on offense based on where a player attempted the shot. With analy-tics, the Wolves have developed heat maps for where the rebound is most likely to go.
“When you’re in the corner, most times the ball when it’s missed it goes to the other corner,” Josh Okogie said. “We just drill it … [to] just get better at it. We definitely drill that awareness for everybody.”
Defensively, the old-school way — put a body on someone — is still the main way to get the job done. The Wolves are an up-tempo team, so one challenge is not igniting the fast break before they secure the defensive rebound.
“We’ve got to help each other out,” forward Treveon Graham said. “It can’t just be the centers and big men in there. It has to be the guards coming back in and getting long rebounds or just helping … Once we get the rebound then we can push. We can’t be out there leaking out or trying to start the break before we touch the ball. Go grab the rebound and we can pick up the pace.”
Towns leads the team with 12.1 rebounds per game. After that it’s Okogie at 5.8 and Covington at 5.6.
Okogie joked that he sometimes has to fight his own teammates for rebounds.
“They snag everything,” Okogie said. “So I steal about two or three from ‘Kat.’ Steal about two or three from ‘RoCo.’ That’s about four or six. Try to get about four of my own.”