After a Timberwolves practice last week, coach Chris Finch responded to a question wondering if boxing out was a dying art in the NBA.
"No, it died a long time ago," Finch deadpanned. "No one boxes out."
That's just the way of the NBA. Players tend to rely more on their athleticism than making sure they use their body to stay between the player closest to them and the basket.
The Wolves could use all the techniques they can if they are going to improve on the glass this season. They are already a smaller team to begin with that doesn't have a traditional power forward type of player outside of Jarred Vanderbilt. Last season, they finished 24th in defensive rebounding percentage, a stat that measures how many of all available defensive rebounds the Wolves grab.
"I think it's just better fundamentals, better job by me and everybody," center Karl-Anthony Towns said. "It's a team effort. We all got to be better at it and that's what we're planning to do."
The Wolves have designs on making a significant leap in rebounding this year, but their on-ball and off-ball improvements won't matter if they can't end more possession after one missed shot.
"With the depth that we are capable of having, if you're going to rebound the ball, you can get on the floor. If you can't, it's going to be hard," Finch said. "But it's habits. We just got to keep building these habits and breaking some old ones. It's going to take a little while."
The habits the Wolves need to break include just looking up at the ball as the shot goes up and not making any sort of contact with nearby offensive players.
Among the habits they are trying to build is "sandwiching" some of the larger opponents they may run into, or using two players to try and squeeze an opponent out from rebounding position.
"Say you see a smaller [teammate] trying to box out, you're just coming over and just trying to give a little nudge or even like a little box out stance to get him out of the paint," forward Jaden McDaniels said.
McDaniels could help in that department as one of the tallest players on the team. He also has the responsibility of guarding an opponent's best scorer, and sometimes it's hard to remember to attack the glass with 100% effort after you've chased a scorer around for nearly 24 seconds.
"Really, it's just like after a play I used to get caught there just standing and watching and watching myself a lot …" McDaniels said. "Usually when you just stand there and don't box out, the ball ends up coming your way.
Sometimes rebounding just comes down to trying. Vanderbilt said lack of size isn't an excuse for poor rebounding.
"Just effort," Vanderbilt said. "Sometimes just going in the paint, you're going to get 50% just by trying. You're not even wanting to get the rebound and it'll fall to you. I would say [it's] just effort, but due to lack of size, we do need to sandwich some guys. Bigger guys need two people to box them out, so it's everybody just being aware."
Because the Wolves will likely be switching and rotating more on defense under Finch, there will need to be more a team-wide focus on rebounding, meaning guards are going to have to contribute as much as they can in that aspect. The Wolves made it a point of emphasis with Anthony Edwards to improve his rebounding, which went up from four per game before the All-Star break to 5.3 after. They also have Patrick Beverley, who has a reputation for being a good rebounding guard.
Beverley said rebounding was one of the first things he discussed with Finch upon arrival.
"He's going to give me a lot of freedom, give the guards a lot of freedom to go in there and get busy on the boards," Beverley said. "That's a good thing. If we do it, it leads to early offense obviously but if we don't do it, we put ourselves in a position to give teams a lot of second-chance points and we don't want to do that."
Added Finch: "A lot of times we watch others just kind of go after the ball, instead of ourselves."